Prescott Gray Ware


PERIOD: Prescott and Chino Phases (Colton 1939:31-32); also earlier phases in the development of the Prescott Tradition (Jeter 1977:77,376-389); Wood 1979, 1980

DATES: at least A.D. 800, and possibly earlier, to 1400


Construction: coiled.  Occasional basket and textile impressions suggest at least some use of a base mold.

Thinning: paddle and anvil.

Finishing: usually hand smoothed; occasionally lightly wiped, scraped, or both.  Jars: interiors smoothed by scraping and are almost never polished except occasionally along the rim.  Rims often have light wiping marks.  Anvil marks occasionally show on jars.  Jar exteriors were scraped smooth.  Sometimes, a scum finish is present, indicating considerable use of water in the finishing process.  Bowls: interiors occasionally polished, rarely smudged.  Exteriors are scraped smooth and seldom polished.  Occasional heavy wiping. Anvil marks rarely show on bowls. 

Firing: Firing atmosphere usually varied.  More controlled for non-oxidizing atmosphere on decorated ware; less controlled for plain.  Often, oxidized and non-oxidized areas are apparent on the same vessel suggesting a haphazard firing technique.  There is a trend toward non-oxidation in the east to oxidation in the west (Euler and Dobyns 1962:77).  Most firing was probably done at temperatures below 800°C whether in an oxidizing or non-oxidizing atmosphere (James 1973:18).  It appears as though there was a definite attempt to achieve a non-oxidizing atmosphere, at least in the east, and for decorated vessels. Likewise, orange types appear to have been deliberately oxidized for a clear, bright orange color. Fire clouds are haphazard and frequent on gray types.

Temper: moderate to abundant, poorly sorted, granitic material including quartz, arkosic sand, and feldspar. Particles of many sizes; medium to coarse grains prominent.  Quartz tends to be clear, but can also be frosted or both and is generally angular, sometimes rounded.   Mica is frequent, but the presence of mica is not required for inclusion in the ware.  Proportions of quartz and mica vary.  When present, mica is usually silver, sometimes black or gold, sometimes mixed. Large chunks of tempering material are often present in addition to smaller material; temper particles are sometimes fine, but temper is always abundant.

Core Color: Carbon streak  sometimes present; core usually gray to orange due to position  of vessel during firing.

Clay: Residual clay, generally dark gray in non-oxidizing atmosphere,  bright orange when fully oxidized, and shades in between, depending on firing atmosphere; not vitrified.

Core Texture: medium to coarse, visible subangular to angular temper particles generally range between 0.5 mm and 4 mm; porous.

Fracture: irregular, crumbly, particles easily detached from broken edge.

Surface Appearance: varies, rough to smooth, but seldom polished (see finishing). Bowl interiors tend to be smoother than exteriors.  Generally not slipped.  Some types have buff to white and red slips.  Occasionally a scum surface is present.

Surface Color: generally gray, also brown, orange. This range of colors can be found, even on the same sherd.  The named orange types have clear orange exteriors and aluminum gray interiors.

Firing Clouds: frequent and haphazard.

Thickness: Bowls range from 4.5 mm to 15 mm; average 6.5 mm.  Jars range from 8.9 mm to 10.6 mm; average 10 mm.  Jar bases often thick.

Weathering and Use Wear Pattern: interior bottom surfaces of jars commonly exfoliated.  Exterior surfaces of all forms sometimes abraded, especially on vessel bottoms.

Vessel Forms: Hemispherical bowls and globular jars are most common.  Bowls range from 10 to 45 cm in diameter.  Jars are generally large, usually over 50 cm in diameter, but may range from 15 to 90 cm in diameter.  Jars (especially Prescott Red-on-gray and Prescott Red-on-buff) sometimes have a shoulder which is higher and more rounded than the "Gila shoulder" which is low on the jar and "frequently made in such a way as to leave a pronounced angle around the body" (Colton 1937:177);  sometimes constructed as a jar in a bowl form (mold inset); occasionally, there are two shoulders separated by a slightly concave band which serves as a design field;  jar bottoms are sometimes slightly conical.  Miniatures generally lack standarized forms.  Seed jars, effigy vessels, dippers and scoops are rare.  Anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines are relatively common, and some anthropomorphic ones are unusually large. 

Rims: Jar rims are almost always rounded, occasionally square, almost always flared.  Bowl rims are also usually rounded, occasionally square,  and are usually vertical or, less commonly, flared.

Decoration and Paint Type: Painted; wide variety of materials and colors for paints and slips. Paint is organic until late time periods when red and white mineral paints appear.  Painted designs appear on interior of bowls, occasionally on exterior; on interior rim and exterior of jars; sometimes entire jar interior is decorated.  Decorative surface treatments are rare, but include applique, modeling, punctate designs, fingernail indentation, incising.

RANGE: Concentrates in the Prescott Branch heartland:  from Upper Chino Wash on the north to Peeples Valley on the south, and from Juniper Mountains on the west to the Agua Fria River at Dewey on the east.  Outside the heartland, substantial numbers occur in a band along Deadmans Wash into Wupatki National Monument on the north, to Horsethief Basin on the south, and from the Big Sandy River on the west [may be revised], to the Black Hills on the east and in the Sedona Red Rocks area.

COMPARISON: San Francisco Mountain Gray Ware has finer paste, smaller temper size, and thinner walls. Verde Brown has a browner color and more varied temper, including gold mica (while Prescott Gray Ware tends to have silver mica). Wingfield Plain has phyllite temper. Hohokam plainware has a browner color and more varied temper.


REMARKS: Prescott Gray Ware belongs to a broader Central Arizona Plain Ware tradition, characterized by thick-walled vessels thinned by the paddle-and-anvil technique. Its decorative style is unique, but clearly related to Cohonina and Anasazi traditions to the north via shared paint recipes (carbon) and design elements.


Prescott Gray

Prescott Black-on-gray

Prescott Red-on-gray

Prescott White-on-gray

Prescott Polychrome

Aquarius Orange

Aquarius Black-on-orange

Prescott Red

Prescott White-on-red

Prescott Buff (ranges to white)

Prescott Red-on-buff

FITZMAURICE SERIES (by Andrew Christenson)

© Copyright 2001 Northern Arizona University.