About the Pottery Project

Pottery Project FAQ

At 24,000+ whole vessels, Arizona State Museum’s collection of Southwest Indian pottery is the world’s largest, most comprehensive, and best documented.

Why is the collection so large?

ASM is the permitting authority for archaeological research conducted on 9.5 million acres of state land. As the state's official and largest archaeological repository, ASM cares for the state's collections in perpetuity and makes them available for research, teaching, and public enjoyment. 

ASM's holdings grow by an average 1,000 cubic feet per year. Five-sixths of ASM's pottery collection is archaeological; the remaining is historic and contemporary material.  

Why is pottery so important?

Archaeologists spend a lot of time studying pottery, whether whole or in sherds, because it contains an enormous amount of cultural information: who made it, where it was made, how it was made, how it was used, what it contained, where it got traded to, where it was traded from.

Ceramics define what we know about the ancient cultures of this region and have helped archaeologists clarify the differences among the Hohokam, Salado, Mogollon, Mimbres, Sinagua, and ancestral Pueblo (Anasazi).

Which is the oldest pot in the collection? 

Shown in the right column at the top of this page, this seed jar, or "tecomate," is one of the oldest whole pots in the ASM collection, dating to approximately AD 50-150. It was found in a pit house uncovered at the Stone Pipe Site near Prince Road and the I-10 frontage road in Tucson.

The Stone Pipe site, attributed to what archaeologists call the “Agua Caliente” phase, spans the dates c. AD 50-475. It was excavated by Desert Archaeology, Inc., in 1993-1995 under the direction of Jonathan Mabry, the City of Tucson's historic preservation officer. 

The pot is relatively large and remarkably well made, which suggests that it does not represent the very earliest attempt at pottery making in the Agua Caliente phase. Another point of interest is that these earliest ceramics are primarily storage, not cooking, vessels. 

What is being done to preserve this collection?

With the help of many generous donors, Arizona State Museum was able to build a climate-controlled vault and state-of-the-art conservation laboratory, both completed in 2008. The Agnese and Emil Haury Southwest Native Nations Pottery Vault provides a stable storage environment for the ceramics in terms of temperature, relative humidity, and air quality. The lab provides increased work space for the conservators' continuous work ensuring the long-term survival of all the museum's collection.