The Origins of Pottery

Image of early decorated ceramic jar fragment.
Image of early decorated ceramic jar fragment interior.
Invention revolutionizes food cooking and storage

To understand the significance of the invention of pottery, consider the modern Sunday barbecue where one might hear the sizzle of grease from the hamburger as it drips through the grill and into the fire. But for Native people, the fat going up in smoke represented the loss of crucial calories. Hunters spent hours of physical exertion stalking, killing, butchering, and transporting their game home. Meats and other foods were then cooked by placing the pot in a fire with no loss of those hard-won calories.

Native Americans in Illinois first created pottery about 2,500 years ago, replacing animal hide and plant fibers that could not easily be used for cooking. The appearance of pottery is one of several noteworthy changes that encouraged archaeologists to define a new way of life in Illinois called the Woodland Period. Pottery made during this period is known as Marion Thick Pottery. The pots have flat-bottoms and thick walls with indelible impressions of coarsely woven fabric on the exterior and interior of the vessel. Archaeologists generally find pieces of broken pottery, and only rarely can they reconstruct a part of a container. Early Woodland pottery has been found throughout Illinois, especially among the remains of small encampments along major rivers and streams.

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