Ceramic Petrography and the
Classification of Mississippi's
Archaeological Pottery by Fabric
A GIS Approach
Michael L. Galaty
In this chapter I review the petrographic analyses applied to archaeological ceramics from the state of Mississippi, with a specific focus on the Yazoo Basin. I argue that the traditional southeastern type-variety system—which is particularly complex in its application to artifacts from the Lower Mississippi Valley (LMV)—fails to account fully for differences in the materials, such as clays and tempers, used in the manufacture of prehistoric pottery. Whereas the typevariety system systematically tracks components of ceramic style, such as soc alled “decorative ideas,” surface finishes (e.g., “plain” versus “stamped”), and form (i.e. “vessel modes”) (Phillips 1970: 27), it does not encourage careful and consistent recording of pertinent fabric characteristics. As a result, ceramic types and varieties often crosscut fabric categories, thereby confounding efforts to explain the spatial and temporal distributions of pottery (Connaway 1980; Mainfort 1994; Metcalf 1992; Rafferty and Galaty 2002). This problem could be solved in one of two ways: 1) by adding more meaningful fabric descriptions to the established system of types and varieties, which would likely require lumping together some types and varieties and splitting others; or 2) by creating a parallel system designed to handle southeastern fabrics specifically. Option two seems to me the better long-term solution. It preserves the traditional type-variety system intact and ensures that existing ideas about fabric would not compromise new fabric categories as they are tested.
Building a new, parallel system of classification based on fabrics will require that meaningful fabric categories be described. Whereas developing such a system from scratch is beyond the scope of this chapter, I will present in outline form the steps necessary to its eventual creation. Defining meaningful fabric categories will depend upon the systematic sampling of clays and tem