Pottery is one of the most common and durable artifacts on archaeological sites throughout the world.
When people make pottery, they make it for specific purposes and in special ways, reflecting their cultures and innovations in technology, function, and style. These qualities make it especially useful as a tool to understand the lives of people in the past. Here are just a few of the topics that archaeologists learn about through pottery: dating, technological change, social learning, social boundaries, kinship, trade and exchange, migration, and demography. Pottery analysis forms a cornerstone of many archaeological research programs.
Researchers in the Ceramic Technology Lab (CTL) conduct analyses on pottery and clay using a variety of techniques. The lab is equipped for basic paste characterization studies, including a binocular microscope for gross identification of inclusion or paste constituents, a petrographic microscope for precise mineral identification in thin section, and an electric furnace used for re-firing experiments and the preparation of clay samples. The lab also has a handheld X-ray fluorescence spectrometer (XRF) for elemental characterization of pottery and other materials. Further analyses, including X-ray diffraction and mass spectrometry, are conducted in collaboration with other research laboratories at the University of Florida and elsewhere.
The CTL maintains three important collections:
Pottery type collection
Pre-Columbian and historic period Indigenous pottery from Florida and the southeastern United States. View examples of these in our Image Galleries.
Comparative clay sample collection
Clay samples from throughout Florida and neighboring areas collected to document geographic variability in clay mineralogy and chemistry.
Thin section library
Comparative “library” of pottery and clay sample thin sections, generated primarily from characterization studies conducted at the CTL.
The Florida Museum Ceramic Technology Laboratory was established in 1977 under the direction of Dr. Prudence Rice, then UF professor of Anthropology (now Distinguished Professor Emerita at SIU, Carbondale, IL). From 1979 to 2017, the lab was overseen by Ann Cordell, who also conducted most of the research projects undertaken by the lab. Ann retired in 2017, but continues to pursue ceramics research in the CTL as Courtesy Research Scientist. Following Ann’s retirement, Dr. Lindsay Bloch took over the CTL from 2017-2022 and oversaw research projects expanding our coverage in the Caribbean and involving UF students in experimentation with new technologies in ceramics analysis.
To generate precise data to address research questions regarding chronology, provenance or manufacturing origins, processes of production, patterns of vessel use, culture change, and the development of sociopolitical and economic complexity in pre-Columbian Florida, the Southeastern US, and the Caribbean Basin.
Since 2023, the CTL has been managed by Dr. Andrea Torvinen.