Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Back before there were refridgerators or ice boxes in Tucson, people would pour water into large ollas (jars) made by the O'odham, the local Native Americans.

Traditionally, women made the jars in the down time between agricultural work (planting and harvesting). The would mine clay, collect sands from washes or grind up old pottery sherds on metates to use as temper (helps keep the pots from breaking as there were fired). There was a source for red pigment in the Tucson Mountains and they sometimes used a black organic pigment for designs.

The women sat outside their homes and made storage jars and, later, tourist pottery. They heaped the pots up and built fires and fired them outside. Sometimes fire clouds are present on the exterior of the pot (you can see one in the picture below).

Decorated olla, circa 1887-1901, it held about 3.5 gallons.

The women would load the pots into large carriers and peddle them on the streets of Tucson for 50 cents to a couple of dollars. People would pour water into them and the pots were slightly porous and the water would seep through, evaporating on the surface. This helped keep the water cool. Some people liked the taste of water in the jars.

After city water was installed, the number of water jars declined. They gradually stopped being used for water storage by most people in the 1920s.

Today's blog entry brought to you by the wonders of archaeology and historical research.

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