Archaeology of Coastal North Carolina, Part 6



Part 6


(Page 65) There is no doubt but that all the significant findings of this study are based on pottery. It has often been said that "pottery is the handmaiden of archeology" and this study must rely on pottery to a great extent. Because the ceramic arts are, to the aborigine, a well-known activity of the female side of the tribe, there is generally a great uniformity to its manufacture within localized area. Pottery making is, virtually everywhere in the world, women's work because it is sedentary. Hence, it is assumed with some justification that related peoples of aboriginal times made similar pottery.

An examination of the summary of the distribution of the sherd types throughout the various sites in the study area shows there are two major divisions in the ceramic remains (Table 1). These two categories are based on temper, namely, shell or non-shell. Finer distinctions go beyond these points but in gross analysis this is the significant feature of the pottery. If this is true, the presence of shell tempering must have both temporal and spatial significance. This premise will be better tested with some acquaintance with the pottery typology.

It is an unfortunate and altogether unavoidable aspect of the scientific method that before one may validly term a certain operation or factor unnecessary, the factor must be considered in some test situation. Thus we may judge from past experience that two major categories of pottery suffice. However, in order to compare our findings with neighboring materials the non-shell-tempered pottery was analyzed by first subdividing into sand, coarse grit, or sherd and grit temper (Tables 1 and 2).

TABLE 1 (Page 66)
All sites with distribution of sherds
shown by temper and surface finish.

TABLE 1 (Cont.) (Page 67)

TABLE 1 (Cont.) (Page 68)

(Page 69) The results of the above analysis may be judged in more than one way. For example, it may be said that broken quartzite particles are sufficiently distinct from small gravels to make two pottery types, on the other hand, it may be argued that the distinction is only expeditious. The pottery maker was using only such materials as were readily at hand. In pottery analysis only those features that show reasonable spatial distribution may be used in comparative studies. Thus changes in temper that may not be correlated with a definite geographical distribution must be disregarded within limits. An example of a minor type which cannot thus be disregarded is the mica-grit- tempered ware. Found at one site only, C 4, this seems to suggest most strongly a trade item. Mica is not locally obtainable in the Banks area.

The Grit-Tempered Ware

If pottery types were erected for the Banks area and variations in temper were considered sufficient justification for a new type, the number of types within this limited area would be great. It is probable that they would also be useless for comparative studies.

TABLE 2 (Page 70)
Sites with near 100 or more sherds.
Distribution by temper and surface finish.


The tempering materials subsumed under the name grit are quite variable. They range from gravels about 5 mm. in diameter (and crushed quartzite fragments of similar size) to fine sand. In fact, in some (Page 71) sand-tempered sherds "tempering" material does not seem to be present--only a sandy paste is characteristic. Quartz sand is obtainable throughout all the area under consideration as well as shell. Gravels may be only slightly difficult to obtain. Actually, the sherds with gravel inclusions seem to convey rarely the idea that the gravel was deliberately sized. Rather it is likely that the gravels simply were not removed from the mixture. In any event, it was not possible to see any reason for subdividing the pottery typology to a further degree based on gravel.

The amount of tempering material may be so little, as suggested above, that the paste has a uniform appearance of continuous fine grit or sand. In the case of the coarser grits such as the coarse crushed quartz particles the temper may constitute 40 to 50 percent of the paste and a rather lumpy appearance is given especially to the interior. Where coarse grit has been used it is not uncommon for the particles to protrude through the surface (Figure 8).

As often as not the tempering material was a mixture; that is, the paste would have a very sandy texture yet gravel and angular particles of aplastic would be present. In many cases coarse lumps of shell would be an additive. This is not deliberate shell tempering. The method of manufacture is quite obviously coiling. Several bases were found that showed the start of the coiling process and sherds tend to break along coil lines. Sometimes the annealing of the coils is very good especially in the finer grits.

Texture is variable but not related to size of temper. Some of the gravel-tempered sherds are of fine texture, although perhaps having uneven surface contours.

Color is predominantly dark brown to black. Gray is a minority (Page 72) color as is buff. In Albemarle Sound certain sites showed an almost complete pottery assemblage that was highly oxidized giving a deep red to buff color throughout the sherd. Rarely, the interior of the cross-section of a sherd will be black when the outer surface has been fired to a buff or red.

Hardness averages 2.5 to 3.0 but an occasional specimen is 4.0. The fact that many of the sherds were collected from the water where they may have been for at least a few years means their original hardness is altered. It does appear that those sites, such as A 12, which have always been high above water have a higher average hardness for the sherds

Surface Finish and Decoration

Other than plain there are three common modes of surface finish, namely, fabric impressed, cord marked, and net impressed. Two minor surface finishes are found on the grit-tempered ware, simple stamping and incising, but neither is numerically important. Despite this small representation, it will be seen that simple stamping has a temporal significance not to be minimized.

Among the surface finishes of importance, plain is least common. Undoubtedly, the sherd counts have an excessive number of plain sherds. Because of their having been collected from the surf, it is probable that some decorated sherds were worn smooth. This possibility has been reduced to a minimum by examining the plain sherds under oblique light. If a regular pattern of indentations or bas relief shows, it is rather easy to discern whether fabric impressing or cord marking has been nearly obliterated.

The plain finish is usually smoothed without burnishing. Again, the absence of nicely polished surfaces may be a function of the (Page 73) geographic situation; sand, wind, and water do not combine to leave many exposed objects unchanged. Many sherds, especially, the heavily sand tempered, show tool-scraping marks on both interior and exterior. When only one surface is affected, interior tooling is more common.

Fabric-impressed surface finish constitutes about 60 per cent of all grit-tempered sherds. Variation in form and application is not so pronounced as might be expected. The most common fabric impression is a rather coarse plain plaiting as illustrated in Figure 3. There is little doubt but that a flexible cord was laced about a rather large and rigid warp element, and the resulting "cloth" or "basketry" was pressed against the moist clay vessel, perhaps to add strength until dry. Sometimes the weft elements have parted or slipped along this stick (?) or reed (?) and its bare impression may be seen among the cords (Figure 3, lower left). Occasionally the cord is quite fine; more often it is coarse---perhaps 2 mm. in diameter. Most of the sherds readily fall into the category called Dunlap Fabric Marked but they would just as easily meet the descriptive requirements of several other fabric- impressed types (Sears and Griffin, 1950).

A rather distinctive fabric-impressed subtype occurs at a number of sites in the area. This type, illustrated in Figure 3, lower right, has an obviously different surface. Rather than plain plaiting there is a pairing of weft elements. It makes a neater surface finish and seems to be associated with a more compact paste.

FIGURE 3 (Page 74) )

FIGURE 4 (Page 74)

Although individual sherds would indicate it, it is not likely that the fabric impressions were very deliberately applied. That is, there is little to suggest that fabric impressing was, to the aboriginal artisan, a mode of decoration. Often there appear several impresses over a single area, each successive impression overlying but not (Page 75) completely defacing the preceding one. The most reasonable conclusion is that fabric impressing was only incidental to drying the vessel.

Copyright 2001
Carolina Algonkian Project