The Journal of San Diego History
Fall 1980, Volume 26, Number 4
Thomas L. Scharf, Editor

Book Reviews

Richard H. Peterson, Book Review Editor

Kumeyaay Pottery: Paddle-and-Anvil Techniques in Southern California. By Gena R. Van Camp. Ballena Press Anthropological Papers, No. 15. Socorro, New Mexico: Ballena Press, 1979. Bibliography. Illustrations. Maps. Appendices. 117 pages. $6.95.

Reviewed by Bernard L. Fontana, Field Representative, The University of Arizona, Tucson, co-author of Papago Indian Pottery (1962) and The Other Southwest: Indian Arts & Crafts of Northwestern Mexico (1977); author of The Material World of the Tarahumara (1979).

The Kumeyaay, formerly known as the Southern Diegueños, are the Indians whose aboriginal homeland encompassed much of what is now Imperial and San Diego counties in California (including the area of San Diego itself) and large parts of northern Baja California. From at least the 16th century A.D. until the present century some of these people made earthenware pottery whose “Shibui-like quality fits into a Japanese setting with ease.” Indeed, says Van Camp, “At its best, there is no pottery in aboriginal North America that has such grace of form and line, such freedom of conception, and such sophisticated artistic sensibility as that produced by the Kumeyaay” (p. 77).

In arriving at her conclusions, Van Camp participated in archaeological excavations; studied archaeological site reports and examined artifacts retrieved from such sites; combed the ethnographic literature; examined the approximately 800 whole vessels in the San Diego Museum of Man collected by the late Malcolm Rogers, and studied collections in other public museums as well as in private hands. Curiously, she “was interested in viewing a large collection [of pottery] at the Southwest Museum but was told when I applied that the museum was not available for research” (p. 15). She was also apparently unable to make first-hand observations of the manufacture and use of the pottery.

The published result of all this work is a tightly-written, detailed, and thoughtful study concerning the prehistory and history of a kind of pottery found widely distributed in Southern California and in northern Baja California. Its forms, decorations, uses, functions, and technological diagnostics are presented; so is the typology worked out many years ago by Malcolm Rogers.

All this, as the cliché goes, is a solid contribution to knowledge. But even more, it is a contribution spiced with various Van Camp opinions, such as, “I think a moratorium should be placed on future Indian archaeology. Let Native Americans do their own if they desire” (p. 9). And again: “Deductions can be made out of very few actual facts. Archaeologists are faced with this dilemma at every turn. One common result. . .is unimaginative, repetitious, and boring reports. Now that some archaeologists seem to be working for money, rather than to expand knowledge, and the technology of archaeology has become a sought-after product, this is rapidly becoming the norm” (p. 73). This kind of stuff helps keep the reader awake.

One would hope Van Camp’s work on Kumeyaay pottery has not ended. She needs now to publish a catalogue filled with first-rate photographs (the present volume is not) to make us believe these wares do in fact have a Shibui-like quality.