Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Historical Archaeology

First Advisor

Judith F. Zeitlin

Second Advisor

Heather Trigg

Third Advisor

Jennifer Meanwell


During the 16th and 17th century, the colonial city of Asunción de Panamá (now known as Panamá la Vieja) rose to regional prominence as a strategic geopolitical and commercial port due to its pivotal role along a transcontinental commercial network that connected Spain and its South American colonies. In the 154 years it was occupied by residents from diverse cultural backgrounds, contemporary but technologically- and compositionally-distinct ceramic industries developed and flourished in this city. Panamá la Vieja’s ceramic record presents a unique opportunity to examine how coexisting but seemingly distinct potting communities organized their craft and to explore whether their social structures were maintained over time in a colonial context.

This thesis analyzes a sample composed of two locally produced wares—one characterized by high-fired, wheel-thrown, and tin-glazed vessels known as Panamanian Majolica and the other by low-fired, handmade, and coarse-textured utilitarian vessels known as Criolla—that were recovered from two chronologically-distinct contexts in Panamá la Vieja. Through the application of macroscopic and microscopic characterizations, this study seeks to determine if the organization of each ceramic ware reflects the existence of discrete potting units or communities and whether diachronic change or continuity is observed in each ware’s production organization.

The results indicate that the production of Panamanian Majolica and Criolla differed greatly, not just in terms of the technological choices that were employed but most notably in the way each craft was organized and transmitted. In the case of the former, a centralized system was in place where social control was exerted by an established social hierarchy inside the workshop which ensured the adherence to a set of established production norms. That control is reflected in the low degree of compositional and technological variability of the Panamanian Majolica sample. In the case of the latter, production was decentralized and each potter appears to have been free to produce pots following his or her unique chaîne-opératoire without being subject to any form of political, social, or economic control. This decentralization is reflected in the high variability of Criolla fabrics identified in this study.