The most commonly found type of material at archaeological sites on the islands is pottery. Pottery, which is formed from clay at temperatures above 600 oC, has been one of the most studied elements of Caribbean archaeology, not only for the information it can provide to help reconstruct the various cultures that inhabited the region, but also to establish the various uses for these artifacts.

Until recently, it was believed that the first pottery makers to arrive in the Antillean archipelago were the Saladoid groups that supposedly moved from the mouth of the Orinoco River to the Lesser Antilles, eventually arriving in Puerto Rico. Recently discovered evidence, however, indicates that the first groups to make pottery in the Caribbean were the Archaics, who began making it at least as early as 1600 B.C. Archaic pottery has been identified in Cuba, Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. These groups decorated their pottery by making incisions to create a variety of forms on the borders of vessels before they were fired.

Other pottery-making traditions have been found in the Caribbean beginning around 500 A.D. and associated with the Huecoid and Saladoid cultures on the islands. The Saladoid pottery is considered by many to be one of the most elaborate in the Americas. It is distinguished by its decoration with white paint over a red base in a negative format, meaning they painted around the image they wanted to present. This pottery is also distinguished by the refinement of the material, which was produced from strained clay, and by the production of complex forms. One of the most notable is the form of an inverted bell. Meanwhile, the Huecoid pottery lacks paint and is characterized by the use of fine interwoven incisions that were usually located on the exterior edges of the vessels and were sometimes filled with white or pink pigments. This pottery tradition also included the production of vessels with carved figures.

During the later phases of the indigenous history of the Caribbean (after 500 A.D.), the emphasis on painting as a way to decorate pottery declined and was replaced by the use of molded decoration. These kinds of decorations included not only incisions, but also the addition of handles and molded figures representing both animals (zoomorphic) and humans (anthropomorphic). As a result, pottery became heavier and thicker than pottery produced earlier. Vessels with very complex forms were produced, however, such as the effigy vases and jugs.

Author: Reniel Rodríguez Ramos
Published: December 20, 2011.

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