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Ceramic Production in Early Hispanic California

Craft, Economy, and Trade on the Frontier of New Spain

Russell K. Skowronek, M. James Blackman, and Ronald L. Bishop

Publication Year: 2014

In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, much of what is now the southwestern United States was known as Alta California, a remote part of New Spain. The presidios, missions, and pueblos of the region have yielded a rich trove of ceramics materials, though they have been sparsely analyzed in the literature. Ceramic Production in Early Hispanic California fills that lacuna and reinterprets the position of Alta California in the Spanish Colonial Empire.

Using both petrography and neutron activation analysis to examine over 1,600 ceramic samples, the contributors to this volume explore the region’s ceramic production, imports, trade, and consumption. From artistic innovation to technological diffusion, a different aspect of the intricacies of everyday life and culture in the region is revealed in each essay. This book illuminates much about Spanish imperial expansion in a far corner of the colonial world. Through this research, California history has been rewritten.

Published by: University Press of Florida

Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-xiv

List of Tables

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pp. xv-xviii

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pp. xix-xxii

California has always been a land of contrasts, both internally and when compared with other areas of North America. The early Spanish explorers and settlers remarked how like their homeland it was. Iberian agriculture and architecture adapted to the California coastal environment with...

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pp. xxiii-xxviii

It was the middle of June 1998 and it was hot! In an office on the third floor of an un-air-conditioned, stairs-only 1911 building, stacks of ungraded papers and final exams were teetering on the edge of a desk that was cluttered with the detritus of faculty meetings and family life and seemingly...

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pp. xxix-xxxiv

The members of our research team wish to acknowledge the staff of the Center for Neutron Research at the National Institute of Standards and Technology for their cooperation and assistance throughout this decade-long project, while noting that it could never have been completed without...

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Conventions Used in This Book

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pp. xxxv-xxxvi

The power of words is not to be taken lightly. When English-speaking people publish in English concerning the Spanish colonial empire there will be issues with spelling, usage, and conventions of meaning. These issues were brought into bold relief by the addition of the contributed...

Part I. A Study of Pottery

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1. A Global Perspective

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pp. 3-11

For ten millennia pottery has been a part of the material culture of humankind. From bricks and tiles to ceramics for the preparation, presentation, and storage of comestibles these are tangible aspects of material culture associated with sedentism and the domestication of plants. Over the...

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2. Creating a New Europe in the New World

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pp. 12-20

Prior to the era of European colonial expansion, people lived and largely interacted in a single region (e.g., Wallerstein 1974; Wolf 1982). Large land-based empires existed (e.g., China, the Inca), but in every case, their lands were largely contiguous and they were the dominant political and...

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Part II. Tradition and Transformation of Alta California

Pottery has long been associated with plant domestication and being sedentary. Prehistoric coastal California was no exception. South of what would become Los Angeles, Native peoples grew corn, beans, and squash; lived in permanent villages; and made pottery vessels to prepare, present...

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3. Craft and Commodities of Early California

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pp. 23-38

Four hundred and seventy years ago, in 1542, California’s prehistoric veil was briefly lifted when Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and the crews of his three small ships, the San Salvador, the Victoria, and the San Miguel, first navigated the often-fog-shrouded littoral of what would come to be...

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4. Incorporation into New Spain: Presidio Jurisdictions

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pp. 39-66

In the last third of the eighteenth century, Alta California was annexed to New Spain in an attempt to forestall the seemingly inexorable southward expansion of Great Britain and Imperial Russia along the Pacific coast of North America. This annexation was effected using three distinct types...

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Part III. The Creation of Ceramics

Documentary evidence shows that ceramic items were produced throughout the province of California, seemingly making them ubiquitous. Yet we know almost nothing about who made them, how they were made, and what forms were made. Obviously the forms of architectural...

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5. A Typology of Mission Pottery: Drawings and Descriptions of Low-Fire Earthenwares from Mission San Antonio de Padua, California

Julia G. Costello

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pp. 69-92

Excavations in 1969–1971 were carried out at Mission San Antonio by Donald M. Howard and were summarized in a report and in two popular articles (Howard 1969, 1972, 1973). Among the materials recovered was an enormously rich collection of locally made low-fire earthenwares from...

