Native American Pottery

Pottery was a functional tool as well as an art form for Native Americans. It was developed by tribes all over the continent to fill a nearly universal need; they had to have a way to carry and store food and water. A number of cultures also created items such as masks, pipes, and figurines. Pottery in North America has been found dating back to 4,000 years ago.

Many variations in techniques existed between different regions, but the basic method for making coil and pinch pots was widespread. After clay was gathered, it was prepared by mixing other materials into it like sand, plants, or shells, to make it stronger. It was then kneaded to remove air bubbles. Most items were made by rolling clay into ropes or coils and building them up on top of a round base. The coils were pinched and blended together so that the pots had smooth surfaces. The pottery was then heated to around 1,500 degrees in a fire pit.

Faces and other designs were sometimes molded into the clay of Native American pottery. Decorations and symbols could also be added with paint, which was made by boiling plants or grinding rocks. Many of the symbols represented items or events in nature, such as rain, snakes, clouds, and bears. Others are less obvious. Two crossed arrows depict "friendship," while one arrow stands for "protection." An image of a full sun means "happiness." A rising sun or sun ray is the symbol for "constancy." These things were sometimes added to be meaningful, though they were often simply for decoration.

The most famous Native American pottery is that from the Southwest, particularly present-day Arizona and New Mexico. This is partially due to their bold decorations and colors. The pottery traditions of these tribes were also better preserved than other groups, because the people were not generally removed from their homelands and forced onto reservations. As a result, the ancient techniques have been passed down through generations and remain intact today.

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