Ceramic Ethnoarchaeology
Annual Review of Anthropology
Vol. 14: 77-102 (Volume publication date October 1985)
Carol Kramer
In lieu of an abstract, the publisher reproduces the first page of the article. (Link)

Letters to My Tutor…

My dearest Simone,

Reading this article I began to think of how pottery is used, reused and discarded in my household. I’ve used pottery sherds to level surfaces, as incense burners, as components of artwork, as keepsakes from unfortunately broken prized pieces… roughed up kitchen pottery as planters, pencil holders, and paperweights. Kramer gives a tidy discussion of how studying living cultures can provide clues as to how to interpret pottery as found in the archaeological record. Kramer explains that ethnographic accounts of pottery-producing groups may aid archaeologists by providing information about “… learning routines, aspects of division of labor and social organization of production, scalar and spatial aspects of production and/or distribution (e.g. numbers of vessels manufactured, distances to resources and markets, workshop locations, sizes, and layouts), scheduling problems, secondary uses of pottery, potters’ expenditures and income, vessel prices, and the like.”

Kramer recounted a possible psychological profile of a potter … “psychologically and technologically conservative, unwilling to take risks and engage in innovative experiments, with conforming personalities and a low sense of self-esteem.” This isn’t the picture of the artist that I imagine when looking at beautiful pieces of pottery. Of course, when I look at my numerous stacks of hand-painted 1950s California dishware, I tend to romanticize the manner and method by which that was produced, too. I’ve often looked at colorfully planted flowers and vines and wondered about the lives of the (usually) ladies making those brush strokes day-in and day-out. Kramer notes that looking at brush strokes might be key to identifying the work of a particular ceramic artists because the decoration of a piece of pottery might involve the handiwork of many artisans.

Lately I’ve fallen into a pattern of ignoring the colors and strokes on my hand-painted dishware. This is a pattern I would like to break. I want to renew the sense of connection to the women who created the artwork and to the people who owned and used and admired the dishware before it came to me.

Here’s a short bio and list of papers by Carol Kramer. She worked to improve the working lives and academic opportunities for women in anthropology and archaeology.

My warmest regards,