To address this hypothesis, I examined ceramic sherds (the term for broken pieces of pottery) within the Skidmore College Archaeology Laboratory collection, from three sites along the Saratoga Lake-Fish Creek Drainage: Water’s Edge, Winney’s Rift, and Fish Creek. I selected sherds large enough to have thickness measurements as well as diameter measurements taken. Larger vessels (indicated by larger diameters) need thicker walls to not break. This makes tracing pottery wall thickness relative to vessel diameter a more valid indication of wall thinning through time than just the absolute thickness of walls. I measured a total of 72 ceramic sherds from the Fish Creek-Saratoga Lake drainage system using calipers and a tool called a rim chart, which allows archaeologists to estimate vessel diameter. I also had to determine when the pottery was made. Just like in the present, people in the past changed the styles they used through time, so I traced the varying styles among the sherds to establish a chronology. Once my data were gathered, I used a variety of statistical techniques to analyze them. By comparing wall thickness trends through time to published literature on the chronology and intensity of corn consumption, I tested the idea that as corn became the focus of most people’s diets, pottery vessel walls got thinner. My results indicated that there was indeed a thinning of ceramic walls in the Late Woodland period in comparison to ceramics from the Middle Woodland period.
While these results align with the predictions derived from my hypothesis, they do not definitively demonstrate that increased corn consumption drove the thinning of pottery. There is another factor that anthropologists have commonly known to also drive changes in ceramic vessels: changes in nomadic versus permanent residency. In the Late Woodland we see less movement through the landscape, generally occurring as people stop following food resources and start farming plants. To determine the relationship between diet, mobility, and pottery manufacturing techniques, a more fine-grained chronology of events during the Woodland period than provided by changing ceramic styles would be necessary. This project has demonstrated the need to use more precise dating methods during archaeological research in the region, such as radiocarbon analysis.