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PRIMITIVE SURVIVAL POTTERY
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Date: Mon, 23 Dec 1996 17:37:04 –0600
From: Benjamin Pressley
Subject: Re: Pottery
merv martin wrote: The mining of clay the formation and firing of pottery wouldn't be of immediate necessity in a survival situation, but I think shortly it would be a mighty nice convenience. Maybe even a good barter.
It sounds like a great subject to me. Pottery is not as hard to produce in a survival situation as many think. Although, it does require gathering usable clay (usually easier found than most realize), proper tempering (sand, burned shell; 25%), proper construction (Pottery being used for cooking must be more carefully formed than artsy pottery), it does take a 4-7 days at least of drying time before it can be fired, proper pre-heating and at least two firings. I'd be glad to discuss this subject in more detail.
Because of the time needed pottery would definitely be a pursuit for a long term camp. Short term it is more practical to use other methods of cooking, which would also be a great subject for discussion. As far as boiling or cooking a stew, like you would use pottery for can be accomplished by hot rock cooking in a wooden container produced by burn & scrape methods or a rawhide container that is suspended over hot coals (It does drip though. If you hot rock cook in it it does not drip) or line a pit with a rawhide and hot rock cook in it (Make sure you use a fresh hide to do this, right off of the animal. This method also cooks any remaining flesh clinging to the hide into the stew, where it won't be wasted.)
I thought I might send out a few notes on the subject in parts over a period of time. I'll break them down in categories as Andre suggested so he can keep track of the threads for future reference. I thought I'd start with a general overview of a primitive pottery construction sequence. I have to credit Steve Watts with this nice organization of notes on this sequence. Steve is a good friend of mine and an excellent primitive skills instructor. Extremely knowledgeable. I consider him my mentor.
The sequence below is referenced in a primitive, anthropological matrix but is still very relevant to producing pottery in a survival situation. We are talking pottery for use as a cooking or eating vessel not as art. Pottery is great to cook in. It transfers heat very quickly to the contents of the pot and even allows you build up flame around a pot to cook in. Normally, flames are not used to cook with, coals are, due to flames' inconsistent temperature vs. coals consistent temperature. Cooking is another subject, but is definitely one we ought to cover sometime in the future.
PRIMITIVE POTTERY CONSTRUCTION SEQUENCE By Steve Watts (1989)
1. OBTAIN CLAY (Creek or river bank, bottom, etc.)
If fresh, remove large rocks and organics, add water, if needed, wedge, knead, remove lumps. If dried, pound with mortar, reconstitute, let settle, let dry (if too wet), wedge, knead, remove lumps.
3. ADD TEMPER
Sand, grit, shell, grog (broken pottery), etc. 1/5-1/3, knead, wedge.
4. VESSEL CONSTRUCTION
Molding, modeling, slabbing, coiling, welding, stretching/thinning, smoothing, malleting, etc.
5. SURFACE TREATMENTS
Smoothing, stamping, burnishing, cord marking, brushing, cob impressing, punctating, incising etc.
6. INTERIOR TREATMENTS
3-10 days, depending on conditions.
Cooking, storage, transportation, burial, processing, eating, etc.
The pottery I will be discussing does not use glazes. It is functional pottery that can be made from clay found and fired in a camp fire. I hope everyone saw my previous post, though that it is possible that there may be poisonous elements in the clay you gather. the only way to be 100% sure is to have it chemically analyzed. But neither I nor anyone I know has ever had any problems with this. I have cooked in pottery and also cooked squirrel, fowl and fish in sticky mud or clay and have never worried about it and have never got sick. I'm not downplaying the importance of this concern, just stating that I or no one I know has ever had any problems with it. To thine own self be true.
