HD Rediscovering Iridescent Painting: An Ancient Ceramic Decorative Technique from Coastal Ecuador

Rediscovering Iridescent Painting: An Ancient Ceramic Decorative Technique from Coastal Ecuador

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Since the 1970's in my role as both a potter and cultural anthropologist carrying out studies of traditional pottery making methods in coastal Ecuador, I became captivated by an unusual pre-Columbian ceramic decorative technique known as «iridescent painting» that I saw displayed in the museums of the region. Iridescent painting is characterized by band and dot designs bearing a unique silvery to rose colored metallic luster.The traditional peasant potters with whom I was studying and apprenticing in coastal Ecuador had no idea of how this luster could have been achieved since the techniques were lost many, many generations ago. Iridescent painting was in fashion in coastal Ecuador from about 1000 B.C. to around 200 A.D. having been an important style of the Chorrera/Engoroy peoples during the Late Formative period, as well as of the Early Guangala, and Early Bahia peoples during the subsequent Regional Development Period.The methods and raw materials used to create iridescent painting became the subject of interest and debate among archaeologists and ceramists during the mid-to-late 20th century due largely to the fact that iridescent painting had also been found in coastal Guatemala by the Mesoamerican archaeologist Michael D. Coe. In Formative Mesoamerica, iridescent painting appeared in close association with specular hematite, and so one aspect of the early controversy was whether that crystalline form of hematite was involved in creating the metallic luster.However, interest in the techniques and raw materials used to create iridescent painting subsided as archaeologists, having access to new technologies, turned their attention away from the relatively narrow issue of ceramic decorative techniques to explore broader topics surrounding the life ways of ancient peoples, such as settlement patterns, architecture, urbanization, utilization of environmental resources, food and diet, etc. However, the question of the materials and techniques used to create this metallic-like luster on ancient pottery has remained unresolved up until the present.In this video on «Rediscovering Iridescent Painting», I bring to light my hypothesis about how iridescent painting in coastal Ecuador was accomplished. By means of experimental replications using only raw materials and techniques available to the ancient potters, I document in detail how I am able to attain the characteristic metallic effect of iridescent paint in all its variants as well as certain tell-tale signs of technique recognizable on the ancient wares.