Traditional Pottery Maker

I only know Kelly vaguely but I know she is an extremely talented artisan.  I am continually impressed by her skill level and ability to make it all seem so effortless.  I believe that is an indication of true mastery.  Here is a short documentary of her work to inspire the inner-Maker in you.

Watch artist and primitive potter Kelly Magleby learn about and make Anasazi style pottery. Kelly went into the backcountry of Southern Utah with a knife and a buckskin to try to learn about Anasazi Pottery by doing it the way the Anasazi did it. “Earth and Fire” is a documentary poem about a passionate artist. Funded by Primitive Found (.org) Music by Jason Shaw @ Check out Kelly’s art at This the 1st video of 2016 for The Talking Fly short documentary project by filmmaker Steve Olpin, Enjoy!

Making Containers via Primitive Process Pottery

I wanted to re-blog this excellent post about functional pottery construction from “Survival Sherpa”. I’m no great pottery maker but appreciate the craft for sure. Have a look.

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Survival Sherpa

by Todd Walker

Making Containers from Primitive Process Pottery -

Coffee drinkers like myself usually have a favorite mug or cup. My all-time favorite “tankard” developed a crack and DRG trashed it. A sad day indeed!

My sob story may seem petty, but there’s nothing trivial about not having a way to “contain” stuff. Think of all the ways you use containers daily. Then imagine all your modern containers being gone… poof, no more. Welcome to the Stone Age!

Here’s what else disappears with your containers. Your ability to…

  • Cook stuff without skewering it on a stick
  • Collect, disinfect, transport, and drink water
  • Raise plants and livestock
  • Store food without stuffing it in an animal stomach
  • Dispose of waste
  • Personal hygiene
  • Ferment food and drink
  • Make medicinals
  • Gather food
  • Keep stuff clean
  • Organize stuff
  • etc., etc., etc….

This is why containers are king! 

After attending a local two-day primitive pottery class, my respect and appreciation for the humble container grew…

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Ancient Dutch Ovens and the Ceramic Hibachi

“A good meal ought to begin with hunger.” French Proverb.

All animals need to eat.  All the time.  As humans, we eat every day if we are lucky.  An average Westerner will have about 275,000 meals in a lifetime, not including snacks, munchies, and other nibbles.  Once upon a time, we all caught, gathered, and ultimately made food for ourselves and our families.  If we had some extra, we might have provided for the needy, the unlucky, or even the lazy.  If we were entrepreneurial, we might have even exchanged our food for other stuff or services we needed. We cook our food to release nutrients, to make it easier to digest, and ultimately, to make it more delicious.  After all, “A clever cook can make good meat of a whetstone” Erasmus.


…or so they say.

Throughout our evolution here on Earth, food never came from an assembly line or even a grocery store.  As time went on, we could choose to put some effort into our cooking and make delicious stuff.  For this we developed cooking apparatus beyond the simple fire and we adapted just about every food into some sort of cooked dish.  As true meat-loving omnivores, humans eat just about anything.  “If it has four legs and is not a table, eat it!” Cantonese proverb.

Enough digression, on to some minimalist cooking!

Cook of the SMS Ranch_ near Spur_ Texas_ Lee Russell_ 1939-600Every cowboy, Boy Scout, and classic camper in North America knows the amazing versatility of the cast iron Dutch Oven.  Why “Dutch” you say?  Well, those clever craftsmen from the Netherlands perfected sand casting for vessels such as this in the 17th Century and by the first decade of the 18th Century the English copied them perfectly and the name stuck (at least in England and America).

dutch-oven-breakfastThis was not even remotely a new design for cookware, just a new material.  A heavy thermal barrier to spread heat and hold a high temperature without drying out the food is a useful innovation.  Moving farther afield you can find kindred spirits around the globe serving the same purpose including the Bedourie, the potjiekos, Sač oven, and the Nabemono.


The clibanus or Roman clay Dutch oven.

Over on the British Museum Blog Sally Grainger has been writing about her experiments with, among other things, the Roman clibanus (a.k.a. clay Dutch oven).  I had no idea that the rimmed lid for holding coals was such an ancient innovation but, of course, it makes perfect sense.  Our ancestors were cooking on coals every day after all.  There seem to be many variants on this design but the example here is something of an inverted version of our modern oven.  The entire lid lifts off to expose the tray or shallow bowl lower portion.  This makes for a serving vessel as part of the cooking apparatus.

mt_5_charcoal_544Just like it’s modern counterpart, an oven like this can be used to cook a wide variety of dishes, from meats, to stews, to breads.

traychickenSee her write-up of the experiments HERE.

