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  • The Evolution of Ceramic Production Organization in a Maya Community by Dean E. Arnold
  • Mallory E. Matsumoto (bio)
The Evolution of Ceramic Production Organization in a Maya Community. By Dean E. Arnold. Boulder: University Press of Colorado. Pp. 352. $70.

With The Evolution of Ceramic Production Organization in a Maya Community, Dean Arnold offers an important profile of potters’ organization in both time and space that diverges from the ethnoarchaeologists’ tendency to emphasize systems of production and their material results. In this companion book to his 2008 Social Change and the Evolution of Ceramic Production and Distribution, Arnold draws on his extensive ethnographic [End Page 281] research over a forty-four-year span to illustrate the relationship between social change, socioeconomic complexity, and the temporal and spatial organization of ceramic production in Ticul, Yucatán, Mexico.

Arnold treats ceramic production, including infrastructure, technology, and organization, as a social phenomenon entwined with the socioeconomic positions of its practitioners. A certain level of social stability is necessary to ensure that the cultural practice of potting is conveyed from one generation to the next; however, the transformations in the local ceramic industry that he observes between his first research trip in 1965 and his most recent visit in 2008 must be understood in the context of concurrent social changes in Ticul. Specifically, his research suggests that the household may continue to be the basic unit of production through various stages of socioeconomic development, even in the face of significant increases in production volume and space. Furthermore, situations of attached vs. independent or full- vs. part-time production are not necessarily absolute, neither within one community nor in the life of a single potter. He grounds his research on dozens of case studies presented in detail in each section. Although they at times dominate the text at the expense of analysis, his narratives effectively demonstrate the complex interplay of familial, environmental, historical, and socioeconomic factors that influence the learning, practice, and potential abandonment of ceramic crafting.

Significantly, this volume emphasizes the ambiguity often embedded in classification of production contexts based on intensity or scale. A Ticul potter may engage in ceramic production in different dimensions and at various rates over the course of a lifetime based on factors such as climate (the dry season in Ticul is more conducive to pottery production than the rainy season), economic situation (changes in local market and product demand, for instance), political events (such as government-sponsored reform or warfare), or personal experiences (including marriage or interpersonal conflicts). Furthermore, the parameters commonly cited when defining intensity or scale—particularly time and production volume—do not always vary in tandem. As Arnold notes, these observations call into question classifications of ancient craft producers according to absolute categories of production involvement and economic dependency.

Another key point of discussion is the household’s role in the development of ceramic production technology. Traditionally, the household was the basic unit of social organization that also structured technological and economic aspects of ceramic practice. Potting was learned from older generations, and individual households emphasized particular tempers, pastes, surface treatment, forms, and firing technologies to generate ceramics that differed from those of their neighbors. As a result of the marked social and economic developments in Ticul over the last several decades, however, technology has changed as the role of the household as the basic production [End Page 282] unit has diminished with the rise of other forms of organization based on hired labor and entrepreneurs targeting more distant markets.

Arnold’s study contributes an important perspective on the organization of ceramic production from the side of the individual producer, whose craft practices are shaped by both personal and external experiences. Like any good scholarship, it also prompts further questions—what specific changes in production organization are associated with the use of molds, for instance, rather than hand-forming ceramics? What social changes would have been particularly likely to trigger changes in production organization in the past? And, critically, how visible would any of these changes be to the archaeologist in the field? With his thorough contextualization of the continuing development of Ticul ceramic production, Arnold encourages deeper ethnoarchaeological consideration of artisans’ individual...


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pp. 281-283
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