Nanahi m’skwahe ’tha

Nanahi m’skwahe ’tha

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. 

First, Shawnee potters experimented with oyster shell temper. Oyster shells are available at the local co-op at an affordable price. Unfortunately, many pots made with this type of temper crumbled and fell apart after firing. 

Next, potters tried a temper made from freshwater mussel shells. It is difficult to find a supply of mussel shells, as many freshwater mussel species are endangered. Aquatic biologists kindly assisted. 

The next step was to prepare the shells. Potters heated them slowly over an open fire until they start to glow red (at about 650°F). At this temperature, minerals in the shells undergo a chemical change. They become plate-like. Once cooled, the hard shell can be easily crushed into tiny flakes.

Caption: At first, participants ground the mussel shell with a mortar and pestle. After a few hours, they tested other grinding methods—coffee grinders and a garbage disposal.

Fun Fact: Wyandot potter Richard Zane Smith says, “freshwater mussel shell temper works much like mica-rich clay I've used from the Taos, New Mexico area. The thin flat particles bond with the clay differently than say, for example, chunky pieces of crushed stone. The walls can be made really thin.”