DAACS offers two approaches to recording and analyzing decoration on ceramics, the DAACS Stylistic Element Initiative and DAACS Ceramic Genres. The DAACS Stylistic Element Initiative records individual decorative elements on the sherd level, providing researchers with detailed data on decorative elements and motifs. DAACS Ceramic Genres provide a way of understanding decoration on ceramics by using traditional types, based on decorative technique and patterns. Both are described below.

DAACS Stylistic Element Initiative

The DAACS Stylistic Element Initiative explores an approach to measuring variation in applied decoration on ceramics that is novel in historical archaeology. Traditionally historical archaeologists have measured decorative variation at the level of the sherd or vessel. This means that a single sherd or vessel has to be assigned to a single decorative category or genre. This approach produces useful results (and we have followed it in the DAACS ceramic genre field), but it may obscure decorative variation when there are multiple decorative elements on a single sherd, each executed in a different color and/or application technique. Measuring this variation requires shifting the scale of classification from the sherd or vessel down to the individual element. This is a new analytical tactic in historical archaeology, although it has been used by prehistoric archaeologists for decades.

The DAACS Stylistic Element Initiative is based on recording three dimensions of variation for each unique decorative element on a sherd:

  1. Decorative Technique: Records the technique used to apply the stylistic element (painted, printed, etc.).
  2. Applied Color: Indicates the color of the stylistic element using the DAACS Munsell Color Range System.
  3. Stylistic Element: Gives the name of the identified stylistic element.

For each recorded element, the following are also noted:

  1. Interior/Exterior: Indicates if the element is on the interior or exterior of a vessel.
  2. Location: The portion of the vessel on which the stylistic element was applied (rim, body, base, etc.).
  3. Motif: Provides a way to group multiple stylistic elements on a single sherd.

The qualifier “unique” is important here. It means that if a sherd has two or more stylistic elements with identical values for Interior/Exterior, Location, Technique, Applied Color and Stylistic Element, the combination is only recorded once. We began this initiative by looking at whole vessel patterns from collections at the Smithsonian, the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, the Alexandria Archaeology Museum and the archaeological study collections at Poplar Forest, Colonial Williamsburg, and Monticello. After getting a sense of the extensive variation in stylistic elements both within and between ware types, we focused our naming conventions on specific decorative band and garland types, as well as naming individual elements. DAACS staff records all variation in band and garland styles but maintains more general descriptions for individual elements such as flowers, boats, buildings, etc. It was unwieldy to describe every type of flower, building-type and so forth. In addition, Stylistic Elements are not recorded for transferprinted sherds. The location and color of transferprint decoration is recorded but the Stylistic Element field is “Not Applicable”.

To date DAACS analysts have identified over 700 stylistic elements. The Stylistic Element glossaries to the right provide images and written descriptions of every stylistic element in the DAACS database. They also provide examples of how each element is cataloged in the database. It is our hope that this project will become a viable way for archaeologists to record specific decorative elements on historic ceramics that will facilitate new analyses relating to temporal variation in ceramics and consumer choice. This project is still very much a work in progress. New stylistic elements are added with every new site analyzed. We encourage you to contact us with comments or suggestions.

Multiple stylistic elements may occur on a single sherd and the DAACS database is specifically designed to accommodate that one-to-many relationship. If users choose to download data in the related data format (for more information on Concatenated Data Formats and Related Data Formats please see Interpreting Query Results), multiple records will be returned for sherds with more than one color, decorative technique OR stylistic element. For example, a sherd of Chinese porcelain with two stylistic elements will appear as two lines of data in a dataset. The example below demonstrates that it is essential to look at the Artifact ID when analyzing stylistic element data. The Artifact ID indicates that both of these records belong to a single sherd.

Artifact Id Int/Ext Location Dec Tech Applied Color Stylistic Element Motif
1000-01 Interior Base Painted, under free hand Blue, Intense Dark Boat Scene Combination A
1000-01 Interior Base Painted, under free hand Blue, Intense Dark Bridge Scene Combination A
1000-01 Interior Proximal Rim Painted, over free hand Red Spearhead Band 1 Individual A

The Motif field also provides a way to group individual stylistic elements into larger, thematic groups that occur on a single sherd or vessel. Motif was included in the database as a way for analysts to acknowledge that stylistic elements often work together to create larger decorative motifs or scenes. In this example, the Boat and Bridge elements are part of a Scene Combination while the Spearhead Band is its own individual element separate from the central scene. Please see the Ceramic section of the DAACS Cataloging Manual for detailed information on the Motif field.

Researchers interested in using Stylistic Element data in the Related Data Format will find it most useful to run Artifact Query 5, an advanced artifact query. Users can select the fields they wish to use, thereby creating a stylistic element dataset perfect for downloading and using with their favorite statistical package.

Users who select to view and download data in the Concatenated Data Format will receive easy-to-use data sets that do not contain multiple records for a single record.

DAACS Ceramic Genres: An Alternative to Stylistic Element Data

The Ceramic Genre field provides researchers with an alternative to the Stylistic Element Data. The Genre field returns temporally significant data on ceramic decorative styles. This single field returns only one line of data per artifact, regardless of how many different types of decoration might be on a single sherd. For example, an intricately decorated piece of factory-made slipware will have multiple records for stylistic elements but only one Ceramic Genre, that of Slipware, factory made. Researchers can avoid the complexities of the Stylistic Element system by selecting to view data from only the Ceramic Genre field.