Merry Abbitt Outlaw
New Discoveries - Introduction

Gather up the fragments that remain, 
that nothing be lost.
 John 6:12

Of all material things, ceramics are among the most important objects to collectors, social historians, potters, art historians, and museum curators. They incite desire for ownership, reveal patterns of past human behavior, inspire creativity, illustrate trends in art, and appeal to aesthetic senses. Because of their wide appeal, it is not uncommon for distinguished ceramic collections, formerly privately owned, to become prominent features of museums and educational institutions. 

To historical archaeologists working both in North America and abroad, ceramics are arguably the single most important cultural artifact type. Their importance is twofold: first, they are ubiquitous on historic sites and often reveal such significant information for site interpretation as dates of occupation and functional uses of space; and second, because of the rapid evolution of ceramic wares—forms, designs, functions—they are used to document broader patterns of daily life and behavior through time. 

It is not surprising, then, that most of the articles in “New Discoveries” are contributions by historical archaeologists working in both the New and Old Worlds. Chronicling a diversity of newly discovered, or rediscovered, vessel shapes and wares ranging in date from the early seventeenth century to the early twentieth century, they include finds of two remarkable American stoneware pottery sites—one near Trenton, New Jersey, and the other near Trenton, South Carolina. The articles are not exclusively archaeological, however. Also reported are such recently discovered antiques as the delft figural salt found during a historical society’s collection reassessment and the stoneware punch pot located during a historic house’s acquisition program.

From the English Border ware double dish recovered from the first permanent English settlement at Jamestown, Virginia, to the stoneware pottery site in South Carolina, these new discoveries help fill the gaps in our knowledge about ceramics used, manufactured, or discarded in historic America. Like the painstakingly mended ceramics sherds that become nearly complete vessels in the archaeologist’s laboratory, these contributions are fragments of our American ceramic heritage, which, when carefully pieced together, contribute to a meaningful whole.

Ceramics in America 2001