Determining the Provenance of Freshwater Sponge Spicule Inclusions in Pre-Columbian Amazonian Ceramics

Author(s): Aaron Cathers

Year: 2019


This is an abstract from the "SAA 2019: General Sessions" session, at the 84th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

Decades of archaeological research in the Amazon Basin have shown that micron-sized freshwater sponge spicules (silliceous skeletal elements) feature prominently in many pre-Columbian ceramic traditions. This distinct technology allowed potters to craft fracture-resistant vessels and contributed to the stylistic particularities of their wares. Though several early ethnographic accounts show that indigenous potting communities acquired spicules for temper by collecting and burning dried sponges, recent archaeological work has demonstrated that potters in the past could also have exploited spicule-rich clay sources formed by the natural decomposition of sponges. To resolve this question, scanning electron microscopy was performed on a sample of Paredão Phase (700-1100 AD) spiculate sherds from the Central Amazon of Brazil and compared to experimental ceramics that tested between these potential production scenarios. Based on the presence of previously unrecorded sponge gemmules (reproductive buds) that rarely survive sedimentation, preliminary results suggest that Paredão potters manually added spicules to their clays. This research provides insights into the technological and stylistic practices of Paredão potters and contributes to our broader understanding of the social dynamics and land-use practices associated with ceramic production in pre-Columbian Amazonia.

Cite this Record

Determining the Provenance of Freshwater Sponge Spicule Inclusions in Pre-Columbian Amazonian Ceramics. Aaron Cathers. Presented at The 84th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Albuquerque, NM. 2019 ( tDAR id: 450295)

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Spatial Coverage

min long: -81.914; min lat: -18.146 ; max long: -31.421; max lat: 11.781 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 26119