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Archaeology of Early Colonial Interaction at El Chorro de Maíta, Cuba$

Roberto Valcárcel Rojas

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780813061566

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813061566.001.0001

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(p.339) Appendix

(p.339) Appendix

European Ceramics, Non-Cuban Indigenous Ceramics, Indigenous-based Ceramics That Copy European Forms, and Other Ceramics

Archaeology of Early Colonial Interaction at El Chorro de Maíta, Cuba

Roberto Valcárcel Rojas

University Press of Florida

European Ceramics

Coarse Earthenware Group

Unglazed Coarse Earthenware Subgroup

Unglazed Coarse Earthenware

This category includes ceramics that cannot be included in any of the other types recognized within this subgroup. It includes nine sherds between 7 and 9 mm thick, some with interior wheel marks called “rilling.” The paste is hard and compact, reddish in color, and homogeneous. There are no features that allow for the specification of vessel shapes or chronology.

Olive Jar

This is the most frequent type on the site, totaling 424 fragments, 70.6 percent of the collection of European ceramics. A total of 57.5 percent of the fragments (n = 244) have a lead glaze coating, and 180 fragments are unglazed (Figure A.1). It was impossible to reconstruct the vessels. All of the mouths found were tall and everted, and none had annular rings. All match forms described by Goggin (1960:Figure 3) as early style. The handles, glazed or unglazed, were of faceted profile (Figures A.1 and A.2). The walls are predominantly between 5 and 7 mm thick, but usually 7 mm. The thinner walls are 4 mm, and the thickest (two fragments) are 11 mm. The majority of the exterior surfaces exhibit a white slip, and occasionally glazed areas. In many (p.340) cases the interior surfaces are lead-glazed. The glaze frequently appears on the vessel mouth and in surrounding areas, usually on both surfaces. The glaze is predominantly of diverse shades of green, and carmelitas (light brown), although there are also browns, grays, and reds. Rilling is common on the interiors. The paste has a reddish color but also appears in cream, and there are a few cases of gray. The color is generally homogeneous, although pieces occur with reddish or cream pastes and a gray core. The paste is almost always hard and compact, with inclusions that are difficult to see with the naked eye.

The shape of the mouth, the presence of faceted handles, and the thickness of the fragments conform to the early-style traits defined by Goggin (1960:8–11). Deagan (1987:Table 2, 33) dates the early style to between 1490 and 1570, although material studies conducted in Seville suggest a date of origin that begins in the middle of the fifteenth century and a terminal date around the middle of the sixteenth century (De Amores Carredano and Chisvert Jiménez 1993:283). According to Goggin (1960:11), this type could have its source in the south of Spain.

AppendixEuropean Ceramics, Non-Cuban Indigenous Ceramics, Indigenous-based Ceramics That Copy European Forms, and Other Ceramics

A.1. Unglazed Olive Jar fragments from El Chorro de Maíta.


AppendixEuropean Ceramics, Non-Cuban Indigenous Ceramics, Indigenous-based Ceramics That Copy European Forms, and Other Ceramics

A.2. Glazed Olive Jar fragments from El Chorro de Maíta.

Orange Micaceous

Found in Unit 6, this single fragment is of the base of a 5-mm-thick vessel of undefined form. The exterior surface presents a fine coating of orange-cream slip, almost translucent, and rilling in the interior. It has an orange slip that is slightly darker than the paste. It is compact, homogeneous, very fine, hard, and clear orange in color. Brilliant particles, apparently mica, are observed on the surfaces and in the core. The established chronology is for a period understood as between 1550 and 1650, and the origin appears to be glazed ceramics manufactured in the southeast of Spain (Deagan 1987:Table 2, 41).


Nine sherds were collected from diverse areas. Among those distinguished is the edge of a pitcher or narrow-mouthed container. The surfaces are smooth, and the walls are between 4 and 8 mm thick. The paste is generally white, although there is also cream color and a very clear shade of gray. It is soft, (p.342) fine, and compact. No decorative details are present. Deagan judges the chronological range of Bizcocho to extend from approximately 1500 to 1550. She considers the possible origin to be Iberian (Deagan 1987:Table 2, 28, 43). Bizcocho vessels found in Old Havana date to the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries (Roura and Quevedo 2008:209).