TajineThe descendents of this style oven may be seen in the tajine and it’s cousins found all around the Mediterranean, especially in North Africa.

And finally, a relatively simple project for the primitive camp.

A simple, slab-built portable grill could be a useful addition to one’s camp kitchen.  Perfect for cooking a Mediterranean meal of shish kebabs and perfect for simple meals anywhere.  Recent archaeological work has brought this back to light.


Replicated souvlaki pan from Mycenae ca. 3,500 B.P.

These are a relatively recent discovery in that their use is finally understood.  Experimental archaeology is a great thing.  Sometimes we can readily predict the answer we know to be correct, but sometimes the process teaches us something and clears up misconceptions lost to time.  In this case, a type of artifact called a souvlaki tray of ancient Mycenae (Crete).  These date to a period from over 3,200 years ago.  These are rectangular ceramic pans that sat underneath skewers of meat, and are generally discovered in fragments.  Prior to experimentation, archaeologists were not sure exactly how these were used, whether placed directly over a fire, catching fat drippings from the meat, or if the pans would have held hot coals like a portable barbeque pit.  Attempting to cook on them directly over a fire proved useless, as the clay was too thick to allow efficient heat transfer, however, placing coals in the pan made an efficient hibachi-like portable grill.

A short article on the experiment may be found here: Mycenae Portable Grills.


C. Grocock, and S. Grainger 2006. Apicius: a Critical Edition with Introduction and English Translation. Totnes: Prospect Books. Grainger, S. 1999 Cato’s roman cheesecakes: the baking techniques, Milk: beyond the dairy, Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on food and cookery, Prospect books Totnes, pp.168-178.


The Medieval Spanish Chef  – Looking for a perfect peacock recipe or interesting ways to cook a horse?  Have a few extra rabbit hearts and don’t know what to do with them?  Check out Suey on her blog for some really interesting, well-researched Medieval recipes.


Some craftsmanship seen at Winter Count 2014.  Moving a little closer to a hand-made life, one skill at a time.

Ceramics by Roger Dorr, Woodwork by Mick Robins.

Ceramics by Roger Dorr, Woodwork by Mick Robins.

Hand made pottery made by artisans who collect the raw clays, slips, and paints make for greatly loved cookware and cups.  Wood turned on a foot-powered lathe from cleared alder trees make for intimate dinnerware.


The wares of just one of the many great craftspeople associated with Backtracks and the Society of Primitive Technology.

Many cultures are represented at the gatherings but in the Southwest, the black-on-white ceramics dominate the fancy wares.



Packbaskets are found worldwide but only in small sectors of the western population.  This one is particularly beautiful.

Making a bowl by burning and scraping.

Making a bowl by burning and scraping.  Delicious ducks roasting in the background.

Even a simple bowl can be a satisfying accomplishment when it holds it’s first meal.

Fresh deer skins being turned into buckskin.

Fresh deer skins being turned into buckskin.

A lot of time and labor goes into dressing a fresh deer hide but the payoff is immense.  Buckskin clothing will last for many many years.

Perfectly tanned hides by "Digger".

Perfectly tanned hides by “Digger”.

Skilled artisans and craftsmen can make the best customers as they know and understand the care and effort that goes into a handcrafted project.

musicThe talent doesn’t end with the crafting of artifacts.  People who “Make” have skills that reach far beyond the world of modern consumption.  The primitive technology crowd brims over with artists and musicians of many types and genres.

More making, less taking.

Primitive Technology Gatherings

The culture of off-beat primitive technology gatherings has grown and morphed into many forms around the continent and I suspect, around the world.  Certainly, when I was a school kid, I didn’t know of anything approaching the types of gatherings we enjoy today.  I guess the closest thing we had were Larry Dean Olsen’s practical book on outdoor survival and some near-mystical writings by Tom Brown.  A little later I found Bradford Angier’s How to Stay Alive in the Woods which made survival in the far reaches seem completely possible with just a little skill and knowledge.

