Explaining Corrugated Pottery in the American Southwest: An Evolutionary Approach


Christopher Pierce

A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy

University of Washington

Chairperson of the Supervisory Committee: Professor Angela E. Close
Department of Anthropology

© 1999


Corrugated pottery is a unique utility ware made by leaving construction coils unobliterated, and manipulating these exposed coils to produce a rough exterior surface. Ancestral Puebloan populations in the American Southwest made this pottery in various forms between AD 650 and 1450. Although archaeologists have tried to explain corrugation for over 100 years, none of these explanations has proven satisfactory. I employ an evolutionary approach in an attempt to explain the rise and fall of corrugated pottery.

Using analyses of ancient pottery, experiments with modern replicas, and syntheses of published data, I document that corrugation developed gradually from plain ware through a series of innovations in the size of coils and how they were applied and manipulated. Initially, corrugation appeared in the southern Mogollon region as wide, filleted, and unindented bands on jar necks, and spread north into the Anasazi areas of the Colorado Plateau. The development of overlapped and indented neck bands during the ninth and tenth centuries ultimately led to the use of these techniques over the entire exterior surface during the eleventh century producing full-body, indented corrugation. Full-body corrugation spread rapidly across a large area of the Colorado Plateau, and remained dominant until the fifteenth century when a return to plain pottery occurred. The development of corrugation coincided with an increase in the use of these vessels to cook food.

Although most of the innovations appeared first as decorative elaborations, some also affected the cost and performance of the vessels. The use of narrower and overlapped coils increased the time required to form a vessel over the earlier plain vessels. However, the extension of the textured surface to the upper body and basal parts of vessels significantly improved control over cooking and the use-life of vessels respectively.

Explanations of corrugation emphasize how the environment with which corrugated pottery interacted changed through time, and how these changes affected innovation rates, and the selection or drift of particular corrugation variants. In formulating explanations, I address four problems: the advent of neck banding, experimentation with neck banding, the rapid adoption of full-body corrugation, and the return to plain-surfaced pottery.


In designing this research, I benefited from comments on my dissertation proposal from Robert Dunnell, Donald Grayson, Julie Stein, William Lipe, Michael Schiffer, and James Skibo, and discussions with Clint Swink, Richard Wilshusen, Lee Lacey, Mark Varien, Eric Blinman, and C. Dean Wilson. Several people assisted me in generating and evaluating the data for this dissertation. Lee Lacey helped perform some of the pottery analyses, and provided valuable advice and assistance in setting up the engineering experiments. Clint Swink manufactured the 24 replica vessels used in the experiments and volunteered his time and resources to help fire the vessels. Erica Plemons and Francis Durocher spent many hours helping to perform and monitor the experiments. Michael Schiffer provided access to the Primitive Technology Laboratory at the University of Arizona. Mark Neupert instructed me in the use of the testing equipment in the Primitive Technology Lab and assisted me in many ways while I performed the various tests. Charles Fischer helped me think through the nature of thermal stresses and strains in plain and corrugated ceramic cooking pots. The staff of the Bureau of Land Management's Anasazi Heritage Center, particularly Susan Thomas and Victoria Atkins, furnished thorough and patient support in providing access to the pottery collections and restored vessels for use in this study. Discussions with C. Dean Wilson, Barbara Mills, and Eric Blinman greatly enhanced my understanding of the development and spread of corrugation in the Southwest. Deborah Reade drafted Figures 1, 14, and 15. Rick Bell took the photographs shown in Figures 2 and 12. Figures 5 and 13 were produced using an add-in to Microsoft Excel written by Tim Hunt of Emergent Media in Seattle, Washington.

The research was supported financially by grants from the Standard Products Foundation made possible by Margaret Mueller, a grant from the Colorado Historical Society to Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, and the purchase of replicas of ancient pottery from the Mesa Verde region by Board and Chairman's Council members at Crow Canyon Archaeological Center annual meetings. The research department at Crow Canyon Archaeological Center provided release time from some of my normal duties and logistical support while I conducted the research and early stages of data screening and writing. Finally, my wife Felice continued to support us after I quit my job to complete this dissertation.

The following individuals provided valuable comments on all or parts of the dissertation: Angela Close, James Feathers, Donald Grayson, Julie Stein, Ann Ramenofsky, Fraser Neiman, Cynthia Herhahn, Felice Pierce, Charles Curtin, C. Dean Wilson, and Robert Dunnell. Angela Close, Don Grayson, Julie Stein, Jim Feathers, and Thomas Stoebe also served on my dissertation committee. I owe a special debt of gratitude to Angela Close for stepping in to chair my Ph.D. Committee at the last minute, and providing rapid and thorough comments on the dissertation without losing her sense of humor. Sandra Farley, the Graduate Program Assistant in the Anthropology Department at the University of Washington, also helped me negotiate the graduate school bureaucracy when I needed it most.

Finally, I am especially thankful for the support and encouragement from my wife, Felice, my children, Benjamin and Margaret, my mother Mary Ellen Pierce, my wife's parents, Werner and Margaret Mueller, and my friend Ann Ramenofsky. They were always there when I needed their help, and have been a constant source of inspiration, advice, motivation, and strength.

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