What is an adorno?

Close up of pottery with animal heads
Ceramic Bowl with Four Heads, made by the McKeithen Weeden Island People, dates to ~AD 550. Florida Museum photo by Kristen Grace

Adornos, also called appendages, are any sort of modeled decoration affixed to a pot. The term adorno, or effigy, is used most often when it takes the form of an animal, but there are other non-animal adornos. The adorno may serve a purpose—it can be a lug handle or other grip, or occasionally a spout.

Adornos most often occur around the rim, but can be placed elsewhere on the body. Sometimes there are matched adornos, i.e., one end of the vessel has a head, and the other end has a tail. This contributes to an overall zoomorphic shape to the pot. Other times, multiple animals are depicted, as in our four headed pot.

Why do we want to identify what it is?

Adornos are typically found on special-purpose vessels rather than everyday cooking and storage wares. This indicates that the animals represented were of aesthetic, functional, or ritual importance to the people who made them or the contexts in which they were used.

This is why it would be useful to be more confident in the identification of animal/species. Some may be migrating species, or showing seasonal plumage. Some may be animals species that people did not eat, but connected with in a different way. Some adornos have both human and animal features so may represent special relationships between the human and animal realms.

Looking at adornos together

Most of these adornos are from the Gulf Coast of Florida and likely represent animal species present in the area, even if just seasonally. We also want to emphasize that artisans drew human connections to animals, so these adornos might be anthropomorphized. There’s no definitive answer to these adornos currently. We are simply inviting everyone to think about the people that lived here at the time, and learn about the relationship they had with their natural world.

For the month of November we’re going to look at thirteen adornos from our collection on the Florida Museum’s social media accounts. You’re welcome to join us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and participate in our #AdornoID challenge. As we reveal each adorno on social media, we’ll add it here, and update on some of the strongest suggestions made.