Oneota Ceramic Vessel | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Oneota Ceramic Vessel

Wisconsin Historical Museum Object – Feature Story

Oneota Ceramic Vessel | Wisconsin Historical Society
EnlargeOneota Ceramic Vessel

Oneota Ceramic Vessel, 1989

Source: Wisconsin Historical Museum object #1995.218.39

EnlargeDetail of punctate decoration

Detail of punctate decoration

Detail of punctate decoration applied in geometric patterns to the side of the pot by the potter before the clay had fully dried. The style shown here is known as "Allamakee Trailed." Source: Wisconsin Historical Museum object #1995.218.39

EnlargeExcavation site

Excavation site

The broken pot as archaeologists excavated it. Whole Native American pottery vessels rarely survive intact in Wisconsin, but the fragments, or sherds, may last for hundreds or thousands of years and, if enough pieces of a single pot are found, can sometimes be reassembled in the lab. Source: Decorated shell-tempered pot from the OT site (47-LC-0262), 1500-1625. Source: Wisconsin Historical Museum object #1995.218.39

Museum Archaeology Program archaeologists of the Wisconsin Historical Society excavated this Native American pottery vessel from a site near La Crosse, Wisconsin in June 1989. The site is one of three contiguous villages that archaeologists call the Tremaine Complex. During field excavations in this area, archaeologists also uncovered the remains of seven Oneota Tradition long houses, as well as storage pits and hearths, pottery, chipped stone tools, and other artifacts.

Oneota Tradition peoples inhabited much of the Midwest during the centuries immediately prior to the arrival of Europeans. They typically settled in small farming villages next to lakes or rivers. There the people planted gardens of corn, beans and squash and harvested fish and shellfish found in the nearby waters. Archaeologists recognize Oneota Tradition sites based on the presence of particular types of artifacts and features, such as those found on their distinctive pottery vessels.

Usually globular in form, Oneota pots can have plain or decorated surfaces. This vessel's decorative style, known as "Allamakee Trailed", is typical of Oneota pottery decorations used over 500 years ago during the Valley View Phase (1500-1625). Archaeologists further documented the pot's date by conducting radiocarbon tests on objects discovered in the ground near the vessel.

Other functional and decorative elements common to Oneota vessels that appear on this pot include strap handles, slightly flared rim, and zones of geometric decorations. In this example, the zoned decoration is formed by punctates (tiny circular, shallow impressions) and trailed lines. The pottery maker applied these decorations with her fingers or tools before the clay had fully dried and prior to firing.

An important characteristic of Oneota pottery is that it was shell-tempered. Finely crushed clam shells, strengthened the pottery walls and permitted Oneota potters to make relatively large, lightweight, thin-walled vessels. This pot measures almost twelve inches tall and eighteen inches wide, with side walls about one-third of an inch thick. At this size, the pot could hold approximately 15-20 gallons of liquid. The light-colored specks visible in the body of this pot are bits of shell obtained from fresh water clams abundant in local waterways such as the Mississippi River. Potters added tempering agents to wet clay before forming their vessels. The temper served to inhibit cracks that formed in the clay vessel as it dried prior to firing.

This Oneota pot and other intriguing artifacts of Wisconsin's Native American history can be seen at the Wisconsin Historical Museum in the permanent exhibit People of the Woodlands.

Research on the OT site conducted by MAP on behalf of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.


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Posted on July 07, 2005