Lead-Glazed Coarse Earthenware Subgroup

We are unable to attribute these to particular types. Sixteen fragments were found concentrated in Campo Moisés and in Unit 6, and only one sherd in Campo Riverón. They show glazes on both surfaces of emerald green, greenish-yellow, and yellowish-white colors. Various pieces have evidence of rilling. The paste is cream or reddish color, and the thickness of the sherds is between 6 and 11 mm. They include fragments of one container with very thick walls (23 mm) in the shape of a cone that could be part of the back of a mortar or a tinaja (jar). A silver-white glaze is present on the interior, an area where rilling is also observed. The paste is reddish, thick, and hard.

Coarse Earthenware with Green-Golden Brown Lead-Glazed

We recognize this as a variety of ceramic with a green color similar to Green Lebrillo on the exterior surface, and carmelita color (golden brown) on the interior surface, like that found for the Melado type. The colors are dark. It does not conform to the variety called “vitreos” recognized at La Isabela by Deagan and Cruxent (2002a:160–66), although it exhibits the same principle of diversity as the Muslim Spanish ceramic tradition. The four sherds were found in Units 6 and 3 and have cream-colored paste that is fine and compact, with a thickness that ranges between 6 and 9 mm. Part of the area of inflection from a vessel of unidentified form was collected. No decorations or handles were observed. For this case we assume the chronology attributed to Melado (Deagan 1987:Table 2, 47, 48) and to Morisco Green, circa 1490 to 1550, and a European origin.


This type appears in the majority of the areas investigated. Nineteen pieces with walls that range in thickness from 4 to 8 mm were located. Both surfaces exhibit carmelita-colored lead glaze, with some variation in shade (honey, amber, mustard brown), and many times dark. In one fragment this glaze appears on a white slip. The paste is fine and compact and of a reddish color, although there are some examples with cream color and one with an orange color. Rilling is observed on the interior surfaces. Part of the base of (p.343) a pitcher, or some other tall vessel, and one fragment of the base of a plate or bowl were found. Deagan (1987:Table 2, 47, 48) fixes the chronology of this ceramic type between 1490 and 1550 and gives the origin as European.

Green Lebrillo

Six fragments were identified in distinct areas, with a thickness ranging between 10 and 18 mm (Figure A.3). Rounded rims that were thickened toward the exterior reach up to 40 mm wide. One of the sherds comes from a vessel of more than 30 cm in diameter. The pieces with flanges of 40 and 30 mm wide, respectively, were found in Unit 5. White slip occasionally is present on the exterior surfaces. The interior surfaces show dark, emerald-green lead glaze. The paste is reddish color, compact, and slightly thick; inclusions are observed in certain cases. There is rilling on some of the interior surfaces. Deagan (1987:Table 2, 47–49) places the chronology between 1490 and 1600, and the origin is attributed to Europe.

El Morro

Only one fragment of this type was found in the General Materials. It is a 9-mm-thick lead-glaze earthenware sherd that exhibits a dark-grayish-colored

AppendixEuropean Ceramics, Non-Cuban Indigenous Ceramics, Indigenous-based Ceramics That Copy European Forms, and Other Ceramics

A.3. Green Lebrillo ceramic fragments from El Chorro de Maíta.

(p.344) exterior surface with greenish carmelite spots. The interior surface presents a greenish carmelite glaze of granular texture and rilling. The paste is gray in color with visible inclusions and pores. The type of vessel it belonged to cannot be determined. Deagan (1987:Table 2, 51) attributes this ceramic type to a quite extensive time period that goes from 1550 until 1770; the place of origin is not specified.

Morisco Green

Eight sherds were found in areas close to the cemetery. The paste is reminiscent of majolica texture, although harder and thicker. The sherds show a dark emerald-green glaze. One sherd corresponds to a base, possibly from a bowl. Another was recorded in the form of perforated disc. These sherds have a thickness between 9 and 12 mm. According to the digital type collection of the Florida Museum of Natural History, they are considered to have been produced in Spain, and their chronology extends from 1490 to 1550 (Florida Museum of Natural History 2009).

Majolica Group

This category includes eight fragments affected by erosion and other processes, where the characteristics of majolica were recognized by the paste and remnants of superficial enamel. A definitive type could not be made for these.

Spanish Majolica Subgroup

Spanish Morisco Majolica

Spanish Morisco Majolica, Blue on White

These were found in areas close to the cemetery. There are eleven sherds between 6 and 12 mm thick, with a clear yellow or cream-colored paste, spongy clay covered by a fine and opaque tin enamel. They show blue decorations on white enamel—some as lines—paint chips, and one small fragment that is light and mottled. Two fragments are of the same object but come from distinct groups of materials, showing incised parallel lines along the edge. Based on the shades of blue and the linear motifs, it is probable that some of these ceramics are of the types Yayal Blue on White, Isabela Polychrome, or Santo Domingo Blue on White.

