Using Pottery to Reconstruct Ancient Religion

Science Daily reports on a new study by archaeologist Todd VanPool with this intriguing lead:

From the time of the Crusades to the modern day, war refugees have struggled to integrate into their new communities.  They are often economically impoverished and socially isolated, which results in increased conflict, systematic violence and warfare, within and between communities as the new immigrants interact with and compete with the previously established inhabitants.  Now, University of Missouri researcher Todd VanPool believes pottery found throughout the North American Southwest comes from a religion of peace-seeking women in the violent, 13th-century American Southwest.  These women sought to find a way to integrate newly immigrating refugees and prevent the spread of warfare that decimated communities to the north.

VanPool has deduced that Salado-style pottery represents “a religion of peace-seeking women” displaced by conflict?  That is a great deal of resolution which places a tremendous load on pottery.

For those not familiar with Salado-style (which has several variations), here are some examples:

It is probably best to withhold judgment until I can read VanPool’s study, which unfortunately is not available online.  It appears, however, that VanPool relies heavily on previous studies by Patricia Crown, a well-known Southwestern archaeologist.

In a short piece (“13th Century Womens’ Movement: How a New Religion and Its Distinctive Pottery Brought Peace to the Southwest“) that VanPool just published at Archaeology Magazine, he discusses Crown’s work:

[Crown discovered] that Salado pottery is found buried with both elite and non-elite people and that the decorations were too standardized to reflect copycat imitation.  Moreover, its complex motifs, such as the horned serpent, resemble sacred symbols that modern Southwestern peoples associate with water control and fertility.  Crown concluded that the pottery reflected the rise of a new religion she called the “Southwestern Regional Cult,” which began in communities in central Arizona and then spread throughout the surrounding region.

Oddly, VanPool does not discuss his recent study which substantially extends these findings.

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