From Ancient Hands

Sekamika’ laytheelopay

Rediscovery of Stories in Fire and Clay 

Pottery making is an ancient tradition with connections to people, places, resources, and beliefs. A team of Shawnee people and pottery experts are exploring and reawakening this tradition. Together they are researching the construction of ancient pots, collecting clay, restoring the resources needed for pottery manufacture, and examining the connections between pottery and Shawnee history. This exhibit invites visitors to explore the art and science of Fort Ancient style pottery with hands-on activities.

Many people contributed to the Shawnee Tribe Pottery Project and From Ancient Hands Exhibit. This may not be a complete list!

Shawnee Tribe Business Council and Tribal Staff, The STCC Kid's Committee, Eastern Shawnee Tribe, Absentee Shawnee Tribe, Ohio History Connection, William S. Webb Museum of Anthropology, University of Missouri Research Reactor Center, Kentucky Archaeological Survey, Glenn A. Black Lab of Archaeology, Peoria Tribe of Indians Aquatic Facility, Alutiiq Museum and Archaeological Repository, Richard Zane Smith, Steve Warren, Brian Byrd, Jessica Blanchard, Ariel Barnes, Carrie Lind, Marsha Meyer, Mary Haney, Audessy Lewis, Mya Blanchard, Brianna Barnes, Pam Howard, Tena Booth, Jill Lipka, Dorothy Williams.

  • Here It Is

    Image provided by: Courtesy Ohio History Connection, Om1502_1160522_001 

    “What was our ancestor's pottery like?” 

    To answer this question, Shawnee tribal citizens worked with archaeologists, anthropologists, scientists, and a Wyandot potter to study ancestral ceramics and learn to make pots. 

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  • Storage or Cooking Pot

    The first Fort Ancient pots were jars—wide-mouthed cylindrical containers. By the fifteenth century, people also created small bowls, large shallow platters, and jars with round bases and flared rims. Potters often decorated jars with designs around the neck of the vessel. These watertight containers had many functions. 

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  • Prepare Mussel Shell

    One of the most difficult steps in recreating Fort Ancient style pottery was figuring out the temper. Vessels from Ohio and Kentucky contain different types of temper, such as limestone and mussel shell. 

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  • You make it

    There are many ways to make clay vessels. For example, some potters use the coil method to make vessels. In this method, potters stack long rolls of clay and then smooth them together.

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  • Decorate it

    Image provided by: Courtesy Ohio History Connection, A2121_000525 

    In addition to their many uses, ceramics are a medium where potters can express their identity, artistic talents, and beliefs. The designs ancient potters carved into clay reflect their training, the styles common to their families and communities, as well as personal expression. 

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  • Stand in front

    Researchers have a history of studying Native American people without their involvement or consent, treating Indigenous communities as research subjects rather than partners. Such studies often present skewed or incorrect results, findings that do not take into consideration the knowledge, values, or worldview of Native people.

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  • Think about it (study it)

    Clay vessels have distinct characteristics. Their size, shape, and decoration record details about their uses as well as the people who made them. Other information is hidden from view.

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  • Endangered Mussles

    Fresh water mussels live on rocky river bottoms. When forests and grasslands are cleared, soil erodes into streams and rivers. This soil buries rocky river bottoms and smothers mussels. Most mussels cannot live on muddy, silty river bottoms.

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  • Corn

    Corn has been a Shawnee staple for hundreds of years. There is an old saying: Ne’wethin’ne pay tame k’sake hiine yes’thekey We eat corn because that is the way it was fixed (by God). 

    The Shawnee commonly cultivate three types of corn - dent corn, flint corn, and sweet corn. They eat some fresh corn but preserve most of the crop for later use.

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  • We Are Doing Our Best to Carry it

    Image of Eli and Eliza Ellis Provided: Courtesy Northeastern State Community Archives, Talequah, Oklahoma

    Resources from the land and rivers were essential to Shawnee people. Harvesting and hunting activities were closely tied to the passage of seasons and the cyclical availability of plants and animals. Men and women had reciprocal roles in food gathering, growing, and preparation, together ensuring a bountiful food supply.

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Thank you to  our Exhibit Sponsors