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Sherd Art and Det Muntre Kokken

Alice Kehoe

In the interest of a truly scientific archaeology, of necessity based on the principle of actualism (1970, G. G. Simpson, Uniformitarianism. An Inquiry into Principle, Theory, and Method in Geohistory and Biohistory. In Essays in Evolution and Genetics in Honor of Theodosius Dobzhansky, edited by M. K. Hecht and W. C. Steere, pp. 43-96. Appleton-Century-Crofts, New York), I am obliged to record two taphonomic processes involving breaking and disposal of ceramic vessels: sherd art and Det Muntre Køkken.

Sherd art, known also as pique assiette, quilted plates, and memoryware, is created by deliberately breaking plates to use the sherds for mosaics. A practitioner in Milwaukee describes her atelier containing "some 3,000 china plates," tile snipes for breaking them up, and a variety of objects for the mosaics, from tables and picture frames to "tiny decorative votive cups." The Milwaukee artist claims that, as mosaic, her art is thousands of years old, although the craft formally known as pique assiette is a women's art apparently originating at the end of the 19th century (1997, C. Crebbin, Piece by Piece, Artist Creates New from Old. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, February 6).

Det Muntre Køkken was observed in Denmark, at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. A wooden triangle holding a series of ceramic plates was placed at the back of a game booth. Iron chains with hooks from which swung more ceramic plates were fastened above a wooden counter, and yet more plates were set in rows of racks on each of the two side walls of the booth. For a few kroner, players were given six round wooden balls, about 6 cm in diameter, to throw one by one at the hanging plates. An attendant swept the resulting sherds to the outside edge of the booth, thereby creating a genuine Danish køkkenmidden . The antiquity of this observed practice is unclear, but it is not mentioned in Lubbock's 1861 review of "Kjökkenmöddings" (1912, J. Lubbock, Pre-Historic Times, 6th ed. Williams and Norgate, London).

Alice Kehoe is at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisc.


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