Thoughts on Temper (or Tempered Thoughts?)

Post by Nikita Collier, PSU undergraduate and Archaeology Lab Intern

Temper samples (Photo by Nikita Collier)

Temper samples (Photo by Nikita Collier)

Temper is material that is added to clay that changes the properties of ceramics as they are fired, preventing rapid shrinkage or expansion.  Temper also helps the clay heat evenly, which prevents cracking and breakage. All of the materials in the bags were collected from different areas in northern Alaskan archaeological sites.  The goal was to determine what kinds of materials were being used as temper and to help link finished ceramics to production areas.

After weighing the temper sample, I put it in a small plastic bag and labeled it to insure we would know where each sample came from. We initially thought we had to measure 50 gram samples, which was a problem because some of the materials only weighed 30 grams! After I had measured out almost ten – 50 gram samples (or as close as I could get with what we had to work with), we learned the samples only needed to be five grams. That made a lot more sense, and made everything so much easier. Some of the bags had large rocks in them as well as smaller material, so I had to be sure to get a representative sample which I did by shaking the bag before pouring. Even so, I had to remove some of the larger rocks otherwise they would take up the entire 5-gram sample!

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