Slip, a fluid suspension of clay that is applied to the surface of a piece of ceramic, allows for increased control over the functional and aesthetic properties of a finished vessel. The potter can select a slip to provide a more appealing color, texture, and/or luster to the vessel's surface, while maintaining the favorable functional qualities of the paste. Though slip color has long been used as an attribute for classification in the Maya lowlands, only recently have the raw materials of slips been used to inform studies of production and exchange, with much of this work using Late and Terminal Classic-period ceramics and analysis techniques that require taking small samples of each ceramic to be analyzed. Such studies present an incomplete picture of Maya slips, since they only include later ceramics and exclude vessels from which samples cannot be taken. This thesis broadens our understanding of Maya slips by 1) establishing portable x-ray fluorescence (pXRF) spectrometry as a nondestructive analysis technique that can be used to chemically characterize slips on a wide range of sherd sizes and whole vessels, and 2) determining the chemical compositions of red, cream, and black slips on Middle and Late Preclassic-period ceramic sherds excavated in 2017 from Holtun, Guatemala. The data produced through pXRF spectrometry revealed that red slips were chemically distinct from the other two colors, while white and black slips were chemically indistinct. Iron, zinc, molybdenum, tin, and antimony concentrations were the principal determinants of compositional groups. These results indicate that these elements are of primary interest in sourcing the clays used to make the slips, and trends in the chemical composition of each color have the potential to reveal much about Maya potters' processes and standardization in slip production.
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Master of Arts (M.A.)
College of Sciences
Length of Campus-only Access
Masters Thesis (Open Access)
Kebler, Anna, "Chemical Composition of Preclassic-Period Maya Slips: Analysis and Interpretation of Flores Waxy Ware and Paso Caballo Waxy Ware Sherds from Holtun, Guatemala Using pXRF Spectrometry" (2019). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 6274.