Woodland Potters and Archaeological Ceramics of the North Carolina Coast

By Caynor, E. Christopher | Southeastern Archaeology, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

Woodland Potters and Archaeological Ceramics of the North Carolina Coast


Caynor, E. Christopher, Southeastern Archaeology


Woodland Potters and Archaeological Ceramics of the North Carolina Coast. JOSEPH M. HERBERT. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, 2009. 352 pp., illus. $60.00 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-0-8173-1638-9; $36.95 (paper), ISBN: 978-0-8173-5517-3.

Joseph Herbert, an archaeologist with the U.S. Army at Fort Bragg, Directorate of Public Works, Cultural Resources Program, is an expert in the ceramics of the North Carolina Coastal Plain. This work, the culmination of years of study of materials from the Research Laboratories of Archaeology, UNC-Chapel Hill and other materials collected by Fort Bragg archaeologists, attempts to refine the regional ceramic taxonomy for the Coastal Plain of North Carolina and assess potential patterns in the geographical distributions of these types.

The use of thermoluminescence (TL) dating to study sherds from archaeological contexts in North Carolina is a key aspect of this text. New dates provided for sherds in the Fort Bragg collection use this technology, and Hebert is a strong supporter of its potential applications in the analysis of poorly stratified artifacts from the Coastal Plain. The book is composed of a discussion of ceramic technologies and related sociological and anthropological theories for interpretation, a series of case studies representing three distinct regions of the North Carolina Coastal Plain (the Sandhills, Sea Island, and Embayed sections) presented alongside dating information from each region, a clarification of the ceramic taxonomy for the region, an analysis of the spatial distribution of Coastal Plain sites, and Herbert's thoughts on the potential social causes for archaeological patterns.

Herbert presents his information with a caveat that patterns observed in archaeological materials cannot adequately be assumed to represent true social or temporal boundaries. He uses an evolutionary perspective in his study but tempers this with an understanding that archaeological materials do not always move in a pattern from least efficient to most efficient. A discussion of learning and practice examines the potential sociopolitical factors that may coexist with environmental constraints to cause changes in functional or stylistic traits. The author carefully lays down processual concepts and builds upon them with ideas of social theory, agency, and cognitive archaeology to present the theoretical and methodological background that leads to his conclusions.

The pattern of analysis that Herbert uses is procedural. He first considers the temper of a sherd and then the surface treatment to define its series. Well-illustrated charts provide a field guide for this analysis, and each step of the process is carefully outlined. Macroscopic analysis of the collection gives way to microscopic analysis, thin sectioning and petrography, and TL dating. Ceramic data are presented both by counts and by proportions for each case study location.

William G. Haag's 1956 excavations of the Bandon, Cape Creek, and Whalen sites are analyzed to represent trends for the northern Coastal Plain; information from other, more recent studies are used to augment these data but are not presented independently. Herbert notes the presence of ceramics at Bandon which have been identified as Cape Fear and cannot be adequately classified as either Cashie or Mount Pleasant. These sherds are found outside of the known range of the Cape Fear ceramic tradition, and the author suggests that they may represent a variant of the Middle Woodland Mount Pleasant series without the characteristic granule or pebble-sized temper, or an as-yetundefined Late Woodland tradition. Conclusions from this chapter suggest that ceramics in the region typically conform to Phelps's original sequence with only minor modifications.

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