New Guinean Clays

Potting was first introduced to Papua New Guinea over two thousand years ago, and remains a flourishing craft there even today.  Potters on the Sepik coast of northern Papua New Guinea utilize complex paste recipes to produce their final finished ceramics, often mixing several types of clays and other materials such as beach sands (referred to as "temper") to obtain exactly the consistency and working properties that they favor.  During field work on the Sepik coast between 1990 and 1997, Field Museum curator John Terrell and his colleagues collected clays and tempering materials utilized by potters living in modern communities such as Sapi, Serra, and Leitre villages.  Many of these villages were visited in 1909 by A.B. Lewis, one of the museum's first curators of Anthropology, who observed many of the same potting practices that Terrell observed nearly a century later.  Terrell and colleagues at the museum have used these clays to compositionally match both prehistoric and ethnographically collected ceramics to modern production areas.  Their work has revealed a resilient two millennium old tradition of ceramic paste preparation handed down from generation to generation of potters on the Sepik coast.