The La Junta Ceramic Project by Richard Walter and Andy Cloud

Richard Walter and Andy Cloud are visiting researchers from the Center for Big Bend Studies at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas. This article is part of the March 2018 TARL Newsletter. 

In the 1940s, pioneer archaeologist J. Charles Kelley hypothesized that sometime after A.D. 1450, villagers from the La Junta region began making their own pottery rather than acquiring it from outside sources in the Casas Grandes and Jornada Mogollon regions as they had done for the previous two hundred years. Their new, local-made pottery was distinguished from earlier wares by being largely undecorated sand-tempered brownwares with a lesser number of decorated and surface-treated vessels bearing simple designs (Fig. 1). Limited petrographic and Instrumental Neutron Activation Analyses (INAA) have largely supported Kelley’s hypothesis, but additional analyses are needed to refine our understanding of these local wares. The La Junta Ceramic Project, designed to address this shortcoming, focuses on these later brownwares from five village sites at La Junta. The Center for Big Bend Studies (CBBS) plans to submit around 300 sherds for both INAA and petrographic analyses from collections housed at the CBBS and the Museum of the Big Bend—both of Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas—and the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory (TARL) in Austin.

Figure 1. Partial Red-on-Brown olla recovered from the Millington Site (41PS14). Courtesy of the J.Charles Kelley collection at TARL.

CBBS archeologists Taylor Greer and Richard Walter recently chose ca. 70 plain brownware, red-on- brown, surface-treated, and slipped earthenware sherds from various La Junta village sites housed at TARL. Most of these sherds were recovered from the Millington site (41PS14), a pueblo occupied by various groups over time and the site of Mission San Cristobál established ca. A.D. 1684. The project is being funded by the Texas Preservation Trust Fund with additional help from the National Science Foundation Subsidy Program for Archaeological Research at the Missouri University Research Reactor Center. Results from these studies are expected to provide new insights concerning acculturation, cultural interactions, and social systems of the La Junta villagers during a period of rapid cultural change amidst Spanish missionization and colonization.

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