Transcript of video with Elaine Morris

My name is Elaine Morris. I'm a research fellow at the University of Southampton in Britain and I've been invited to participate in this project as a specialist of Afro-Caribbean pottery, principally in order to be able to investigate the clay fabrics - the clay or paste as it is called - of the pottery itself, to determine whether or not the people at New River and Jessups were making their own pottery on the site, using local clays, or whether they were acquiring the pottery from somewhere else on Nevis, or even possibly St Kitts. 

I do this work by actually taking a piece of pottery like this and making a geological-style thin section and then I examine the tiny inclusions that are in here by using a petrological microscope, a polarising microscope. And we make a little thin section, which is quite fun to do, it's very very thin - it's 0.03 millimetres thin - as opposed to thick! - and then you look down the microscope and you can also take a photograph of that and so that will be part of our website. When I finish my work I will be organising that, so that you can actually see the pictures that I see down the microscope. 

Now the reason why we decided to do this is because as a general principle from work that has been done on ethnographic communities of potters, they tend to look for clays within one kilometre of their own homes, their own village life, because it's convenient and because most of the potters are women and they have to be near their homes, taking care of the families and cooking the dinners and all the rest of it, and when they've got time they also make pottery, which they use for themselves, they may sell to their neighbours, give to some of their relatives, that sort of thing, so it's small-scale potting. And we believe that's what's happening here and therefore we're going about this project in that manner, looking in this way to see whether or not it's right. Is it true or false? 

Well, one of the most important things about pottery-making during the slave period actually is, during the colonial period when people were enslaved, is that people were allowed to do this, which is a very very important issue about identity of slaves and the expression of who they were by making pottery in the style they wanted to. It's not pottery that's made in the European style at all. It's pottery that is made by women, African women, enslaved African women, for their own uses, and that's very important - it's very exciting to remember that, I think, anyway. 

When I actually look at some of this material, you sometimes get a little bit of goosebumps because it's actually very emotional material. So it looks plain, you might see it as plain, I don't know whether you can see some of this in the picture but I'm sure we will include some actual scans around this material, but it is the pottery they made for themselves and then used for themselves or their families as they tried to do it. 

And then they also sold pottery, they were allowed - we have information, documentary statements, in what's called the Nevis Blue Book system - that actually says they were allowed to do this at the slave market itself. That's very exciting. So they could trade for food, or chickens, or something along that line for the pottery they were making.

One of the things, as I said before, was that we were going to be looking at the differences, or similarities, in the clay used as paste to make these pots, whether or not we could prove that the potters were actually using clays close to their villages, close to the actual slave villages. As you know New River's on the east side of Nevis and Jessups is on the west, so one of things I was having to do was to take the clay samples, if I could find suitable clays in the areas, and also examine them scientifically using petrological thin-sectioning and the polarising microscope, and comparing and contrasting the two. 

So I had to go on a great adventure with one of our students and we went down into one of the great ravines, the ghuts, that is right to the north of - on one side to the north and another one to the south side of New River - to find out whether we could actually see any of these clay deposits they may have been using and we found nothing in the ghuts at all. But instead, we found some very very good samples along a road cutting right to the east of the slave village itself at New River. 

So here you have a typical example of a clay sample, and we've kept it moist and later today I'm going to be either making it into a briquette - a little rectangular briquette - that I will be drying and then firing, either in a bonfire or in a proper electric kiln. And the other thing I wanted to do was to actually make little pinch-pots as well, to see whether or not - how it feels, how actually this clay feels to somebody who does make pottery, and they would actually have worked it. 

So we have two samples, one of which I am absolutely convinced is a very good sample, because when we were digging the clay out of the cutting through the road it clung to my trowel so I know that it's clayey and sticky. The other one was much much drier and I'm not sure about that one so we have the two samples from New River. Very fortunately Fraser Neiman took another three samples for me from Jessups so that's great. so I don't have to physically go there myself - it's quite demanding and I like working in my laboratory. So that's what we will be doing for the clay samples and going through the same procedures scientifically.