JAIC 2002, Volume 41, Number 2, Article 4 (pp. 139 to 154)
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Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 2002, Volume 41, Number 2, Article 4 (pp. 139 to 154)


Jessica M. Fletcher


Stuccoed cylindrical tripod vessels from Teotihuacán can be found in museums around the world, and yet they remain objects surrounded by mystery. Most have been excavated from elaborate burials, but repairs on the vessels such as crack-lacing suggest that they had a function during life as well (Conides 1997). It is not even certain who applied the delicate layers of decoration, a subject being researched by Professor Cynthia Conides from the Buffalo State College History Department.

While much has been written on the subject of the mural paintings from Teotihuacán, comparatively little analytical data have been published on stuccoed cylindrical tripod vessels. Notable studies include Castillo Tejero's (1968) survey of decorative techniques and pigment types that included five samples from Teotihuacán. Shepard's appendix to Excavations at Kaminaljuyu, Guatemala (1946) also includes descriptions of sherds from Teotihuacán. She discusses analyses of ceramic body, stucco, and pigments. Specific to analysis of the clay matrix is Kolb's “Analyses of Archaeological Ceramics from Classic Period Teotihuacán, Mexico, A.D. 150–750.” Published in 1997, this paper discusses the pastes and aplastics of Teotihuacán ceramic artifacts. Both the small number of literature sources and the materials variation that they indicate clearly demonstrate the need for further analytical research on stuccoed tripod vessels.

This study was conducted with the goal of characterizing a specific group of stuccoed pottery fragments from Teotihuacán. Thirteen representative sherds (fig. 1) were selected from approximately 150 that were available from the archaeological site known as Maquixco Bajo (also designated TC-8). Maquixco Bajo was a large period village situated outside the western boundary of urban Teotihuacán. Five excavations had been conducted at this residential area during the 1961 and 1962 field seasons (Sanders 1994).

The 150 available sherds had all been stored together loosely in a box, so pigment transference was a certainty. Consequently, the primary criterion for the sample selection was to isolate those sherds that exhibited the least evidence of disruption. This culling narrowed down the choices considerably and did not allow for a random sampling. Sherds exhibiting the typical range of available pigments were also given priority. For example, while red and black pigments were present on virtually all the sherds, examples of blues, greens, and yellows were much more rare. After careful consideration, 13 sherds were deemed acceptable. They represent excavations of two distinct apartment structures (Mound 1–2 and Mound 3) at Maquixco Bajo (Sanders 1994). As the majority of the sherds did not have attached archaeological specimen numbers, they are designated by their four-digit unit numbers. It should be noted that sherd 8027 is actually comprised of several small fragments that had been previously adhered together. They are treated as one sherd for the purposes of this study. Sherds 8685 and 8819 are from the same vessel but were excavated in different locations. Sherd 8772 is from a flat-bottomed bowl, but has been stuccoed in the same manner as the cylindrical vessels.Table 1 outlines the known provenance of the sherds (Kolb 1988; Sanders 1994).

Fig. 1. The 13 sherds from Maquixco Bajo at Teotihuacán

Analysis of the 13 sherds included pigment identification, stucco identification, characterization of the ceramic surface preparation, as well as further investigation into binders and the technology of application. The techniques employed for analysis included scanning electron microscopy (SEM), microchemical testing, polarized light microscopy, x-ray powder diffraction (XRD), and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR). To place the results of this research in context, a brief introduction to Teotihuacán is necessary.

Table . Known Provenance

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