Pottery

Clay pottery has been made and developed by the Indigenous communities of the Southeastern United States for approximately the last 5,000 years. A central a part of the Choctaw traditional lifeway, our ancestors laughed over pottery, cried over pottery, and tripped over pottery nearly every day of their lives.  Clay pots were not only used for cooking and eating, but also for storage, making glue, preparing medicines, processing fibers for cloth textiles, creating dyes, as items of gift and trade, as offerings, as protective coverings, incense-holders, musical instruments, and even to transport the fire to light flaming arrows.

The Choctaw ceramic vessels pictured on the following pages are all from Oklahoma.  Some of them arrived here on the Trail of Tears.  They represent two main types, "shoti" cooking pots, and "ampo" eating bowls.  The cooking pots were often left plain, while the eating bowls were often polished and incised with designs.  One particular style of Choctaw design (called Chickachae Combed by archaeologists) was created by scraping a section of a broken comb across the soft clay, creating a series of fine parallel lines.

Today, Choctaw Nation is revitalizing  the ancient art of Choctaw traditional pottery.

Museum of the Red River Cooking Pot

Item's Choctaw Name:  Shuti

Item's English Name:  Cooking Pot (Mississippian Plain)

Age:  1830s - 1840s

Material: Clay, mixed with coarse mussel shell.

Dimensions:
     Height = 43cm
     Interior Rim Diameter: 19cm
     Rim Thickness = 13.3mm

Origin: The vessel was archaeologically excavated from a refuse pit at site 34MC399.  This was an 1830s-1840s Choctaw homestead site in McCurtain County, OK.

Current Owner: Museum of the Red River

Location: Idabel, OK

Notes - The is a large, fairly well-made Choctaw cooking pot.  The clay has large pieces of burned mussel shell mixed with it to help protect the pot from repeated heating and cooling.  Vessels like this one, were used much like today's cast iron.  Hominy or stew were placed in the pots, and then it was set on the fire to boil. 

Marks indicate that this vessel could have been rough-shaped using the coiling technique, and then worked with a paddle on its exterior.  The exterior of the vessel's rim was pinched at regular intervals when the clay was soft, in order to make a design.  The shell temper is as large as 11.6 mm in maximum dimension.

Flat Base Cooking Pot

Item's Choctaw Name: Shoti

Item's English Name:  Cooking Pot

Age:  late 1800s?

Material: Clay, mixed with coarse mussel shell.

Dimensions:
     Height = 27 cm
     Interior Rim Diameter: 16.2 cm
     Max. Diameter: ca. 22 cm
     Rim Thickness = 8.23mm
     Large Temper = 15.16 mm

Origin:

Current Owner: Choctaw Nation Museum

Location: Tuskahoma, OK

Notes: This Oklahoma Choctaw cooking pot stands out somewhat from other known examples.  Its base is flat, thickened, and pedestaled.  The vessel was clearly shaped while sitting on a flat surface. The clay itself has fairly good-sized pebbles included in it.

The exterior of the vessel, particularly the portion above the carination, is well-smoothed and polished.  On the interior, the part blow the carination is well smoothed and polished, while the upper portion, much less so. A flat edged scraping tool has left its vertical marks on the exterior.  Horizontal undulations above the carination suggest that at least this portion of the vessel was made with the coiling technique. The design marks around the rim were cut with a sharp-edged tool while the clay was fairly stiff.

Choate Cooking Pot

Item's Choctaw Name:  Shuti

Item's English Name:  Cooking Pot

Age:  ca.1845

Material: Clay, probably tempered with grog

Dimensions:
     Height = 26cm
     Interior Rim Diameter = 20cm
     Max Diameter = 32cm
     Rim Thickness = 13.64mm

Origin: According to original accession book:  "Clay made by Choctaws to cook in and used by Eliza Choate."  Other paperwork in file states the pot belonged to Mrs. Eliza Choate, wife of George Washington Choate, who came to Oklahoma in removal of 1832. A copy of an old label in the file states the item was used in the family of Eliza Wood Choate since 1845.

Current Owner: Oklahoma Historical Society  (#2212.1). 