There was actually about a decade where I thought that a few of my friends and I were about the only people practicing “survival” skills, foraging, friction fire building, making bows and spear-throwers, and eating wild foods.  There  were rumors of things out west.  There were re-enactors living primitive if only for a weekend. Rumors of some big meeting in Idaho, but no one seemed to know how to find out more (this was before the INTERNET!).

In the mean time I read more ethnographies, more archaeology and technology papers.  I combed 100 year old issues of Nature, Proceedings of the Royal Society, Antiquity, and other views of people from different times and places.  My personal research took me into archery, boomerangs, spear-throwers, fire making, blowguns, music, shelter, and hide working, to only name a few.  It wasn’t until I was lucky enough to find the Society of Primitive Technology, then in about its fifth year, that I felt things really coming together in a community situation.  People are social animals and real survival only works in a community.

The generation growing up now has much more information to draw upon from experimental archaeologists, outdoor survival schools, adventure programs, and people who have actively pursued a life outside the norm of consumerism as a way of life.

Hide scraping is a community effort. Rabbitstick 2009.

The two big gatherings associated with the Society are Rabbitstick near Rexburg, Idaho and Winter Count near Maricopa, Arizona.  Each are week-long instructional gatherings that teach various survival, primitive, and other off-grid skills.  Participants and instructors are probably the most diverse cross-section of people one could ever find assembled in one place.

A pottery class firing at Winter Count 2011

A small but interesting primitive skills gathering is the Bois d’Arc Rendezvous in southwest Missouri.  While working on some archaeological projects in the region, I was lucky enough to meet up with Bo Brown and Don Brink, who really made this event happen over the years.  This event has a slightly different feel than other gatherings as it is partnered with a knap-in*.

Bois d'Arc Rendezvous

The Echoes in Time gathering is held for five days in July near Salem, Oregon.  This is a fairly structured workshop/class-type event with a daily schedule.  I think some people respond better to this than other events where classes come and go and have an amorphous schedule.  Although I know many of the participants, I cannot speak firsthand about Echoes as I have not made it to this event (yet).  Meals are not provided but there is a communal kitchen area and cooking may be done in camp on a portable stove.

Tools from Winter Count 2011. Click the image to go to Jeff Damm's excellent photo collection of past events.

The Buckeye Gathering is a newcomer to the scene but seems to be heading for greatness out in California.  One of its unique qualities is its close tie to the Native community.  It is held at the YaKaAma Indian Education and Development center about 90 minutes north of the San Francisco Bay area.

The central arbor at Buckeye.

Firefly Gathering:  This is another relatively new one and luckily for many, it is near the east coast.  I have not been to this one either but it is on my short list of things to do in the near future.  Its in a beautiful part of the world and I wish them well.

Earthskills’ Rivercane and Falling Leaves Rendezvous.  These folks put on two major events each year in spring and fall out in northern Georgia.  It is pretty huge and even offers hot showers for participants.  The instructor list is extensive and impressive.  Check them out if you live in the area or can get to the eastern seaboard for a great vacation.

If you are interested in “primitive” skills, homesteading, wilderness survival, or just crafting things to make your life better, consider an immersion in one of these events.  Then, if something really catches your fancy, there are many instructors and schools out there that will take you farther in a direction you may want to go.

*For some odd reason, knap-in folks don’t tend to mix with the other “primitives” although most of us primitive types are at least fair-to-middling knappers ourselves.  I think that the deep-seated reason is about process versus product.  Many knappers I know are mostly interested in the product as a object d’art whereas the archaeologists and primitive technologists are more concerned with the process and functionality.  A secondary reason may have to do with image.  The primitive technologists and survival-types are often a little rough around the edges for polite society and may even fall so far as to be considered an all-out bush hippie**.

**Bush hippie – def.  “Hippie” person who lives rough on the margins of consumer society.  Often sporting re-purposed or handmade clothing possibly made from buckskin.  Hair is plentiful and the cranial portion often in the form of dreadlocks.

Pottery Firing

Ulysses Reid came down to our Prehistory Days event this weekend showing his art.  He is an excellent potter from Zia and was able to have a small firing on some nearby property after the days activities. Despite the 110 degree heat, about 150 people turned out to learn about flint knapping, fiber arts, prehistoric hunting, plant foods, spear throwing (atlatl), and other skills.


Coming out of the fire.


Coming out of the fire.

And a few finished vessels.  I really love his art. A few more photos of the event can be viewed here: