Sep 282011

NAU Team Works To Identify

Prehistoric Pottery Collection

By Teri Walker

Over the years, the Navajo County Historical Society has accumulated quite a collection of pottery shards about which society members desire to understand more. A team of Northern Arizona University (NAU) anthropologists is helping the museum unravel some of the mysteries surrounding the collection.

“We’re finding pottery that’s typical of this area–very diverse,” said Kelley Hays-Gilpin, professor of anthropology at NAU.

Hays said the historical society’s collection, which is housed in the Historic Navajo County Courthouse and Museum in Holbrook, represents an array of different pottery types found in areas north and south of the Holbrook area.

“While we know there was a resident population here in prehistoric times, we can’t deny there was a lot of trade going on here, too,” said Gilpin. “This area was a major crossroads for 1,000 years.”

Gilpin, along with graduate students, her husband, Dennis Gilpin, a private consultant with PaleoWest Archeology, headquartered in Phoenix, and local petroglyph specialist Darlene Brinkerhoff, spent a day reviewing the museum’s uncatalogued pottery collection.

Gilpin said the batch her team was evaluating early in the day dated from 900 A.D. to 1300 A.D. They had yet to break into a storage tub full of additional pottery shards of various shapes, sizes and origins.

The team examined a larger piece of pottery, about five inches in diameter, with markings on the interior of the pot that were characteristic of a commonly found pottery type in this region, but the exterior of the pot was not familiar, leaving the researchers puzzled, but intrigued.

“This is why people shouldn’t hunt and gather pottery,” said Brinkerhoff. “If this had been found on a site, we could have gathered other clues about its origins, and might have been able to figure out its story.”

The museum’s collection has been donated by many individuals over the years. Pottery hunting is now illegal under a number of federal laws.

The NAU team and Brinkerhoff planned to spend a full day at the museum, examining and identifying pieces of the pottery collection. Brinkerhoff has undertaken additional efforts, including assembling the pottery pieces in general categories and photographing them.

“We have an excellent pottery display that our first director, Geny Nix, society president Garnett Franklin and volunteer Joy Nevin assembled when the museum was in its infant stages,” said historical society board member JoLynn Fox.

“We want to extend our display of prehistoric ceramics to include interpretation, and an opportunity for our museum visitors to see and learn the identity of the different prehistoric pottery periods,” she said of the identification project.

The expanded collection will be on display once all of the items have been identified and recorded.

Photo by Teri Walker

Northern Arizona University Professor Kelley Hays-Gilpin examines a piece of pottery dated between 900 A.D. and 1300 A.D.


Photo by Teri Walker

Anthropology graduate students April Peters and Amy Montoya (left and right) confer with paleontologist Dennis Gilpin over a variety of pottery they couldn’t immediately identify, but could say definitively isn’t typically found in this region.