SCRAP Reading Group Week 26: Pottery Taskscapes

For our last meet-up before our summer break, Jill chose a couple chapters from Dean Arnold’s recent pottery book. These chapters focused on the idea of pottery taskscapes. Tim Ingold (1993) describes a taskscape as “just as the landscape is an array of related features, so – by analogy – the taskscape is an array of related activities.” See below for summary of readings and discussion questions. Thanks to everyone who has joined us so far in 2021 and we look forward to seeing you back in August.

Arnold, Dean E. (2018). Maya Potters’ Indigenous Knowledge: Cognition, Engagement, and Practice. University of Colorado Press, Boulder.

Chapter 8. Data from the previous chapters (ethnoecology, ethnomineralogy, feedback/paste recipes, vessel forming, drying and firing) are considered together as Arnold discusses the environment around Ticul as a “distilled landscape” or a “taskscape” with reference to the potters’ sense of place and religious beliefs, and the town as a community of practice. The resources used by Ticul potters, and their names for these resources, differ from those used by potters in neighboring potting communities in the Yucatan. Prior to the introduction of the tourist market, the vessel shapes produced by Ticul potters were unique.

Chapter 9. Arnold summarizes the data and emphasizes the importance of feedback for understanding ceramic production. He concludes with what he considers important implications for methodology and his final thoughts. He states, “As this work shows, however, potters do not just use a mental template in making their pots. So, to work out the culturally unique and relative aspects of pottery production (of which there are many), one must first understand the material agency of the environment, raw materials, and the intersecting cultural patterns that affect pottery production (229).

Discussion Questions.

  1. I like the taskscape concept because thinking about activities in relation to one another and to the landscape makes pottery production a part of people’s lives as opposed to a distinct activity. How can we use the concept to better understand the lives of the Maya? What analytical techniques should we use?
  2. Can we use the analytical technique du jour, Lidar, to get at landscape use with respect to pottery production? Or are there issues of scale?
  3. What is missing from our studies of landscape?
  4. Everybody think I hate type-variety (I do not!). How can we use decorative and formal attributes to understand learning and indigenous knowledge?
  5. How can we responsibly use ethnographic data in our studies of the past? What can and cannot be addressed?
  6. Our colleagues in Stann Creek are migrants to the region. Archaeologists tend to focus on what we cannot be projected onto the past from the present. For example, the Mopan Maya migrated to Toledo and therefore do not produce pottery in the same way as the ancient Maya. How can we apply the experience of modern migrants to our archeological work? What questions should we be asking? What questions can we actually answer? And how?