Academic journal article Southeastern Archaeology

Paste Characterization of Weeden Island Pottery from Kolomoki and Its Implications for Specialized Production

Academic journal article Southeastern Archaeology

Paste Characterization of Weeden Island Pottery from Kolomoki and Its Implications for Specialized Production

Article excerpt

Archaeological investigations of craft specialization - like those of political economy in general - have long been linked with issues of social evolution. Specialized craft production has traditionally been considered both a cause and marker of the development of more complex, hierarchically organized societies (Cobb 1993:67). Within the Southeast, for example, debate concerning craft specialization at Cahokia and Moundville has been permeated by broader controversies regarding the size of these polities and the degree of social stratification within them (Blitz 1993; Milner 1990; Muller 1997:342-346; Pauketat 1987; Prentice 1983, 1985; Welch 1991; Wilson 2001; Yerkes 1983, 1989).

In recent years, however, archaeologists working with nonstratified societies have endeavored to decouple specialized craft production from social complexity. These studies are founded in a broader and more inclusive definition of specialization. Costin (2001:276), for example, characterizes specialization as, simply, a situation in which "fewer people make a class of object than use it" (see also Cobb 1993:66). This strikes us as perhaps overly broad, potentially including even domestic production and consumption of a class of objects as a form of specialization if the former is undertaken by a subset of the household. Nevertheless, we agree with the more general point that specialization should be understood as multidimensional, existing along continuums of context (from independent to attached), concentration (from dispersed to nucleated), scale (from small and kin-based to factory), and intensity (from part to full time) (Costin 1991:1-18). So defined and conceived, specialization is recognized as a feature common to small-scale societies. Explanations for specialization in state-level societies, which have traditionally emphasized political aggrandizement and economic maximization, may be a poor fit for such smallscale societies; thus motivations are increasingly sought in the need for socially valued goods which are critical for ritual performance (Spielmann 1998, 2002, 2008).

This more expansive understanding of specialization has thus far found limited application in archaeological studies of the societies that were present in the Southeast prior to the Mississippian period (for exceptions from the northern periphery of the Southeast, see Spielmann [1998, 2002] and Nolan et al. [2007]). In this paper, we consider possible specialization in the production of pottery among the Middle and Late Woodland societies of the Gulf Coast and adjacent interior sections of Alabama, Florida, and Georgia (Figure 1), broadly defined by the Weeden Island ceramic series and dating from around A.D. 200 to 1000 (Milanich 2002:352). Weeden Island pottery, with its diverse suite of styles and unusual vessel shapes (many of which are poorly suited to utilitarian purposes) (Figure 2), as well as its strong association with mortuary deposits, has long been recognized as a distinct and specialized class of ceramics. The possibility that Weeden Island pottery was produced by specialists, however, has been muddled by assumptions regarding a linear relationship between specialization and complexity. Briefly, archaeologists emphasizing the seemingly precocious sociopolitical complexity of Weeden Island societies have argued for specialization (Sears 1956:98, 1973:39), while those who have asserted the more egalitarian trappings of these societies have considered specialization more cautiously (Cordell 1984:195; Milanich et al. 1997:139).

As a means of assessing specialization in Weeden Island pottery production, we focus on the intensive characterization of ceramic paste. Our ceramic sample is drawn primarily from the Kolomoki site in the lower Chattahoochee Valley of southwestern Georgia. Kolomoki is the largest Weeden Island settlement in the region, with at least nine mounds and a U-shaped occupation area centered on a circular plaza and extending nearly a kilometer north-south and eastwest (Pluckhahn 2003; Sears 1956). …

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