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6. Fabrication and Replications: A Potter’s View

Ruben Reyes

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pp. 93-113

Visitors to the restored French fortress of Louisbourg in Nova Scotia or to Plimoth Plantation and the replicated Mayflower in Massachusetts, Jamestown and Williamsburg in Virginia, and other English colonial and early American sites are asked to leave their contemporary world...

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7. Ceramic Firing Technology in Alta California

Michael H. Imwalle

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pp. 114-132

Ceramics—whether tableware, bricks and tiles, or pipes—are a ubiquitous part of our everyday lives. At their most basic level they are comprised of a simple combination of clay and water transformed by fire to a stone-like hardness. Of course the products vary based on the nature...

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Part IV. Assessing Variation in Ceramic Composition

Ceramics are multi-component systems of natural raw materials selected and prepared according to social practices and technological requirements, ultimately transformed into finished products for use in a wide variety of social contexts. Because they are made of a combination of...

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8. Selected Approaches to Ceramic Characterization

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pp. 135-151

Pottery making may have begun as early as 25,000 years ago, depending on how one interprets the figurines recovered from what is now the modern Czech Republic (see Vandiver et al. 1989). Fired and unfired figurines depicting pregnant, wide-hipped females with pendulous breasts...

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9. The Mineralogy of California Plain Wares: Technology and Social Reproduction in the California Spanish Missions

Sarah Peelo

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pp. 152-169

Prior to the establishment of Spanish missions along the coast of Alta California in 1769, most indigenous peoples of the California coast (excluding the southernmost groups, such as the Kumeyaay) did not have a ceramic tradition. Instead, Native American peoples of this region produced...

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10. The Chemical Characterization of California Pottery

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pp. 170-177

In chapter 8 we presented a simplified description of neutron activation (INAA) that was used for the bulk analysis of sampled California pottery. Here we provide a more detailed discussion of the specific analytical procedures that were used in the present study. The collected data by...

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11. Anchoring Ceramic Production: Bricks, Tiles, and Plain Ware

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pp. 178-217

Pottery was previously unknown to all but the southernmost groups in California. The need for utilitarian ceramics to meet the needs of the missions, presidios, and pueblos led to the development of what is generally referred to as mission-made ceramics, low-fired, plain earthenware that...

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12. Native American Ceramics Found at Old Town San Diego: Trade or Local Manufacture?

D. Larry Felton, Glenn Farris, and Eloise Richards Barter

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pp. 218-241

Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, located about 20 miles from the Mexican border, marks an important crossroad in California history. It is adjacent to the site of the earliest permanent Spanish colonial settlement in Alta California, the mission and presidio established on a nearby...

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13. Supplying Glazed Ceramics to Alta California

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pp. 242-280

Examination of the lead-glazed ceramics added a second dimension to understanding pottery circulation within the Alta California mission and presidio system, as these ceramics were generally thought to have been imported from Mexico. Project researchers were fortunate to be able to...

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Part V. Pottery as an Active Component of Colonial Economics

In chapter 13 we saw how instrumental neutron activation analysis has provided a vital source of information about the complexity associated with the manufacture and supply of pottery to Alta California. Compounding this complexity are the myriad names archaeologists use to...

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14. Losa Surtida: Historical and Archaeological Perspectives on Imported Ceramics in Alta California

Barbara L. Voss

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pp. 283-300

Colonial settlements in Alta California imported substantial quantities of ceramics from Mexico, China, and Europe. Archaeologists have given these imported wares, which were usually glazed and often quite beautifully decorated, a wealth of attention since the early 1900s. But how do...

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15. Reconstructing Mayólica Use Patterns from Colonial Sites in Southern California

Jack S. Williams

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pp. 301-313

By the middle of the sixteenth century, Spanish explorers had penetrated the coastal areas of what is today the state of California. Sporadic visits to these same regions occurred throughout the following 200 years. In 1769, colonization of the province began with the establishment of an...

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16. Concluding Comments: Pottery and the Transition from Colonial Life

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pp. 314-324

After more than a dozen years of involvement with the ceramics associated with the missions, presidios, pueblos, and adobes of California’s Hispanic past, it seems appropriate to assess what has been learned, take stock as to where we are, and consider what lies ahead. Such reflection is...


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pp. 325-368

About the Authors and Contributors

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pp. 369-374


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pp. 375-389

E-ISBN-13: 9780813048888
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813049816

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 15 color plates, 72 figures, 47 tables
Publication Year: 2014