Earth Notes: Hopi Yellow-ware
In the summer of 1963, a cache of five intact pottery jars and bowls was discovered in what is now Canyonlands National Park in Utah. The discovery is unique because the pottery consists entirely of a type known as Hopi Yellow-wares, which is only made on the Hopi Mesas in northeastern Arizona, 200 miles away.
This style was developed in the 13th century. The pots are fired with coal dug from local deposits. This results in hotter firing temperatures, creating vibrant yellow, orange, and red hues in the finished clay. Their shapes include ladles, bowls, and jars decorated with abstract birds, feathers, and geometric patterns painted in red, black, and white pigments.
Archaeologists who studied the Canyonlands cache believe the pottery was made between the 14th and 16th centuries. They also have some theories on how these particular ceramics ended up so far from the Hopi mesas.
One idea is the pottery was traded from Hopi, and later stashed where it was found. But, finding a set of intact Yellow-ware vessels is rare, and indicates this cache may have had a more specific purpose. Curiously, one of the jars was filled with rock salt.
Another theory says the cache is evidence of a ceremonial pilgrimage, undertaken by a group of Hopi people not long after the pottery was made. This centuries-old tradition is meant to honor the history of Hopi culture, and often includes whole pottery vessels as offerings. Some Hopis believe this is how the cache made its way to Utah, carried by descendants on a spiritual journey, back into the lands of the ancestors.
This Earth Note was written by Lyle Balenquah and produced by KNAU and the Sustainable Communities Program at Northern Arizona University.