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Describing the Broken & Brittle: potsherd, sherd, or shard

Collection: Anthropology

Linguistics is weird, and fun.

Two potsherds found during a walkabout at Lamanai, Belize.

The word sherd comes from “potsherd,” a piece of a broken brittle substance of ceramic nature, most typically earthen pottery in an archaeological context.

Shard is used to refer to glass-like fragments, such as obsidian, porcelain, glass, or other glassy substances, non-exclusive to an archaeological context.

Rather than sherd and shard being interchangeable, each refers to a distinct type of broken, brittle substance.

Additionally, sherd most commonly refers to Native American pottery, whereas shard is used in a European context.

Here's a real world scenario...

If I break my ceramic, clay flower pot and pick up all the pieces, the pieces are shards.

If I am lazy, all the broken pieces end up being mostly left alone, and site formation processes kick in, the archaeologist who digs them up in the future has sherds, or potsherds, because they came from a clay pot.

If I break a glass beer bottle today and pick up the pieces, or leave them for the archaeologists of the future to find: the pieces of the broken glass beer bottle are shards.

Here's what the dictionary has to say.

Tags: language

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