Paipai Pottery Past and Present: Evolution of an Indigenous Ceramic Tradition

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Pacific Coast Archaeological Society


Tizon Brown Ware ceramics were being produced by around AD 1000 in the southern California/northern Baja California region. Tizon Brown Ware vessels are predominantly undecorated, made with the paddle-and-anvil technique, and fired in an uncontrolled, oxidizing environment. Such ceramics are Late Prehistoric period diagnostics. While archaeologists have distinguished different variants of Tizon Brown pottery, a precise taxonomy of and chronology for these variants remain elusive. Paipai potters of Santa Catarina, Baja California, have carried on and transformed a localized variant of the Tizon Brown ceramic tradition. This ethnoarchaeological situation presents an unusual opportunity to explore details of ceramic production, use, distribution, and adaptation. Archaeological studies at Mission Santa Catalina reveal strong ceramic continuities from precontact times into the colonial period. A geochemical study of diagnostic sherds from the mission site suggests that most of the ceramics used by mission neophytes were made from locally available clay. The modern Paipai ceramic tradition reflects continuity with prehistoric technology and style, yet its economic function and distribution have changed as hunter-gatherers have been transformed into citizens of a more complex modern world.