Columbia Plain

This is the most abundant type of majolica in the site, with a total of 78 sherds, of which 58 show white tin enamel on both sides (Figure A.4). The (p.345)

AppendixEuropean Ceramics, Non-Cuban Indigenous Ceramics, Indigenous-based Ceramics That Copy European Forms, and Other Ceramics

A.4. Columbia Plain majolica fragments from El Chorro de Maíta.

remaining 20 exhibit a light green glaze on a white enamel that generally appears on the exterior surface, although it also can be found on both sides. One of the sherds has a dark green line (3 mm wide) on the exterior glaze. The handles are glazed; two have a profile that is somewhat cylindrical and gently flattened, and a third is a flat strip.

The thickness of these pieces ranges between 4 and 12 mm, but they are predominantly between 8 and 9 mm. The paste is fine, soft, and generally cream-colored. The rims are rounded and smooth. Rilling is occasionally observed on the internal surfaces. Fragments of bases appear to pertain to plates, bowls, and a tall vessel that is apparently a pitcher with green glaze. There is part of a plate of approximately 22 cm in diameter, with a raised “dimple” in the center of the concave base that corresponds to the details of an early style defined by Goggin (1968:119–20). One bowl shows a ring on the base. Also present is a fragment that could be an appendage or perhaps part of a handle; it is in the shape of a flat strip with compressed edges applied near the rim of a piece with green areas. One fragment is recorded as a perforated disc. Another example, fragmented on the perforation, could be triangular or rectangular.

According to Deagan (1987:56), the usual chronology of Columbia Plain ceramics in the Caribbean is from 1492 to 1550 for the early forms and between (p.346) 1550 and 1650 for late forms, although Marken (1994:178) extends the longevity of this type until the middle of the eighteenth century. Examples from the site show a definite relationship with the characteristics of the early forms established by Goggin (1968:118–23). The only possible late-character feature is a ring on the base of one bowl; however, this also can occur, although not very often, in early forms (Goggin 1968:120).

Isabela Polychrome

Three fragments, two of which came from the same piece, are part of a plate with white enamel that is decorated with parallel blue and purple curved bands (Figure A.5). The single purple band is much thicker. All of the fragments are 8 mm thick and have similar fine, soft, light-cream-colored paste. A chronology from 1490 to 1580 is attributed to this ceramic (Deagan 1987:Table 2, 59).

Santo Domingo Blue on White

Only one sherd was recovered (from Campo Moisés), corresponding to the base of a bowl with a ring and central protuberance (Figure A.6). It has white

AppendixEuropean Ceramics, Non-Cuban Indigenous Ceramics, Indigenous-based Ceramics That Copy European Forms, and Other Ceramics

A.5. Isabela Polychrome majolica fragments from El Chorro de Maíta.


AppendixEuropean Ceramics, Non-Cuban Indigenous Ceramics, Indigenous-based Ceramics That Copy European Forms, and Other Ceramics

A.6. Santo Domingo Blue on White majolica fragments from El Chorro de Maíta.

enamel and is decorated with a design of curved, straight, and pointed blue lines. The paste is fine, smooth, and cream-colored. Its identification is problematic because of the small size of the piece. Even so, the form and position of the decorative motif match the characteristics of the type. It is attributed to a chronology that goes from 1550 to 1630 (Deagan 1987:Table 2, 61).

Majolica with Italian Influences Subgroup

Caparra Blue

Two fragments were found in Campo Moisés (Figure A.7). One of these is part of a rim with an everted top, perhaps part of an albarello or Spanish medicine bottle, which is the only shape associated with this type, according to Deagan (1987:63). It shows uniform dark-blue-colored tin enamel on the exterior, and a white enamel interior; in one case the interior part also has remnant blue. The walls reach 5 and 8 mm thick, respectively. The paste is compact, cream in one case and white in the other. For this ceramic the chronology is considered to go from 1490 to 1600 (Deagan 1987:Table 2, 63). (p.348)

AppendixEuropean Ceramics, Non-Cuban Indigenous Ceramics, Indigenous-based Ceramics That Copy European Forms, and Other Ceramics

A.7. Caparra Blue majolica fragments from El Chorro de Maíta.

