Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha Archaeological Site Interpretation Center
Virtual Museum of Canada

Material Culture

Presentation | Ceramics | Objects made of organic materialStone objects

Ceramics

Ceramics

Detail of the decorated castellation of a ceramic vase

Detail of a decorated vase

The use and production of pottery vessels is closely linked to changes in the lifestyles and eating habits of human populations. Pottery represents the principal marker identifying an archaeological site as St. Lawrence Iroquoian. The ceramic technology used by Iroquoian women belonged to an ancestral tradition originating in the distant past. The fruit of a long evolution, pottery production appeared in the northeast of North America over two millennia ago. The material culture of the Saint-Anicet Iroquoians was marked by the omnipresence of baked-clay objects that can be classified into five groups: domestic ware, small pots, pipes, beads and gaming disks.

Domestic ware was multifunctional. It could be used to prepare and cook corn soups, store food and transport water and certain staples. St. Lawrence Iroquoian pottery can be distinguished by specific technological, morphological, stylistic and functional traits that evolved over time in different places. By studying these traits, archaeologists seek a better understanding of the pottery production associated with a single household, a village and the Iroquoian community as a whole.

The technique for making ceramic pots was based on knowledge transmitted from mother to daughter. The women first selected the clay, added some tempering material and then kneaded the mixture to make it homogenous. Placing the lump of clay on an anvil-like flat stone, the women shaped the pot, working with a paddle to thin its walls and obtain the desired form. The paddle and anvil technique of shaping pots was relatively new, having replaced the coil method, in which vessels were formed with rolls of clay placed on top of one another and then smoothed.

Decorative elements were applied while the clay was still malleable. These elements often constituted stylistic traditions that might be considered the signature of a craftswoman within her community. The pots were then allowed to dry before being carefully placed in specially built hearths in which the firing process could be controlled. After the pots were fired, it was important that they cooled slowly to minimize the danger of cracking.

Parts of an iroquoian vase, from top to bottom, castellation, collar, neck, shoulder, body and bottom.

Parts of an iroquoian vase

Generally speaking, archaeologists divide St. Lawrence Iroquoian domestic pottery into two main categories, depending on whether or not a pot has a collar. These categories are not based on function, since collarless and collared pots were both multifunctional and could serve the same purposes; stylistically, however, they are distinguished by the presence or absence of decorative motifs. The decoration on collarless pots is normally minimal, while that on pots with collars is often quite complex, with motifs composed of incised parallel lines and herringbone motifs. The tops and bottoms of collars are often delimited by parallel lines as well. With respect to their morphology, these pots vary greatly in size, the largest of them having a volume of up to 15 litres.

The over 200 000 sherds unearthed on the Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha site show that the ceramic production of the potters living there was typically Iroquoian. The collection is dominated by collared pots with complex decorative motifs comprised of geometric shapes, incised lines and dentate stamps. Compared with pottery from Iroquoian sites in southern Ontario and the St. Lawrence Valley, the pottery collection from the Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha site shows less reed punctate and ladder-plait decoration, as well as less castellation.

Archaeological collections from Iroquoian sites often contain diminutive pots that are frequently less than 10 centimetres in diameter. Many small pots have been found on the Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha site and some of them are even decorated, although less elaborately than the domestic ware is. These pots vary in shape and style; some of them appear to have been produced by apprentice potters, while others were probably used for special purposes. For example, Gabriel Sagard, a Recollet missionary who stayed with the Hurons in 1623-1624, related that, when menstruating, Huron women "cook their food separately in little pots."


Decorated trumpet shaped ceramic pipe.

Ceramic pipe

On Iroquoian sites, the presence of pipes is one of the most eloquent signs of the Amerindians' tobacco complex. This complex, which can be traced back to the first pipes 3 000 years ago, became particularly important for the St. Lawrence Iroquoians with the appearance of stemmed clay pipes with bowls that were frequently decorated and came in various shapes (trumpet, conical, vasiform, cylindrical, etc.). Certain bowls even bear the effigy of an animal, such as a bird, reptile, dog or wolf, or are shaped into a stylized human head that faces the smoker. The wide variety of shapes and styles shown by these pipes testifies to the significance of tobacco smoking among the St. Lawrence Iroquoians. With respect to pipe production, the clay was mixed with a finer temper than that used for pottery and the outer surface of the bowls seems to have been polished.

The first accounts written by Europeans mention tobacco essentially in association with men, but this does not necessarily imply that the presence of pipes is related exclusively to male activities. It is quite possible that within an egalitarian society women could have smoked as well, especially when smoking became less ceremonial as is thought to be the case among the St. Lawrence Iroquoians.

