Skip to main content

Building the concept of Europe. Majolica pottery as a common symbol of European countries in Modern times

Periodic Report Summary - ARCHSYMB (Building the concept of Europe. Majolica pottery as a common symbol of European countries in Modern times)

Project context and objectives

According to objective 1 the differentiation of colonial majolica made in the Americas from majolica produced in Europe is possible through the analysis of their glaze and paste composition. Unequivocally, the different occurrence of geological characteristics for each archaeological site results in a unique chemical fingerprint respectively for each production centre. Therefore, it is possible to differentiate several ceramics found in the Americas, relating them to their production location according to their chemical fingerprint. In this reporting period, the number of colonial production centres has been increased, incorporating the historically crucial majolica productions from Panama and Lima (Peru). As seen when dealing with other types of ceramics, each product also shows a specific chemical fingerprint as a result of the usual use of local clays and recipes. This may influence the way geological materials are treated in order to produce the final ceramic. Additionally, glazing technology is also traceable by chemical analyses. Therefore, it is possible to discriminate between productions according to their different glazing chemical fingerprint. Although Guatemalan and Mexican majolica production are apparently similar to that from Spain, some differences can be highlighted, such as the differential use of PbO, SnO2 and SiO2 in their glazing technology, which is consequently correlated to their chemical composition, especially to their microstructure and also to different recipes and technological approaches.
According to objective 2, a preliminary assessment of the technological characterisation of the colonial and autochthonous majolica ware revealed the technological features of colonial majolica. Along these lines, the quantities and use of PbO, SnO2, and SiO2 in the colonial glazing technology is diverse and significantly different from one production centre to the other. Even more importantly, technological differences in majolica pottery can be traced back to a specific timeframe in some production centres. For instance, Panama is easily distinguishable by SEM - the different technological approach used in majolica ceramics produced between 1519-1671 (before the destruction of the city by pirate/privateer H. Morgan) and after 1673, when the new city was built in a new location.

Project results

It is now possible, therefore, to establish an ante quem or post quem chronology for unknown archaeological specimens according to their microstructural features along with their chemical analyses. In addition, technological differences regarding the nature of majolica pigments are also identified. Along these lines the fact that ancient craftsmen from the colonial Americas used a Fe-based compound for producing black decoration-which is in contrast with the Spanish tradition-might be related to a secular pottery-making tradition still in existence during the colonial period in Panama, the Caribbean, Guatemala and Mexico, revealing the existence of a new hybrid recipe. The identification by XRD of such compound, hematite and magnetoplumbite, represents an important step-forward on the study of technological hybridisation during the European early presence in the Americas. Indeed, it seems to be one of the first and main examples of a successfully combination of traditional and new colonial technologies.