Non-Cuban Indigenous Ceramics

Mexican Red Painted

Of the existing six sherds, only one fragment is close to Deagan’s (1987:44) description. It shows red paint or slip on both faces, with a smooth burnish. The paste is dark terra cotta and granular. It is 6 mm thick and was found in Unit 6. The remaining fragments from Unit 6, Campo Moisés, and Unit 2 appear to be from the same piece, measuring between 9 and 11 mm thick, with a red, fine, and compact paste. On the external surface they all show a fine covering of red paint or slip, with burnished zones that are slightly darker than the paste (Figure A.8). They also exhibit irregular white bands, some diffuse, that could be part of a decoration, although we cannot exclude the possibility that they are sediment residues. In some, a whitish interior is observed, perhaps generated by the substances contained in the vessel. Other interior surfaces maintain the reddish color of the paste without paint. They are apparently part of a tall vessel with a mouth between 16 and 18 cm in diameter and with thickened and rounded rims 20 mm in width; it is perhaps a small tinaja.

Recorded pieces classified as Mexican Red Painted were found in Old Havana in contexts dated to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries but are also present at later dates (Lugo and Menéndez 2001, 2003; Arrazcaeta et al. 2006:208). According to Deagan, these ceramics were produced in Mexico (p.349)

AppendixEuropean Ceramics, Non-Cuban Indigenous Ceramics, Indigenous-based Ceramics That Copy European Forms, and Other Ceramics

A.8. Mexican Red Painted ceramic fragment from El Chorro de Maíta.

and perhaps other places. She proposes a chronology going from 1550 to 1750 (Deagan 1987:Table 2, 43, 44).

Aztec IV

Among the General Materials (Table 5.6) is a small fragment that is 24 mm long and 6 mm thick, with paste that goes from a dark cream color on the exterior wall to dark gray on the interior wall, perhaps due to incomplete firing (Figure A.9). The material is slightly granular, with very small inclusions. The external surface presents an orange-red-colored slip or paint, on which finely curved black lines are painted. The interior surface is dark gray, somewhat irregular, with pores and the appearance of erosion. There are no indications of wheel fabrication, and the paste reflects indigenous features. The way it was painted was uncommon in the Antilles. In the opinion of Roger Arrazcaeta (personal communication 2010), it is very similar to pieces of Aztec IV found in sixteenth-century contexts in Old Havana. Archaeologist (p.350)

AppendixEuropean Ceramics, Non-Cuban Indigenous Ceramics, Indigenous-based Ceramics That Copy European Forms, and Other Ceramics

A.9. Aztec IV ceramic fragment from El Chorro de Maíta.

Gilda Hernández (Leiden University) also considers it to be similar to Aztec IV (personal communication 2012).

The dates for this ceramic go back to the Late Aztec period between 1502 and 1521, although some authors extend the range to the middle of the sixteenth century (González Rul 1988:396), and others to the seventeenth century (Charlton 1979).

Painted Coarse Earthenware

This category includes the vessel found in Unit 6 and classified by Guarch Delmonte (1994:38) as Concepción de la Vega type. The container is in the shape of a straight-necked pitcher, but parts of the rim were not found (Figure 4.21). At the level of the neck, the walls are 8 mm thick. There are no exterior wheel marks (rilling), and it was impossible to observe the interior surface to determine the construction technique that was used. The bottom has a circular depression that creates a concave base. The external surface is regular and smooth and has lost most of the white slip that apparently once totally covered it. Where it is preserved it is possible to observe linear and curved decorations that were painted in black on the white slip. They conform to a panel motif flanked above and below by straight lines on the upper middle section of the piece. It incorporates white circles with central points in black. The space between the circles is filled in black. A zigzag line and curves are also visible, but their integration with the white circles cannot be discerned.

The paste is a clear reddish color, well fired and with abundant rock-grain (p.351) inclusions that are not very large but are observable with the naked eye. The paste is recorded as indigenous, although its origin has not been studied. The reconstructed piece measured 30 cm tall and 33 cm in diameter at the widest part; the neck is 8.3 cm in diameter. The vessel is very different from Cuban indigenous materials in form and decoration.

The ceramic from the town of Concepción de la Vega (1494–1562), Dominican Republic, to which Guarch Delmonte alludes, was described by Ortega and Fondeur (1978) as made by coiling and, less likely, by using a wheel. The characteristics of the decoration are red on white slip and the use of zoned incision, engraving and scratching filled in red. In the opinion of those authors, it is the product of indigenous potters that worked in the city and copied Spanish forms and decorative techniques with Moorish influences, combined with local indigenous decorative motifs. They reject the idea that these could be Central American or Mesoamerican ceramics.

