Michael Schiffer emphasized the importance of the study of formation processes to better understand people-object interactions through time. In his book, natural and cultural processes (n-transforms and c-transforms as he called them) should be understood if we were to interpret the archaeological record.
The natural processes (or n-transforms) include weathering, erosion, natural disasters, chemical and biotic agents which structures the archaeological deposit. These natural processes need to be understood well because this has a bearing on the state of the archaeological record. For example, Schiffer mentioned that warmer and humid temperatures are conducive to bacterial and fungi growth, thus making certain artifacts in these contexts disintegrate faster.
C-transforms are transformations in the archaeological record brought about by human action. Examples of c-transforms are the following: discarding, recycling, heirlooms, and deliberate and accidental destruction. Some archaeologists, like William Walker, studied ceremonial trash to follow the material remains of religious behavior, suggesting that votive artifacts go through a different life history.
For this blogpost, I will be showing pictures of a children’s game that could perhaps be the reason why potsherds are seldom seen in some sites (OK, potsherds are the most visible of all artifacts. But please bear with me and hear my story on how kids may have reduced potsherd frequency in the archaeological record). I played this game as a kid with other children from the neighborhood (and so did my parents, grandparents, and perhaps several generations before). Until now, this nail-shining game is still played in some parts of my town.
The game starts with the collection of potsherds from the field. Usually, redder potsherds are preferred more because of the orange tinge it leaves on the nails. These sherds are then grounded to fine dust by pounding with a heavier rock. The small pile of finely grounded earth are then rubbed on the nails until it leaves a distinctive shine. This game can go on and on for several months in various households in Leyte. So, the next time Philippine archaeologists ask where the potsherds are, tell them the kids got to them first.
Below are photos of my cousins’ children playing the same game we played as kids:
Step 1. It starts with a broken pot and nail-conscious kids.
2. Pounding the Potsherd to Pieces
3. More pounding
4. Grinding to get the fine earth (used for rubbing on the nails)
5. After the rubbing, nice shiny nails.
6. Look! Shiny Happy Nails!
Walker, W. (1995). Ceremonial Trash? In Expanding Archaeology, edited by J. Skibo, W.H.. Walker, and A.E. Nielsen, pp. 67–79.