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Pottery Sherd

Date: 1200-1700 (Oneota)


Description: This pottery sherd comes from the Oneota culture. Though most of them look unassuming or boring to the modern eye, pottery sherds are some of the most exciting and revealing finds for archaeologists. They belong in the ceramics category, meaning they were made from clay or some other compact sediment that is easy to mold and shape. Sherds is not a misspelling of shards, but the proper name for a broken piece of pottery. Ceramics preserve very well and that is why in a museum we often find hundreds of examples, but they are often overlooked by the casual museum visitor. But pottery sherds are extremely important not only because they preserve so well, but because ceramics are often used in dating certain finds or sometimes even whole archaeological sites. Pottery styles and compositions change through certain cultures over time, and thus if we can associate a certain style with a certain culture and year, we can date things found in the same level as the pot with that year. Plus, pottery samples are often richly decorated in some way, and thus they become something more than simple holding vessels: they become a means of artistic expression. Pottery is proof that humans, even prehistoric humans, do not simply live in their environments. They thrive in them.


We know this sherd come from the Oneota culture because Oneota pottery is unique from other groups. It was tempered in a special way using shells, and thus Oneota pottery had stronger and thinner walls for their vessels. We can see the rim of the vessel on this sherd, as well as the intricate designs that have been incised upon it.  On the inner and outer surfaces we can still see scorch marks from when the vessel was fired and tempered in a kiln. This sherd is one of several from the collection from the Homer Anderson estate in Anthon, IA.


Donor: Cindy Owen


Similar Oneota pottery sherds on display

Staff Pick

Theresa Weaver-Basye, Curator of Education
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