Deagan (2002b) calls this ceramic “La Vega” and distinguishes three types of surface decoration: La Vega Red, characterized by the use of red slip; La Vega Red and White, with red slip designs painted on a white slip foundation; and La Vega Esgrafiada, with incised designs on white and/or red slip. Deagan and Cruxent (2002a:294) consider it a unique combination of aspects from the Caribbean, Europe, and possibly South America. It is encountered, although rarely, in early-sixteenth-century contexts in the city of Santo Domingo and was produced only in the first quarter of the sixteenth century (Deagan 1987:104).

The colors of the piece from El Chorro de Maíta are different from those of the Concepción de la Vega ceramics. It is also taller and wider than the majority of those documented at La Vega (Ortega and Fondeur 1978). However, in general terms it very much resembles La Vega ceramics in form and in the characteristics of the decorative motif and its expression. It reflects indigenous manufacture and decoration and perhaps is a copy of Spanish forms or non-Antillean indigenous forms (from South America or Mesoamerica); we prefer for the moment not to assign this ceramic to La Vega.

Indigenous Ceramics, Possibly Local, That Copy European Forms

These are ceramics with indigenous technology. One case that preserves only part of the body, the mouth, and a handle appears to be an attempt to copy a majolica pitcher. The surface is smoothed, and the color is reddish-brown, with slight traces of exposure to fire. It is uncertain where in the site it was (p.352) found, and it is currently displayed in the El Chorro de Maíta museum. Similarly, a replica of another vessel, in the shape of a small glass or pitcher, is also displayed. It measures 5 cm in diameter and 4 cm tall, has two handles, and is decorated with incised lines that form squares. It recalls the bronze mortars of the sixteenth century (see Deagan 1999:Figure 24), although it could be an indigenous interpretation of a Spanish ceramic shape and not an exact copy. Guarch Delmonte (1994:38) refers to the use of indigenous techniques for its construction.

There are three plain vessel bases that apparently follow the shapes of plates or bowls. The flat bottoms are unusual in indigenous Cuban ceramics, and the appearance of those encountered is different from the indigenous material at the site. Two were found in Unit 6 and the other in Unit 3 (Table 5.6). The color of the internal and external surfaces is reddish-brown, and the texture is coarse. They show brownish-gray or grayish pastes, spotted and incompletely fired. One base presents a small border that appears to imitate wheel marks (rilling).

Other Ceramics

Fine Gray Ceramic

We used this denomination because it does not match the types reported for Spanish colonial contexts in the Caribbean. Thirty-two unglazed pieces were collected that could come from the same vessel, or a very small group of vessels (Figure A.10), although the sherds were found dispersed in Units 3 and 6 and in General Materials (Table 5.6). The pieces are very fragmented, into sherds 2.5 to 4 cm in size, but it was possible to reconstruct part of the body of a vessel that measured some 30 cm in diameter. It was produced by coiling and, in the opinion of Roger Arrazcaeta (personal communication 2010), also using a potter’s wheel. One fragment represents a straight-necked vessel with a small mouth. If this sherd is part of the body fragment mentioned previously, then it could be from a cántaro (jug), although we cannot exclude the possibility that it is from a different piece, perhaps a pitcher.

The thickness of the fragments is between 4 and 6 mm, with 5 mm as the average. The interior and exterior surfaces are clear gray in color, with certain shades of brown in the interior. The sherds are well smoothed, with areas that are soft to the touch on the exterior part but without polish. Observed on the inside are the lines of union for the strips of clay used to create the vessel. The remains of a white sediment, perhaps from the floor area, are noted as incrustations on both sides. The paste is fine and well selected; it does (p.353)

AppendixEuropean Ceramics, Non-Cuban Indigenous Ceramics, Indigenous-based Ceramics That Copy European Forms, and Other Ceramics

A.10. Fine gray, unglazed earthenware from El Chorro de Maíta.

AppendixEuropean Ceramics, Non-Cuban Indigenous Ceramics, Indigenous-based Ceramics That Copy European Forms, and Other Ceramics

A.11. Possibly local, indigenous ceramics from El Chorro de Maíta that copy European forms (left to right): fragment with rim and handle, decorated vessel (replica), and base fragment that apparently imitates the depressions produced by wheel throwing (i.e., rilling).

not seem to be an indigenous ceramic paste in coloration and composition, although an adequate analysis is lacking in this respect. It is gray in color, slightly darker than the surfaces. It is well fired and oxidized. No decorative features were observed. The general simplicity of the form and the combination of coiling and wheel-made open the possibility for pottery making not practiced in Europe, perhaps with an indigenous component. However, they look different from the indigenous ceramics, possibly local, copying European forms (Figure A.11). (p.354)