1. For your first pot, it might be best to choose something simple, but that will employ all of the steps in pottery making. A sand-tempered pot with a plain surface and a simple rim might be best. This kind of pot would usually be classified as a Deptford Plain type in central Georgia.
  2. Your choice of pottery type will determine your choice of tempering material.
  3. Your best source for deciding the pottery type to make might be Lloyd Schroder's Field Guide To Southeastern Indian Pottery (Revised and Expanded).GEDC0101



clay lump


  1. The clay must then be washed to remove any debris and kneaded repeatedly to achieve the proper consistency and quality, removing any air bubbles before shaping a pot.
  2. Because clay was secured in large amounts and often stored in a pit, it would dry out and then had to be broken apart and crushed before it could be moistened for use. Potters often used a mortar and pestle, wooden club, or a hammer stone for this purpose. After the clay is sufficiently crushed, it should be screened through a piece of window screen to insure that all of the lumps have been removed. screening clay
  3. One of the most important parts of the process is to introduce a tempering agent into the clay. The temper helps bind the clay together and deep the finished pot from cracking while being dried and later fired. Temper also helps the pot withstand heat shock when cook on coals.  The earliest pottery used plant fiber from palm leaves or Spanish moss, but these fibers burned out during the firing process and nothing was left to add strength to the pot and maintain its shape. This process is still used with tempered clay to make "pinch pots" or small bowls and cups that are made from a ball of clay and fashioned by hand without the use of coils. These early pots not only lost their fiber tempering material during firing, but were made by pressing clay into the desired shape rather than using coils of clay to hold them together. This method would be invented soon after.
  4. Other tempering materials were used in pottery during succeeding archaeological periods and in different locations. One of the next tempering materials to be used in combination with the new coiling method was sand. Sand was a very successful temper material and continued to be used until historic times. Other tempering materials included small, coarse pebble grains called grit. This was widely used in Georgia while people in Alabama, central Tennessee, and Florida used limestone. Many of the people living in what is not North Carolina used crushed quartz, while people living in Mississippi and along the Atlantic coast of Georgia used crushed clay or pottery sherds. Clay that is already tempered with crushed clay (also called grog) can also be purchased from a local clay company. By the Mississippian period, the most widely used tempering material was freshwater clam shells.
  5. Tempering materials were mixed with the clay paste at a varying rate, but most potters agree that a 20% mixture is about right. The exact ratio for your clay and your pot may take a little trial and error. Take several small amounts of clay and mix each with a different amount of tempering material (label them by temper amount and weight), then roll the clay samples into pencil-sized pieces and allow them to dry.  The one that dries without breaking or cracking is the correct amount of temper for your clay.  (1 part sand to 9 parts clay equals a 10% mixture, etc).  The kind and amount of tempering is key to reproducing ancient pottery just as it is in identifying ancient pottery. 
  6. To add the temper, select the amount of damp clay you think your pot will take and form it into a ball.  Flatten the ball into a pancake, then cut out 1/4 of the pancake and remove it.  Take the amount removed and make a damn around the vacant 1/4 cut and put your dry tempering material in the space you have created.  This makes a 25% mixture.  Other varying amounts can be worked out by cutting out different sized sections of your pancake.
  7. Thoroughly mix the clay and temper together, needing it to be sure the temper is evenly distributed in the clay.