Prehistoric pottery
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PREHISTORIC POTTERY. Woodland Culture Wisconsin c. 500 BC – 1650 AD By Mrs. Mary Barbara Summerfield. BASIC LANGUAGE OF CLAY. Clay: Fine grained material made of hydrated aluminum silicates, used in making pottery.

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Prehistoric pottery


Woodland Culture


c. 500 BC – 1650 AD

By Mrs. Mary Barbara Summerfield

Basic language of clay

  • Clay: Fine grained material made of hydrated aluminum silicates, used in making pottery.

  • Temper: Sand, crushed stone, ground mussel shell, crushed fired clay, or plant fibers used to reduce shrinkage, expansion and cracking during firing.

Language of clay
Language of Clay

  • Slip: Clay mixed with water to make a type of glue used for attaching 2 pieces of clay…such as a handle to a pot.

  • Pigment: Some stones such as hematite can be ground into powder, and mixed with slip for decoration.

Language of clay1
Language of Clay

  • Fire: Prehistoric pots may have been fired over an open air camp fire.

  • - Low Fire = Temperature range of

    400 – 800 F.

    - Bisque: Pots that have been fired once.

Language of clay2
Language of Clay

  • Burnish: Small, flat or round stones may have been used to polish clay.

  • Wedge: Method of removing air bubbles from clay:

  • - A paddle covered with woven fabric or cord may have been used to beat the clay.

  • - A large stone would have supported the inside of the pot.

  • - A pattern would remain on the pot.

Language of clay3
Language of Clay


  • - Grinding Stone

  • - Paddle with Fabric Cord

  • - Mussel Shells

  • - Sharp Sticks, Bone, Wood for Decoration

Characteristics of woodland pots
Characteristics of Woodland Pots

  • Early Woodland

  • - Plain/Geometric Rim Decoration

  • Middle Woodland

  • - Bag-shaped, Cord Marked

  • Late Woodland

  • - Cord-decorated

Pinch pot
Pinch Pot

  • Pinch Pot: Basic Pot Form

  • - Start with Snowball Shape.

  • - Pierce Center of Clay with Finger.

  • - Develop into a Bowl Shape.

  • - Tap botton of pot to create a “foot.”

Coil pot
Coil Pot

  • Modern coil pots are started by using a slab, or flat base.

  • Woodland Culture pots may have started as coil pots. After reaching the leather hard stage, coils (snake-like shapes) were wrapped around the pot, slowly adding to the height of the pot.

  • Collared Rim: Thick rim of clay added to the top of a pot.

Processing raw clay
Processing Raw Clay

  • 1. Harvest clay from an area rich in ancient riverbed clay.

  • 2. Let clay dry thoroughly.

  • 3. Pound or sift clay to remove heavy clods and grasses.

  • 4. Soak clay for 2 – 4 days.

  • 5. Knead clay to further reduce clods.

Adding temper
Adding Temper

  • Prehistoric potters may have added as much as ½ pound temper for each pound of clay.

  • Soak the temper.

  • Knead it into the clay.

  • The clay should start to become more plastic, or workable.


  • - Use supplies from your tool kit to decorate your pot, if desired.

  • - Soak the hematite powder.

  • - Mix it with some slip.

  • - Use a brush or your fingers to “paint” a design on your pot.

Drying the pot
Drying the Pot

  • - A pot should dry for at least two weeks prior to firing.

  • - Prehistoric pots were possibly covered and dried on the ground. As they started to dry, the coverings were removed.

  • - Pots can also be placed in the sun for sun baking.