A Chaco wing motif

Published at Nov 26, 2022

Ancestral Chocolate & Pottery Designs

Overlapping zig-zags creating a repeating band pattern

Original Chaco culture chocolate vessels via, see also.

People were drinking chocolate in Chaco Canyon a thousand years ago, and their chocolate vessels had really cool designs on them. I got fixated on one of the designs — third one from the left, below. In the process of coming to understand it better, I coded up a script in p5.js. In the image above I’m varying the number of “feathers” to see how they interact differently.

If you try to draw the design yourself, you’ll find how interesting it is. In the center of the repeating bands, there are five equal-height lines of pointy rhombi. But this “interference pattern” is made by overlapping a shape that is sort of a sideways S with teeth (feathers), and then crosshatching them. single sort of S shape with teeth/peaks/feathers on two ends: on the left, facing upward and to the right; on the right, facing down and to the left

If you try to draw it freehand without careful planning, you’ll get something else — almost like the leftmost vessel in the pic above, but that one is quite sophisticated too in its balance of light and dark area. It was fun doing the math to get it working with the two-feather version, and then extend it to generate any number of feathers overlapping: Overlapping zig-zags creating a repeating band pattern

It’s a bird!

To find out what the pattern represented, I dug up a PDF of “Designs on prehistoric Hopi pottery.” (1919) in Thirty-third annual report of the Bureau of American Ethnology from the Smithsonian, and every shape similar to this motif was a bird: Fig 33: Bird Figure Fig 43: Triangular figure of a bird Fig 55: Lateral view of a conventionalized bird

Contemporary versions

Native potters today continue to use variations on this motif. Looking at these contemporary Hopi ‘bird migration pattern’ pots I’m starting to think that the motif on the chocolate vessel might also be depicting a ‘migration’.

The same motif interlocking differently by Robert Patricio, a beautiful polished black one by Desideria Montoya Sanchez

It’s connected with chocolate

In 2009, Patricia Crown and Jeffrey Hurst published their finding of organic chocolate residues in ceramic vessels from Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon.

Overlapping zig-zags creating a repeating band pattern

Pitchers with the same motif via

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