With several thousand fragments representing over 100 items, the Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha pipe collection is evidence of the importance of the tobacco complex for the Saint-Anicet Iroquoians. The collection is dominated by pipes with trumpet-shaped bowls decorated with incisions, punctate motifs or a combination of the two. The pipes found on the site also have bowls that are cylindrical, collared, conical or vasiform; certain others bear effigies of animals like the porcupine, snake, dog or wolf. Red ochre was frequently used to decorate these pipes; it was applied to the clay, sometimes abundantly, before the pipes were fired. Compared with contemporary assemblages from other sites, the Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha pipes show less decoration and have fewer effigy bowls, suggesting that the Saint-Anicet Iroquoians were less interested than their counterparts in expressing themselves artistically on pipes. It is possible that the relative conservatism and homogeneity displayed by the shape and style of the Saint-Anicet Iroquoians' pipes reflect a regional difference that distinguished this population from other St. Lawrence Iroquoians.


Eight decorated ceramic gaming disks

Ceramic gaming disks

Apart from the ceramic pots and pipes, a small number of clay beads and gaming disks have been uncovered on the Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha site. Beads were used for ornamentation and could be circular, ovoid or cylindrical in shape. They are found in many assemblages from Iroquoian sites in the St. Lawrence Valley, but usually only in small quantities. The Iroquoians were fond of various games, several of which involved gaming disks. The most common way of making these disks was to select a bit of broken pottery with a different surface on either side and then shape it into a circle.

The shaping of pottery vessels required many gestures that often produced debris and bits of residual clay, which today offer researchers clues to the techniques that were used. Over 100 pieces of waste clay and leftover ceramic paste have been recovered from the Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha site, and these finds constitute evidence that the pots discovered there were made on site by village potters.


Iroquoian pot sherd from the Late Woodland period with complex motifs incorporating linear impressions Iroquoian pot (Late Woodland)
Material: clay
Description: Collared rim sherd decorated with complex motifs incorporating linear impressions (diagonal and horizontal), ladder motifs and a stylized human figure represented by three punctate marks beneath a rounded castellation. The lower edge of the collar is marked by incisions.
Iroquoian pot sherd from the Late Woodland period with collared rim sherd decorated with complex motifs and punctations. Iroquoian pot (Late Woodland)
Material: clay
Description: Collared rim sherd decorated with complex motifs (oblique linear impressions) and punctations. The upper and lower collar edges are marked by a double row of horizontal linear impressions and small incisions.
Iroquoian pot sherd from the Late Woodland period with a collared rim sherd decorated with oblique linear impressions and a stylized human figure. Iroquoian pot (Late Woodland)
Material: clay
Description: Collared rim sherd decorated with oblique linear impressions and a stylized human figure represented by three punctate marks beneath a rounded collar. The lower edge of the collar is marked by a double row of horizontal linear impressions and small incisions.
Iroquoian pot sherd from the Late Woodland period with a collared rim sherd with castellation and decorated with complex motifs. Iroquoian pot (Late Woodland)
Material: clay
Description: Collared rim sherd with castellation and decorated with complex motifs (diagonal and horizontal dentate impressions). The upper and lower edges of the collar are marked. The collar also bears incisions near the bottom edge and at the junction with the lip.
Iroquoian pot sherd from the Late Woodland period with a collared rim sherd decorated with complex motifs and a stylized human figure. Iroquoian pot (Late Woodland)
Material: clay
Description: Collared rim sherd decorated with complex motifs (diagonal and horizontal linear and dentate impressions) and a stylized human figure clearly represented by three reed punctates beneath a rounded castellation. The collar's upper edge is marked by a series of incisions and double linear impressions, while the lower edge is marked by a double row of horizontal lines and small diagonal impressions.
Rim sherd of a trumpet-shaped pipe from the Late Woodland period decorated with four series of small punctations. Iroquoian pipe (Late Woodland)
Material: clay
Description: Rim sherd of a trumpet-shaped pipe decorated with four series of small punctations.
Trumpet-shaped pipe from the Late Woodland period decorated with columns of horizontal incisions. Iroquoian pipe (Late Woodland)
Material: clay
Description: Trumpet-shaped pipe decorated with columns of horizontal incisions with ends that go slightly deeper into the clay, somewhat like punctations. Decreasing in length from top to bottom, this motif of parallel incisions is mostly on the side facing away from the smoker.
Reconstruction of an iroquoian pot from the Late Woodland period with carinated collar decorated with complex motif. Iroquoian pot (Late Woodland)
Material: clay
Description: Reconstruction of a complete pot based on sherds found on the McDonald site. Similar sherds have been discovered on the Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha site. The carinated collar is decorated with complex motifs (diagonal incisions and ladder motifs). The neck is entirely decorated with diagonal incisions (left and right).
Small Iroquoian pot from the Late Woodland period with decoration on both collar and lip. Iroquoian pot (Late Woodland)
Material: clay
Description: Small pot with decoration on collar and lip. Reconstruction based on sherds found on the McDonald site. Similar sherds have been discovered on the Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha site.
Gaming disk from the Late Woodland period made by flattening and rounding a little ball of clay. Gaming disk (Late Woodland)
Material: clay
Description: Gaming disk made by flattening and rounding a little ball of clay.