NEVER cook in a bought piece of pottery unless you have bought it from someone who has made it for utilitarian purposes, i.e. safe to cook in. Even buying pottery from the Catawba people who are one of the people that still practice the art of producing pottery in this primitive manner, should be questioned. For they produce their pottery in most cases to sell to the tourists who will not be using it to cook in. At very least, pottery improperly prepared for cooking purposes will not hold up under fire used in cooking. It is safest to make your own, if you are going to cook in it, however, if anyone wishes to purchase pottery I can recommend a source. I can also recommend a safe source of clay in Bethune, SC. He sells clean clay, ready to use for $4.00 for 25 lbs. (Inquire about shipping costs).I have used it many times. It fires well and I have cooked in pottery made from it. Anyone interested in this clay can contact:
Bethune Pottery, Rt. 2, Bethune, SC, Phone: (803) 334-8346.
When searching for clay you are looking for a type of soil that is plastic when moist. Look in places like stream banks, road cuts (sides of a hill exposed), even river bottoms. A good initial test for whether what you think is clay will have the elasticity needed is to roll out a long snake, then make it into a circle, pinch the circle closed, then hang it on your finger and bounce it gently. If it will doo all these things without falling apart, you probably have some good clay.
To clean the clay, add enough water till you have a slurry. Let it set for 20-30 seconds, allowing the heavier stones to settle. Then carefully pour off the thinner clay solution into another container (you may need to do this everal times). Then set the slurry aside for several days. The heavier clay will sink to the bottom and the liquid may be drained off.
Clay may be stored moist or dry. If you store it moist wrap it in plastic and store in a cool, dark, dry place. If you allow it to dry then you can store it and reconstitute as needed by crushing it up fine and adding water till you get the right consistency.
This would definitely be a subject worth looking into. I personally have not tried and am not aware of ways to shorten time to the length of time you mentioned. The important thing for a successful firing is that all the moisture be dried out of the formed pot. Any moisture, the pot explodes or falls apart. I suppose it depends on the humidity in your area as to how fast the pot dries. It is difficult to tell when all the interior moisture is out, that's why I give it plenty of time to dry, just to be sure. I will check with some more experienced potters and pose this question to them and pass on anything I find out. Meanwhile, if anyone on the list knows of a way to shorten drying time, let me know.
The other key factor in a successful firing is to take plenty of time pre-heating the pot. Move it in slowly, closer and closer, little by little to the fire. Also keep any wind from blowing directly onto it (build a suitable windbreak or dig a pit to fire it in.). Wind will cause a spall to pop off or the pot to crack. Get a good color change before you put it in the fire. BUT, I'M GETTING AHEAD OF MYSELF AND WILL COVER THIS SUBJECT IN DETAIL REAL SOON. Let me know if you have anymore specific questions or if you need the information on the complete process any sooner. I just thought I'd give it out little by little to organize the threads and to stimulate input from others.
I last discussed choosing and preparing clay. I don't know remember if I mentioned in that last thread that if you buy clay for making functional pottery for cooking in, etc. be sure to by earthenware clay not stoneware clay. The reason being that stoneware clay needs a higher temperature to fire than a campfire can produce (there may be ways to up the temperature artificially in the wild. I'd have to look into that one.) Anyway, your average open fire is at 1300 degrees Fahrenheit, at best and very variable. Stoneware needs 1500-2000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Date: Fri, 10 Jan 1997 22:02:38 -0500 (EST)
Subject: brief intro and indigenous ceramics book
This post will serve as a partial intro (more later as time permits) and a request.
I live in north-central Minnesota and conduct archaeological and paleo-environmental research. Much of my time is spent on researching and replicating various technologies used by Native peoples of the region (primarily prior to European contact). My most significant specialty is indigenous ceramics. For the past 15 or so years, I have been researching and replicating these technologies. My goal has been to attempt to replicate the various technologies in as close a manner to that exhibited by the archaeological record as possible, using the same materials as would have been available.
In the process, I have made several hundred vessels of all sizes and styles, and have used many of them for cooking and processing. I can say that these ceramics are amazingly sturdy and functional.