Location: Oklahoma History Center, Oklahoma City

Contact: (405) 521-2491

Notes - The vessel was scraped on exterior with convex tool to smooth the surface of the walls.  The punctations in rim appear were made by pressing fingernails into the clay when it was soft.  Grog temper particles are as large as 3.15 mm.  The vessel is cracked, and the rim is being held together with bailing wire.

Harkins Eating Bowl

Item's Choctaw Name:  Ampo

Item's English Name:  Eating Bowl  (Chickachae Combed)

Age:  ca.1830

Material: Clay, probably tempered with fine grog.

Dimensions:
     Height = 5.8cm
     Interior Rim Diameter = 8.8cm
     Max Diameter = ca. 11.5cm
     Rim Thickness = 6.60mm

Origin: Brought from Mississippi to Oklahoma in 1832 by the Harkins family.  From the collection of Mrs. Kate McClendon (Harkins family).

Current Owner: Oklahoma Historical Society  (Cat #2669). 

Location: Oklahoma History Center, Oklahoma City

Notes: Small eating bowls such as this, were common personal possessions.  Many of them were carried across the Trail of Tears, when little else was taken, With their materials and construction, they clearly represented a connection to the Choctaw homeland.

This vessel is very highly burnished almost everywhere, but this is less so on the interior of the base.  This piece definitely has a flattened base, made by shaping the bowl on a table or other flat surface. The combed design has 3 lines, totaling 2.5 cm in thickness.

Council House Museum Eating Bowl

Item's Choctaw Name:  Ampo

Item's English Name:  Eating Bowl (Chickachae Combed)

Age:  ca.1830

Material: Clay, mixed with burned bone.

Dimensions:
     Height = 7cm
     Interior Rim Diameter: 12.12cm
     Rim Thickness = 7.86mm
     Max diameter 16.05 cm

Origin: This vessel is said to have come from Mississippi to Oklahoma with a Choctaw family on the Trail of Tears

Current Owner: Choctaw Nation Museum

Location: Tuskahoma, OK

Notes: This vessel is well-made, smooth on the interior, and highly burnished on the exterior.  The design stripe is 4.83 mm wide, with four teeth. The design repeats 5 times around the vessel.  It was fired rim-down.  Walls are a fairly consistent thickness through out.

Plain Eating Bowl

Item's Choctaw Name:  Ampo

Item's English Name:  Eating Bowl

Age:  1800s

Material: Clay, mixed with coarse mussel shell.

Dimensions:
     Height = 5.7cm
     Interior Rim Diameter = 9.3cm
     Max Diameter = ca. 12cm
     Rim Thickness = 6.58mm

Origin: Choctaw

Current Owner: Oklahoma Historical Society  (#3474.2). 

Location: Oklahoma History Center, Oklahoma City

Notes: Several Choctaw eating bowl of this type are known from Oklahoma.  Made of clay, coarse mussel shell, and highly burnished with no designs, they appear to have been eating bowls.  However, their raw materials are the same as that of a cooking pot.  They may be a slightly later style than Chickachae Combed bowls.

This vessel was made by the coiling technique.  On the exterior of the base, it can be seen where several of these coils were not fully smoothed together.  The interior of the vessel has lots of temper drag marks.  The temper, is large as 10.44mm in maximum dimension. It is rare for such big temper to be used in a bowl that is highly burnished and apparently not intended for cooking.  The base of the vessel is thick.

Museum of the Red River Serving Bowl

Item's Choctaw Name:  Ampo Chito

Item's English Name:  Serving Bowl (Chichachae Combed)

Age:  ca.1840

Material: Clay, mixed with fine shell and grog.

Dimensions:
     Height = 10.8cm
     Interior Rim Diameter: 24.8cm
     Rim Thickness = 11.54mm

Origin: The vessel was archaeologically excavated from a refuse pit at site 34MC399.  This was an 1830s-1840s Choctaw homestead site in McCurtain County, OK.

Current Owner: Museum of the Red River

Location: Idabel, OK

Notes: Serving vessels such as this, were essentially identical to eating bowls, but much larger in size.  They were intended for setting food out at gatherings or for a large family.  Sometimes, they were simply passed around and eaten out of by multiple people.

This vessel was recovered in pieces at an archaeological site and restored.  Roughly 40% of it is original, including adjoining sections of the base, rim, and sides.  The only visible tool marks were left by a burnishing implement.  Comb width was roughly 4.95 mm.