Academic journal article Southeastern Archaeology

Household Ceramic Diversity in the Late Prehistory of the Appalachian Summit

Academic journal article Southeastern Archaeology

Household Ceramic Diversity in the Late Prehistory of the Appalachian Summit

Article excerpt

Constructing and naming archaeological phases to identify and distinguish prehistoric cultures was a focus of the early archaeology of the southeastern United States. For later prehistory, pottery played a central role in such typological constructs. The southern Appalachian region, also known as the Appalachian Summit (Kroeber 1939), was "uncharted territory" in the early 1960s for Joffre Lanning Coe and his academic progeny when the University of North Carolina's Cherokee Project began (Ward and Davis 1999). One product of that research was the definition of the Pisgah phase (Holden 1966), named for Pisgah National Forest. The forest itself was named for Mount Pisgah in Moab (Jordan), from which Moses viewed the Promised Land. Pisgah ceramics were first described by Holmes (1903), and again by Holden (1966), but most formally by Dickens, Jr. (1976). Cultural traits of the Pisgah phase as described by Dickens (1976:206-210) include double-palisaded villages, often with platform mounds, square houses with platform hearths, distinctive grave forms that often include chambers, marine shell artifacts, suggestions of social stratification, and, especially, a distinctive pottery. Figure 1 shows the distribution of Pisgah ceramics proposed by Dickens (1976), as well as the locations of sites discussed in this study.

Pisgah vessels include jars (primarily) and bowls that were coil constructed. The jars usually have constricted necks with thickened or collared rims that were punctated. Coarse sand or grit and possibly mica was added to the clay, although naturally micaceous clays may have been used. Vessel interiors were generally smoothed or burnished while exteriors were most often stamped with rectilinear designs. According to Dickens (1976) less frequent forms of tempering materials, such as steatite and shell, and exterior surface treatments such as cord or net marking are found in peripheral areas.

In keeping with a goal of Coe's Cherokee Project, "to identify the ancient cultures from which the Historic Cherokees emerged" (Ward and Davis 1999:17), Dickens (1970, 1976, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1986) consistently argued that the Pisgah phase was, at least in part, ancestral to the Historic Cherokee Qualla phase: "The classification of Pisgah itself as Cherokee appears to be in little doubt on the basis of the evidence presented in this study" (Dickens 1970:281).

The Ward site

When Appalachian State University's (ASU) first archaeologists arrived in 1970, they focused their attentions on the Ward site (31WT22), previously discovered by Stanley South, as a potential site for their summer field schools and to gain insights into northwestern North Carolina prehistory (Ayers et al. 1980). This palisaded village (Figure 2) on the Watauga River dates to between A.D. 1000 and 1200 (Whyte 2003). Several seasons of excavation in the 1970s and early 1980s uncovered approximately 25 percent of the 2,124 m2 site, revealing post molds of a palisade and one circular structure with a central hearth. A rectangular post mold pattern found on the southeastern edge of the site appears to represent a much later occupation. Overlapping Late Woodland period post molds and features are rare at this site, indicating a relatively short village lifespan. Observing a prevalence of thickened and punctated rims among the pottery sherds (Figure 3), Ayers et al. (1980), armed with Dickens' (1970) recent Ph.D. dissertation, described the site as a Pisgah phase village.

Other attributes of the pottery, however, contradicted the original type descriptions (Mathis and Moore 1984; Senior 1981). Pisgah vessel interiors were described as smoothed whereas those of the Ward site were commonly scraped. Pisgah vessel exteriors were described as primarily rectilinear stamped whereas most from the Ward site are net or fabric impressed. Pisgah vessel tempering was described as sand or grit whereas Ward site vessels were commonly tempered with crushed biotite schist, soapstone, quartz, or limestone. …

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