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Skidmore College
First-Year Experience

Scribner Seminar Program
Course Description

Dead Men Do Tell Tales: Interpreting Non-Writing Cultures Through Their Ceramic Objects

Instructor(s): Matthew Wilt, Studio Art

Many civilizations throughout history have risen, prospered, and then vanished without ever creating a written language. The records of these cultures are often interpreted in large part through their ceramic objects.  Because of this, archaeologists have remarkable records of many non-writing cultures’ ways of life. In this class we will be examining three specific cultures who never developed a written language, but whose ceramic objects are among the most sophisticated throughout history: the Mimbres culture of the southwestern United States, the Moche culture of Pre-Columbian Peru, and the Jomon culture of pre-historic Japan.  Using an interdisciplinary approach, we will explore the ways anthropologists interpret the ceramic objects of these three cultures.  Readings and essays will focus on current theories and interpretations of the ceramic records they left behind. Concurrently, we will be working in the ceramics studio to execute works informed by their artworks. Hands-on studio work will raise student awareness of the technical and expressive sophistication of these ancient cultures. Readings and films will shed light on how anthropologists interpret the complex array of symbolism and imagery, while also developing theories as to how these cultures functioned on a variety of societal levels: class structure, religion, warfare, funerary rituals, and gender roles.  


Course Offered: