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.

Archaeologist to research Sherman’s march

Archaeologist to research Sherman’s march

An archaeologist in the University of South Carolina’s College of Arts and Sciences has been awarded a grant by The American Battlefield Protection Program, part of the National Park Service, to research Union Gen. William T. Sherman’s campaign across South Carolina.

Dr. Steven D. Smith, associate director of applied research in the college’s S.C. Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, will begin the two-year project this fall.

The $64,200 grant calls for researching, identifying, locating and providing a current status of multiple battlefields, skirmish sites and camps associated with Sherman’s march across the Palmetto State. Smith’s research also will include the study of two “Yankee” POW camps within Columbia’s city limits. He expects to document 60 sites; no excavation work will be done.

The grant is one of 25 NPS grants awarded to preserve and protect significant battle sites from all wars fought on American soil. Smith has spent 18 years conducting military site archaeology in South Carolina and the Southeast.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Archaeologist's research could boost South Carolina's heritage tourism

Archaeologist's research could boost South Carolina's heritage tourism
Article and photo courtesy of

Francis Marion, South Carolina's legendary Swamp Fox who helped repel the British during the Revolutionary War, is a legend in American history.

But when Mom and Dad are on their way to Florida, how do you get them to stop in the Palmetto State and tell Marion's story to their kids?

There are no interpretive centers at any of the places Marion frequented during his lifetime, though there could be in the future, thanks in part to the work of Steven D. Smith, associate director of applied research at the S.C. Institute of Archeology and Anthropology at the University of South Carolina.

Smith, who oversees the Institute's Military Sites Program, has been conducting archaeological research at Revolutionary War battlefields since 2002. He has been the principal investigator for archival and field surveys at battlefields like Camden, Blackstocks, Musgrove Mill, Fort Motte, and Francis Marion battlefields like Blue Savannah, Snow's Island, Wadboo Plantation, and Parker's Ferry.

The research is helping South Carolina's heritage tourism industry to interpret the sites for tourists.

"You need an infrastructure in order for tourism to work and you need to interpret the story," said Smith, who recently confirmed the location of a Revolutionary War battlefield called Williamson's Plantation at Historic Brattonsville for the York County Culture and Heritage Museums.

"The centers have to be developed," said Smith, "but our research provides the history and archaeology that will be used to develop accurate language for signage, interpretive programs, and tours."

In the past, Smith's field survey and research with institute colleague James B. Legg has led to a battlefield interpretive trail at the Battle of Camden for the Palmetto Conservation Foundation.

The idea, said Smith, is to entice people off the interstate to spend time and money in South Carolina while learning about a unique chapter in American history.

This could be especially important in the economically depressed Lowcountry between Georgetown, Charleston, and Florence, where Francis Marion lived and fought the British. The state's Francis Marion Trail Commission sponsored Smith's archaeological study of Marion's battlefields in that region.
Developing tourism related to the Swamp Fox is actually just a byproduct of Smith's personal interest and research on the famous partisan fighter.
Smith has been pursuing Marion's legacy ever since 1993 when he began to receive grant and contract funding from organizations like the Sonoco Products Co., the Lowcountry Council of Governments, and most recently, the trail commission, to confirm the authenticity of sites associated with the Swamp Fox.
Over time, the research enabled Smith to enter the Ph.D. program in anthropology at Carolina and begin work on his dissertation that focuses on the partisan community around Snow's Island, S.C., during the Revolution.

The area provided a base of operations, secure campsites, supplies, and men who helped Marion, who is "widely acknowledged as America's most successful partisan fighter," Smith said.

Smith's dissertation examines the Snow's Island community, including analysis of historic documents, landscape, and archaeology. It will also review the national memory of Marion from the early 19th century to the present.

In addition to Snow's Island, Smith's dissertation will examine another Marion site known as Dunham's Bluff, as well as Wadboo Plantation in the Moncks Corner area.

All told, he has examined 15 sites since the start of his research on Marion, five of which have turned up material evidence of a campground or battlefield where the Swamp Fox lived or fought, and which hold promise that they could be incorporated into some type of an interpretive center, trail, or program.

"Step one is to find the sites. Step two is to develop the infrastructure for interpreting those sites. And step three is the acquisition of the sites in order to preserve them," said Smith.

A long-range plan by the Francis Marion Trail Commission, he added, calls for facilities that would attract visitors at places like Francis Marion University, Moncks Corner, and Georgetown.

In addition to confirming the location of places frequented by Marion, as a result of his research, Smith has also begun to rethink how Marion fought the British. Increasingly, he said, archeologists and artifact hunters working with him are finding fewer musket balls than expected and instead are turning up smaller caliber lead shot in battlefields.

That indicates to Smith that Marion's forces relied more on smooth bore trade guns and rifles, and often fired birdshot, evidence of yet another classic guerilla tactic for which Marion was well known.

The smaller weapons were still quite effective as "you didn't have to kill the enemy, you could just disperse him or put him out of commission," Smith said.

"I'm kind of an old-fashioned historian in the sense that I still like facts," Smith said. "I like to try to verify the past as much as I can using the evidence of archaeology, so my main interest in Marion is to combine primary source material and archaeology to wrest from the mythology who the real Francis Marion was.

"I like to understand history in terms of the way people understood themselves rather than the way we want to look at them. That is my thing and Francis Marion is sort of my cause célèbre for that."