Andy Ward
traditional SW pottery

Sourcing The White Slip Used On Salado Polychrome Pottery

In my previous post I made a case for the connection between the theoretical Salado white slip trade and the well established Mule Creek obsidian trade. In this post I will show the results of my hunt for the Salado white slip and make a connection between the best source I have found and the Salado trade network.

Let me begin by outlining the criteria for my search. I know other replicators who have used white slips from near but not in the Salado heartland but I am skeptical of these sources as possible candidates. It makes sense to me that Salado polychrome technology was invented by a potter who was experimenting with local materials, once the recipe was established, the technology and the slip material was disseminated outward from that location. Therefore it is unlikely that the source is on the periphery of the Salado phenomenon but more likely near the center of that movement.

I have been searching and sampling materials across the Salado heartland for years looking for a source of white clay that will turn organic paint black. I searched all the highways and most of the back roads, then started using online satellite imagery to locate white colored minerals near Salado pueblos, then hiking out and sampling those. Most samples either 1) did not have the ability to turn organic paint black, 2) fired to an undesirable yellow or tan color or 3) were not clay but some other material (tuff, gypsum, etc). (Figure 1)

Source description Clay Holds organic paint Fired color
Cannonball Mesa, CO YES YES WHITE
Solomonville, AZ YES NO YELLOW
7 Mile Canyon Hwy 60 (north of Globe, AZ) NO (probably gypsum)
Cañada Atravesada (near Reddington, AZ) NO (probably welded tuff)
Lower Gila Box/Nichols Canyon, NM NO (tuff)
Hwy 70, east of San Carlos, AZ YES YES YELLOW
Benson, AZ YES YES (marginally) WHITE
Mule Creek, NM NO (welded tuff)

Figure 1. Chart of a few of the sources I have sampled in looking for the Salado white slip.

a Salado replica jar

Figure 2. A Salado style jar slipped with Klondyke slip and painted with sunflower paint (Photo and pot by the author)

Some of my best Salado polychrome replicas have been made using clay collect from Cannonball Mesa in southwest Colorado, this is obviously not in the Salado heartland, nor is it close enough to be reasonably considered something Salado potters had access to via trade. It is a clay slip that is commonly used by Anasazi pottery replicators and I use it as a control because it provides the results I am looking for and I compare all new slips I test to it. As you can see from the table, most local samples have been unacceptable in one way or another except the sample from Klondyke, Arizona.

The Klondyke clay was recently discovered (September 2015) and produces results very similar to ancient Salado pottery. (Figure 2)  The source is only 3.5 miles from Haby Pueblo (BB:3:16), a large Salado site with a strong connection to the Mule Creek obsidian network with 64% of obsidian coming from Mule Creek (Neuzil 2008) and a high percentage of Gila Polychrome at 88% of total datable sherds, (Hartmann and Lee 2003) another large site nearby is Crescent Ruin (BB:8:6) about 8 miles away with an even larger percentage of Gila Polychrome at 87%, this site also has a strong connection to the Mule Creek obsidian trade with 71% of obsidian coming from Mule Creek. (Figure 4) Finally, the Klondike source is located close to the geographic center of the Salado phenomenon and within 150 km of all major Salado sites with is considered the limit for a tumpline economy (Malville 2001, Lekson 2015). (Figure 3)

Salado phenomenon as it relates to the white slip trade

Figure 3. Map showing the production area for Salado polychomes with the location of the Klondike white clay source indicated and a 150 km circle around it illustrating that it is roughly in the geographic center and within 150 km of all major Salado sites.

The Klondike source is high in zeolites and so has unique properties not found in ordinary smectite clays, firing tests are ongoing to compare the Klondyke slip’s ability to hold organic paint at high temperatures to prehistoric Salado slip. More information will be made available here on this website as it becomes available. I think the evidence is strong that the Klondike slip was the source for slip in the “Gila Horizon” (Crary, Germick & Doyel 2001), the slip used for Pinto is obviously of different quality. I would be interested in talking to anyone who can provide chemical tests of my slip against Salado polychrome sherds for a definitive conclusion.

Site Name Site Number Approx. Distance to White Clay % Mule Creek Obsidian % Salado polychrome
Haby Pueblo BB:3:16 3.5 Miles 64% (Neuzil) 88% (Hartmann)
Crescent Ruin BB:8:6 8 Miles 71% (Neuzil) 87% (Neuzil)
Eagle Pass Ruin BB:4:1 4 Miles 0% (Neuzil) 90% (Neuzil)

Figure 4. Some Salado pueblo ruins in close proximity to the Klondyke white clay source and their connections to the obsidian trade network and the Salado ceramic phenomenon.

References Cited

Crary, Joseph, S., Germick, Stephen and Doyle, David, E.
2001 Exploring the Gila Horizon
Kiva Vol. 66 No. 4 Arizona Archaeological and Historical Society, Tucson

Hartmann, William K. and Lee, Betty Graham
Chichilticale: A Survey of Candidate Ruins in Southeastern Arizona The Coronado Expedition From a Distance of 460 Years
University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque

Jones, Robert M.
2012 Mule Creek Obsidian in the Time of Salado, Archaeology Southwest Magazine Fall 2012 Archaeology Southwest, Tucson

Lekson, Stephen H
2015 The Chaco Meridian: One Thousand Years of Political and Religious Power in the Ancient Southwest
Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland

Malville, Nancy J.
2001 Long Distance Transport of Bulk Goods in the Pre-Hispanic American Southwest
Journal of Anthropological Archaeology

Neuzil, Anna A.
2008 In the Aftermath of Migration: Renegotiating Ancient Identity in Southeastern Arizona The University of Arizona Press, Tucson


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About Andy Ward

I am an independent researcher, writer and artist interested in all things Southwestern. Southeast Arizona is my home and area of primary interest.

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