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Style Trends of Pueblo Pottery: 1500-1840.

H. P. Mera's 1939 publication is still a valuable book. It provides documentation of rare examples of Pueblo pottery from 1500 to 1840. This early historic period appears as a gap in the ceramic record between what archaeologists collected at prehistoric sites and what ethnographers collected in still-occupied pueblos. This publication helps illustrate continuity of Puebloan pottery making from early sixth century plainware to the fine art pottery made in the modern pueblos.

The book is also an excellent example of a classificatory approach to material culture. Mera (of the Museum of New Mexico), together with Harold Colton (Museum of Northern Arizona) and Harold Gladwin (Gila Pueblo), founded the ceramic classifications still used today to place archaeological sites in time-space frameworks. Bruce Bernstein's "Foreword" provides a brief biography of Mera as well as a draft of a letter the author wrote to describe the study. Jonathan Batkin's "Introduction" is indispensable for understanding the historical context of the original. Batkin concisely recaps the purpose of the book, its methods and results.

Mera's study, like many others of its time, is narrowly focused and problem oriented. The goal of the study is to explore how water jars vary among pueblos and over time. Mera believed that shape and decorative style were the two formal attributes most important in the development of Pueblo pottery. Each of the vessels illustrated represents a point in this development. Mera consistently provides a photograph, vessel profile drawing, and drawing of the decorative band of each vessel. A description appears opposite each illustration, and this sometimes includes comparisons with other vessels, and a date, sometimes substantiated with a discussion of the vessel's provenance.

The danger in reissuing old studies like this one is that the thoroughness of some kinds of descriptive details, the precision of illustrations, and brief mentions of cultural and historical contexts could lull the unwary reader into thinking such a study sums knowledge about a given class of material items. By what is omitted from this study, the goals and methods of the classificatory system can be highlighted and contrasted with what is of interest to many anthropologists and artists today.

The people who made and used these vessels are barely mentioned. They are grouped only as Pueblo people, who contrast with Spanish people. No information is given about how potters worked or how people used their products, although Mera does a better job than most of his contemporaries of discussing possible reasons for the timing and direction of diffusion of formal features. Also missing is adequate information about how collectors obtained the pottery. Provenance descriptions consistently omit human actors: "The pueblo of Acoma yielded this specimen." "A search of the pueblo of Acoma yielded this jar." "This jar was unearthed in the pueblo of San Ildefonso, during the course of some incidental excavation." "A fortunate find in a cave situated in Zuni territory is responsible for the inclusion of this fine specimen." "When this bowl was obtained at acoma,it was still in use." Fortunately, the new introductory matter focuses the reader on the purpose and context of Mera's study so one may use and enjoy it with an awareness of its limitations.

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Author:Hays-Gilpin, Kelley
Publication:The American Indian Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1994
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