Anyhow, enough of that for now. The Request:
An archaeologist colleague with a similar background in this ceramic technology and I are submitting a proposal to the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) press to write a comprehensive book on the subject (there is no income involved for either of us - MHS Press is non-profit and mainly concerned with book sales covering costs). The question that they have is, is there sufficient interest in this subject to make this a viable project?
Both my colleague and I think there is and we really see the need to spread this information around, hence our desire to do the book. To our knowledge, there is little published info out, and based on our combined 30 years of detailed research, much of the existing information is misleading or inaccurate (for example, has anyone really tried to produce a ceramic vessel 40 centimeters in diameter with 3 to 4 millimeter thick walls out of glacial clays using a paddle and anvil? Believe me, you will only end up with a pile of clay.)
It would seem to me that folks in this group may have enough interest in the subject to comment on this proposal.
A brief and general contents of the book would include:
-General background of ceramics - types, characteristics, dates, etc.
-Materials (clays and temper) - procurement, processing, etc.
-Chapters on: Early coil built ceramics, Late Woodland fabric container supported ceramics, and Mississippian shell tempered ceramics. Each of these chapters would have information on the archaeological evidence, vessel characteristics, research on the technology, detailed description of the technology, tools used including fabrics and weaving, and any other relevant data.
-Firing - methods, materials, temperatures (as measured by modern equipment)
-Use of vessels - cooking and processing, storage, durability, waterproofing, etc.
The plan is to have it well illustrated with black and white photos and drawings. We would like to have enough technical content to be of use to the archaeological community, but also keep it understandable by the general public. You should be able to read it, and with a little practice, make good functional clay pots. Although the subject content will focus on the region that is now Minnesota, it will be applicable to much of eastern and central North America. The subject has absolutely no similarity to ceramics of southwestern US.
I would like to include comments of interest in the subject with our proposal. Thus, if you have an interest in the subject, or any other comments (hopefully positive) I would appreciate it if you could e-mail directly to me (please don't clutter up the list) at email@example.com. I also would appreciate details of any other existing published information on the subject. Thanks in advance for any help, and I will keep the group posted on whether or not this thing flies.
Date: Sun, 12 Jan 1997 12:32:45 +0000
Subject: Re: Pottery: Finding versus buying clay
Finding versus buying clay: The area I live in has soil with an incredibly high clay content. I planted a tree in my backyard and dug through 3' of the toughest digging you can imagine. Then I looked at the clay, and gave it the 'turd' test. I wet it and rolled it into a long turd. It didn't break when I held it by one end. I decided what the heck. I gathered some, screened out the bigger chunks, ground it all down on a matate, and added sand for tempering (I've heard 50% to be the right amount, but I found it too much sand, about 1 part sand, 3 clay worked best. I mixed it with water to a good consistency and shaped it using hands wet with water. I made a couple of functional pots using the coil method. I fired them in the next campfire and was quite pleased with the results. I tried to replicate this on a survival trip. Every pot broke in the firing.
Lesson: the pottery gods were angry? My guess is that the drying process was insufficient, and the moisture was too high in the clay when I fired it. Anyone else have any ideas?
Ben Wrote: I agree with your conjecture. One, the pottery has to be very dry before firing. Two, preheating is very important. Slowly move the dry pottery toward the fire, rotate it frequently. When you have a significant color change throughout then build your fire up on it. I like firing mine at least twice. In other words build the fire up over the pottery, let it almost die down then build the fire up again. Then, let it cool down just as slow. If convenient fish it out of the ashes the next morning. Cautions: Don't let wind hit the pot prefiring or cooling down. Don't let flame touch the pot while prefiring.
Great tips! Thanks Ben. I think I took them out of the fire in too much of a hurry, and there was a bit of a breeze. Actually, in my haste I took out one of the plates, set it on the ground, reached in with the tongs and grabbed a bowl and as I was lifting it out, dropped it on the plate and broke them both! Cheez! did I feel like an idiot. Everything I made in that batch either broke or exploded except a spoon. Live and learn. Preheating makes great sense in a situation like my first pot where it rained the whole week leading up to the firing. Thanks.
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