Temporal Trends in Native Ceramic Traditions of the Lower Catawba River Valley

Article excerpt

Bennie Keel's 1972 work at Upper Sauratown was the opening salvo of the Research Laboratories of Archaeology's 30-year Siouan Project, which continues under the guise of the ongoing Catawba Project. Keel's early work at the protohistoric Hardins and early historic era Belk Farm sites in the Catawba River Valley continues to inform the current phase of Piedmont Siouan research. This study compares and contrasts Keel's Hardins and Belk Farm ceramic assemblages with those from the later Catawba sites of Nassaw Town, Old Town, and New Town to achieve a diachronic view of Catawba ceramic development. This comparison reveals a long span of stylistic and technological continuity abruptly terminated by rapid emergence of the modern Catawba ceramic tradition between 1760 and 1770.

During his 10 years with University of North Carolina's (UNC) Research Laboratories of Anthropology (now Archaeology) (RLA), Bennie C. Keel revolutionized archaeological fieldwork and analysis in North Carolina. His landmark investigations in the southern Appalachians established a regional cultural sequence that remains robustly applicable after 30 years of subsequent research (see Keel 1976). Keel's work on southern Appalachian Middle Woodland cultures and their linkages to the broader "Hopewell Interaction Sphere" phenomenon (see Chapman and Keel 1979) continues to inform research across the Eastern Woodlands.

Less heralded are Keel's short-term forays from the RLA to test or salvage endangered sites throughout the state. Many of these brief, opportunistic investigations yielded discrete bodies of data that have since assumed greater significance within new frameworks of inquiry. Such is the case with Keel's early work at Hardins and BeIk Farm, lower Catawba River Valley sites that documented evidence of fifteenth-century and seventeenth-century occupations, respectively. David Moore (2002) incorporated data from these investigations into his groundbreaking synthesis of Catawba Valley Mississippian, and evidence from BeIk Farm served to link prehistoric and protohistoric era ceramic traditions in the Catawba River Valley with those of presumably Catawban-speaking communities of the early historic era.

The study presented in this article integrates ceramic assemblage information from Keel's work at Hardins and Belk Farm with recently acquired evidence from mid-eighteenth-century Nassaw town, Revolutionary War era Old Town, and Federal period New Town (Davis and Riggs 2004) to track broad patterns of stability and change in native pottery traditions in the lower Catawba River Valley (Figure 1). Inclusion of these eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century samples extends Moore's (2002) analysis of Catawba River Valley ceramics to achieve historical linkage with contemporary Catawba Indian ceramic practice (see Baker 1972; Blumer 2004), thereby addressing Moore's (2002:159) admonition that "clearly, formal comprehensive analysis of pottery from well-documented eighteenth-century Catawba towns will ease the dilemma we currently face in understanding the possible relationship between protohistoric period Catawba valley pottery and the historic period pottery associated with Catawba peoples."

Ceramics of the Late Pre-Contact Era: The Hardins Assemblage

Keel first documented evidence of late Mississippian period occupation in the lower Catawba River Valley at the Hardins site, located along the South Fork of the Catawba River near present-day High Shoals in Gaston County, North Carolina (Keel 1966, 1990). The RLA conducted limited salvage investigations at the site in 1966, following the discovery of a grave at Hardins by soil-borrowing operations for a highway project. Investigators documented two late Mississippian period graves and two contemporaneous pit features before soil borrowing resumed. These contexts yielded 132 ceramic sherds, which Keel (1990:10) characterized as representing "the earlier part of emerging Catawba ceramics," an assertion based primarily on the Hardins pottery's similarity to seventeenth-century wares from BeIk Farm and the location of both Hardins and Belk Farm within the historic Catawba territory. …