Friday, July 30, 2010 - The South Carolina Native American Pottery Research web site - The South Carolina Native American Pottery Research web site

By Carl Steen
Earlier the year a new web site dedicated to Native American pottery research was posted at Although we have seen decades of archaeology in South Carolina that has involved Native American pottery no one has ever succeeded in synthesizing the data. That is not to say that I have finally done so. With this web site I have not tried to write a full synthesis or come up with the last word on the subject. Indeed, my conclusion is that someone - or group of someones - needs to spend about ten years, full time researching the subject and another ten writing it up. It's not as simple as making up a few type names and descriptions and slotting everything into them.

But what I have managed to accomplish is to get electronic copies of all of the important pottery studies I could find and post them on the web site. Many of these were available on the internet. In other cases the authors had pdfs, while in still others I scanned books and gray literature reports. There are some golden oldies up there that have sat on many of us older South Carolina archaeologists' bookshelves for years that the younger generation has not had the opportunity to consult. And there has been a spate of good dissertations coming out of North Carolina in the last decade that many of us older folks probably haven't seen. Those and similar works are posted as well.

I have also tried to summarize what disparate researchers have said about the various pottery “types” we all refer to in our work. South Carolina falls on the fault line between what early researchers call northern and southern traditions. Well, as usual it isn't as simple as that. Some things, like cord marked and fabric impressed surface finishes are dominant in the north. Carved paddle stamping is dominant in the south. But cord marked pottery is made throughout South Carolina at different times, and paddle stamped pottery is found in the north. With some wares like Stallings and Thoms Creek we can see the practice spreading northward along the coast and up the rivers, as if people were exploring and spreading out. Yet people far to the north took up pottery making within a thousand years of its introduction and their practice of cord and fabric marking surfaces spread back to the south just as quickly.

To make matters worse, at different times sherds that would fit a given pottery type description can actually be hundreds of years younger or older. In looking at carbon dates we find pottery identified as a given type, such as Wilmington, with dates that run from about 300BC to 1500AD. I have collected as many carbon dates as I could find, and corrected them. I've looked at analysis techniques and terminology and tried to set forth, if not standardize definitions. I've tried to put together as much information as possible in hopes that interested parties can carry the work forward.

And, by popular demand, there is a “pottery for beginners” page. If you find a sherd somewhere you can at least try to identify it by type and get an idea of its age and cultural affiliation. I hope the members of the ASSC find this site as enjoyable to use as it was to put together. This work was sponsored by the people of Beaufort County, with the guidance of the State Historic Preservation Office and the Department of Transporatation.

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