Sweetwater Red-on-gray

Sweetwater Red-on-gray is one of the earliest types of Hohokam Buff Ware and was made primarily in the middle Gila River valley, in Queen Creek, and south to the Tucson area.

Archaeological Culture: Hohokam

Date Range: ca. A.D. 600-650.

Construction: By paddle and anvil.

Firing: In a neutral to oxidizing atmosphere; fire clouds common.

Temper: Course-grained mica schist and quartz.
Surface Finish: Muscovite mica is plainly visible on vessel surfaces, and more so on polished vessels; non-porous; not slipped.

Paste Color: Beige, gray, or brown; dense.

Forms: Bowls, jars, censers, scoops, few effigies.


  • Paint: Bright red, dull red, or purplish red; occasionally smeared by polishing; always brush-painted.
  • Pigments: Iron oxide mineral paint.
  • Design: Banded layouts; straight-line hachure bands that later become cuneiform; cross-banded; simple band open “star” (bowl only; large hachure-filled triangular spaces pendant from rim with no additional interior design); sectioned layouts with hachured “star;” quartered; opened quartered; all-over layouts with curvilinear scrolls, commas, two-ring concentric circles, and curvilinear spirals; composite layouts with spirals and radiating lines; Queen Creek variant (early) lacks hachure-fill; most rims are not painted; trailing lines are absent.
  • Incising: Deep, regular incising that is often complicatedly patterned; coil-based incising.

Key Traits: Gray or brown paste, fire clouding, and minimal polishing with a micaceous sheen; spacing of hachure lines is generally equal to or greater than the thickness of the lines; thickest lines are less than 4 mm wide.

Comparisons: Estrella Red-on-gray had wider lines and less elaborate designs; Sweetwater Red-on-Gray is never red slipped/washed, generally lacks incising, and had brush-painted designs. Early Snaketown Red-on-buff is more complex; some hachure-filled designs are indistinguishable between the two types, but the line work on Sweetwater vessels is more variable and less controlled; incising on Sweetwater vessels is deep and regular; on early Snaketown vessels, incising is shallow and irregular. Hatching lines on late Snaketown Red-on-buff are finer and more closely spaced. Hatchure and curvilinear designs distinguish Sweetwater Red-on-gray from other contemporaneous Southwest red-on-brown types.

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.

Deaver, William L. and Cioleck-Torrello, Richard S. (1995) Early Formative Period Chronology for the Tucson Basin. Kiva 60(4):481-529.

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. (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