Ceramic Technology and Social Distance across the Cibola World: A.D. 1150-1325

Matthew Peeples

Poster presented at the 75th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in St. Louis, Missouri


  The Cibola region of Arizona and New Mexico is frequently considered a bounded archaeological region marked by the distribution of a suite of related decorated ceramic wares (e.g., Kintigh 1996). At the same time, the Cibola region spans the boundary between two more broadly defined archaeological cultures; the Ancestral Puebloan culture to the north and the Mogollon culture to the south. One distinction frequently used to attribute sites to either of these archaeological constructs is the presence of either gray ware or brown ware corrugated ceramics typically interpreted as Ancestral Puebloan and Mogollon respectively. In this poster, I examine the technology of corrugated ceramic production across the Cibola region during the Pueblo III and early Pueblo IV periods in order to develop a method of measuring relative technological similarity among ceramic assemblages across the region. I argue that this method of ceramic characterization provides a better proxy for social interaction at regional scales than binary oppositions between traditionally defined archaeological entities.

Corrugated ceramic vessels in the Cibola region consist of unpainted and unslipped ceramic containers primarily used for food preparation, serving, and storage. Although the general technology of pottery production was relatively uniform across the region, specific production steps involved varying technological decisions by potters (Figure 1). The goal of this analysis is to define groups of corrugated vessels that were produced by individuals operating within similar technological frameworks. Evidence for similarities in technological practice is interpreted as evidence for frequent interaction (or common historical origins) among producers. The methods used here are based on techniques developed by quantitative morphologists for defining groups among hybridized or closely related biological species (Dibble et al. 1998; Hawkins et al. 1999; Moeller and Schaal 1999; see also Edgar 2004).


Measuring Technological Similarity

Figure 1. (top) John Olsen demonstrating the production of corrugated ceramics at the 2009 Leupp Kiln Conference in Snowflake, Arizona. (bottom) Examples of indentation styles found on corrugated vessels from the Cibola region (illustrations by Will Russell)
  • A series of metric, nominal, ordinal, and presence/absence variables were coded for a random sample of ~50-100 sherds or vessels from 38 sites across the greater Cibola region (Table 1; Figure 2).

• The coded attributes were converted into an n x n matrix of relative similarity/distance among all samples using Gower’s Coefficient of similarity (transformed to a distance matrix). This measure of similarity was selected because it can be calculated based on multiple classes of data and can incorporate cases with missing data (Gower 1971; see Drennan 2009)

• The transformed distance matrix was then subjected to principal coordinates analysis (PCoA) to produce a low-dimensional representation of the data that highlights the strongest associations among samples (Figure 3).

• Technological clusters were defined using K-means cluster analysis on the coordinates of all samples of the first three principal dimensions of the PCoA.

• A relative measure of similarity among sites (and sub-regions) was then defined by calculating Brainerd-Robinson similarity coefficients (B-R) based on the proportions of the ceramic technological clusters in each site sample (Brainerd 1951; Robinson 1951).

Key Results

Figure 2. Map of the Cibola region showing each of the 38 sites for which corrugated ceramic samples were included in this study. The red outlined areas represent sub-regions defined to simplify the presentation of the ceramic data. The pie charts for each sub-region represent the proportions of the 8 ceramic technological clusters defined in this analysis (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Principal coordinates plots based on the distance matrix for all samples and all recorded attributes. The colors represent the K-means technological clusters defined based on the PCoA.
  • Sites that are spatially proximate tend to have corrugated vessels produced using similar techniques (Figure 4). Exceptions to this pattern, along with other lines of evidence, may suggest the presence of migrants and their potential origins (see Conclusions).

• Relative patterns of technological similarity among the sub-regions are consistent across the Pueblo III to Pueblo IV transition. This suggests that the formation of nucleated communities in the Pueblo IV period likely took place along the lines of social groups that were already frequently interacting.

• The patterns of interaction suggested by this analysis are robust to the inclusion or exclusion of individual variables (or classes of variables). This suggests that the groups of corrugated vessels defined here are a product of a consistent suite of technological practices from forming through finishing.

• Although several of the technological clusters defined here cross-cut traditional ware categories (particularly in the Upper Little Colorado and Carrizo Wash districts), the techniques used to produce gray ware and brown ware vessels were fairly distinct.

• The patterns of similarity among sites/sub-regions defined for corrugated pottery coincide well with patterns of similarity in other realms of low contextual visibility such as domestic architecture (Figure 5). The patterns of relative similarity in corrugated pottery DO NOT, however, coincide well with patterns of similarity in painted ceramic wares and public architecture (Peeples 2009). This issue is a major focus of my on-going dissertation research.

Table 1. Variables and potential variable states recorded for samples included in this study. The 12 attributes highlighted in blue are the only variables included in the quantitative analysis described here.



Figure 4. Scatter plot of the distance between sub-regions against their ceramic similarity (B-R coefficient scaled from 0-100% of possible similarity). Several outliers displayed in red were not included in the calculation of the regression line shown here (Without outliers r = - 0.67; With outliers r = - 0.23).

Figure 5. Stacked bar chart of hearth locations for the eight sub-regions included in this study. The patterns of similarity in hearth placement correspond to patterns of similarity in the technological style of corrugated pottery production.



The multivariate method of characterizing corrugated pottery developed for this analysis provides an interpretable relative scale of technological similarity that can be used to make socially meaningful interpretations of the archaeological record. As Figure 4 illustrates, potters tended to make vessels that were technologically similar to vessels made by their closest neighbors. There were, however, several comparisons that did not fit this general trend. Seven out the eight outliers highlighted in Figure 4 include the Mariana Mesa sub-region. Corrugated vessels from the Mariana Mesa district were more similar to the Mogollon Highlands and Vernon Area samples than to the spatially closer Pescado Basin and El Morro Valley samples. This is particularly interesting because decorated ceramics were apparently regularly circulating between the El Morro Valley/Pescado Basin districts and Mariana Mesa (Schachner 2007;table 4.1).

Interestingly, there is substantial architectural and ceramic evidence to suggest that the Mariana Mesa district may have been occupied, in part, by migrants from the south, west, and northwest (i.e., adobe brick architecture, specialized mealing rooms, and the prevalence of western design styles; see Danson 1957:68-75; McGimsey 1980; Smith et al. 2009). The patterns of interaction suggested by this analysis demonstrate that characterizations of corrugated pottery can be used to provide evidence for regional scale population movements. Importantly, the results of this study suggest that this method provides evidence for a potential instance of migration within an area that is traditionally considered a bounded archaeological region.



References Cited
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This project was supported by the NSF DDIG program (#09043134), a Wenner-Gren Foundation dissertation fieldwork grant (#09094295), the Arizona State University Museum of Anthropology, the School of Human Evolution & Social Change at ASU, and the SAA Fred Plog Memorial Fellowship. Access to collections was provided by the Arizona State Museum, the Arizona State University Museum of Anthropology, the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History, the Harvard Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, the Museum of Northern Arizona, SWCA Environmental Consultants, the Tarrant County Archaeological Society, the Texas Archaeological Research Lab, and the Zuni Heritage and Historic Preservation Office at Zuni Pueblo. Thanks to Will Russell for the illustrations. Garrett Trask, Katie Whitmore, and Ashley Bitowf helped with the ceramic attribute recording. Thanks especially to Keith Kintigh, Michelle Hegmon, and Kate Spielmann for their help and support in this research.