Gila Butte Red-on-buff

Gila Butte Red-on-buff sherds. Click the image to open the Gila Butte Red-on-buff gallery.

Gila Butte Red-on-buff is a type of Hohokam Buff Ware found primarily in the middle Gila River Valley, into the lower Salt River Valley, north to the Tonto Basin, and south as far as Hodge Ruin in the Tucson Basin.

Archaeological Culture: Hohokam

Date Range: ca. A.D. 750-850.

Construction: By paddle and anvil.

Firing: In a neutral to oxidizing atmosphere; fireclouds common.

Temper: Course-grained mica schist and quartz; calcium carbonate inclusions.
Surface Finish: Muscovite mica is plainly visible on vessel surfaces; slipped and polished; sometimes lightly incised; sometimes porous.

Paste Color: Gray (early); surface color typically light brown, gray-brown, gray, or orange, and less commonly tan, yellow-white, or white.

Forms: Bowls with flaring rim, jars, scoops, plates, censers, effigies. Late Gila Butte vessel forms include globular jars with short flared rims; flare-rim bowls with shallow, flat bottoms; and outcurved bowls with shallow, flat bottoms.


  • Paint: Bright red, dull red, or purplish red.
  • Pigments: Iron oxide mineral paint.
  • Design: Capped fringe; design ticking; pendant dash motif; keys and flying birds; life-forms and life-form borders; all-over layouts with small elements spiraling from bowl centers and around vessels in parallel bands; full-field negative design without hachure-fill; interlocking scrolls also common; multiple trailing lines on bowl exteriors. Early Gila Butte Red-on-buff has hachured pendant triangles of other full-field designs on exterior bowl surfaces, large solids, and thick serrated lines; fringed curvilinear scrolls, crenulated lines, free-floating fringe, quail, and other life forms, slanted railroad tie hachure, and all-over, spiraling, small element designs are late.
  • Incising: Shallow incising common; discontinuous; lines overlap and resemble scratches rather than grooves.

Key Traits: Scrolls with pronounced serrated edges; life forms with hatch-filled bodies; shallow incising; keys; tick-marked rims; trailing line spacing <3 cm at rim.

Comparisons: Earlier types are denser, lacking pores, and later types are generally more porous. Gila Butte Red-on-buff lacks the complex hachure-filled designs and deep, regular incising common to earlier types. Santa Cruz Red-on-buff designs also spiral, but small elements are more frequent than on Gila Butte vessels, and incising is rare. Hachure-fill is also essentially absent in Santa Cruz vessels, as are life-form borders.

Compiled from the following sources:
Abbott, David R. (2008) The Process, Location, and History of Hohokam Buff Ware Production: Some Experimental and Analytical Results. Journal of Archaeological Science 35(2):388-397.

Abbott, David R. (2009) Extensive and Long-Term Specialization: Hohokam Ceramic Production in the Phoenix Basin, Arizona.American Antiquity 74(3):531-557.

Heckman, Robert A., Barbara K. Montgomery, and Stephanie M. Whittlesey. (2000) Prehistoric Painted Pottery of Southeastern Arizona. Technical Series 77. Statistical Research, Inc. Tucson.

Wallace, Henry D. (1992). Cross-dating the Gila Butte Phase and a Reconsideration of the Ceramic Type Gila Butte Red-on-buff. In The Rye Creek Project: Archaeology in the Upper Tucson Basin – Volume 3: Synthesis and Conclusions, edited by M.D. Elson and D.B. Craig, pp. 29-54. Anthropological Papers No. 11. Center for Desert Archaeology, Tucson.

Wallace, Henry D. (2004) Update to the Middle Gila Buff Ware Ceramic Sequence. In Hohokam Farming on the Salt River Flood-plain: Refining Models and Analytical Methods, edited by T. Kathleen Henderson, pp. 45-124. Anthropological Papers No. 43. Center for Desert Archaeology, Tucson.

Compiled by:
Meghann M. Vance, Northern Arizona University Anthropology Laboratories