Red River Clay Ceramics

Have you ever wondered what you would ever do without your trusty cast iron frying pan or copper kettle? Just hop on over to the Red River, grab a scoop of clay, and you’re all set! Before the introduction of copper kettles, brass pots and enamel-wear pans, clay pots and jugs were created and used by Indigenous populations in North America, including those who live here in Red River North.


Red River ceramic type: Black Duck Pottery

The pottery tradition associated with the St. Andrews area is called Black Duck Pottery. This tradition was created and practiced by the Indigenous peoples who frequented the Red River, some of northern Minnesota and southwestern Ontario. These Indigenous groups that would have used the black duck pottery tradition are referred to as plains groups and subarctic groups, these groups consist of the Ojibwe, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dene, and Dakota peoples. part of Manitoba is referred to as the subarctic region therefore it is worth mentioning that the styles of Red River ceramics are not purely in the red river area but rather there is a concentrated site for this ceramic style in the Red River area. The clay found in the Red River is easy to access, simple to mould, and quick to harden, so it is the ideal material for creating containers of all sizes! A well-known Black Duck tradition site is right in Lockport, and the shards and pots in the St. Andrews Heritage Centre are replicas from this dig.

Ceramics like the one pictured above are classified as coarseware, Coarseware is a classification of pottery where the clay contains debris from flint, shells, dirt and gravel. This pottery is very good for being fired and hardened as the extra material in the clay makes for a harder finish of the clay. Coarseware is very hard and is not porous and therefore can withstand holding water and various other things without retaining moisture. however, the intricacy in the decorations and designs of this pottery is advanced and beautiful. It was fired at semi-high temperatures where the pots would become hard enough to hold countless items.

The clay’s colour is a dark gray or light gray colour, this light colour of clay is directly related to the water and the minerals within the soil that have seeped into the water of the Red River, in southern parts of the United states clay is red due to the mineral makeup of the clay. There are surface textures on the rim and the neck of the vessel. These markings are made from techniques called cord wrapping. Cord wrapping impressions are done to unfired pottery by wrapping rope around a stick and pressing the wrapped rope into the wet clay. The holes which are located around the neck of the vessel are known as punch techniques, punching refers to the designer aspect of pottery having decorative holes punctured on the vessel. This would be done by either a sharpened stick or a sharpened projectile point, like a stone point.

For some cultures there were decorations and impressions on the interior of the vessel, some decorations can resemble stars whereas others can resemble certain animals. Some vessels further south like those in the U.S are painted and glazed with ornate and distinct pictures and patterns. According to archeologists, finding pottery in archeological sites indicates permanent or semi-permanent settlements which shows that many early Indigenous groups had begun to shift from nomadic lifeways to being permanently located in a specific region. The pottery in this area is different than in other areas this is because of the different decorative patterns that different indigenous groups would have wanted on their pottery. Another tradition of decoration this is next to the Black duck tradition is called the laurel tradition and this pottery is larger and a little more decorated than Black Duck pottery.

It is amazing to see how our use of ceramics has changed from earthenware to fine porcelain ceramics. Human production of storage containers for food and cooking is important to the adaptations and evolution of humans. The study of ceramics allows us to understand the lifestyles of the past and appreciate their ability to adapt and experiment with their natural resources for survival.

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