Comment on Dates from a Resin-Coated Sherd from Spirit Cave, Thailand
White, Joyce C., Antiquity
Lampert et al. (2003) argue that the early Holocene dating (c. 7500 BP uncalibrated) assigned to the earliest ceramics at Spirit Cave, Thailand should be revised based on two new dates of c. 3000 BP from a single resin-coated sherd from that site. But Lampert et al.'s article does not demonstrate the stratigraphic or typological relationship between their one sherd and the sherds upon which Gorman claimed early Holocene dating for the appearance of ceramics at Spirit Cave.
Gorman excavated at Spirit Cave twice, initially in 1966 (Gorman 1969, 1972) and again in 1971, and the records are housed at the University of Pennsylvania Museum. Provenance nomenclature received in 2000 in a spreadsheet from Lampert indicates that the 20 sherds (labelled A through T) in her possession at Bradford University came from the 1971 excavation. Although the details of the 1971 excavation were never published by Gorman, the provenance information indicates that the 20 Lampert sherds came from either (1) the cave surface with no horizontal provenience (i.e., no square designation--eight sherds), or from (2) the removal of "baulk extensions." Baulk extension is the phrase used by Gorman for deposits along the cave wall left between it and some of the squares excavated from the 1966 excavations. None of the 20 Lampert sherds came from the main excavation squares of either season.
For those 12 Lampert sherds from the baulk extensions, the depth and stratigraphic information that could be gleaned from the original field records was tenuous. In the comprehensive information I sent to Lampert (White 2001) I state that the sherd that later became the one from which dates were derived (Sherd N) is "probably best considered depositionally equivalent to the sherds marked 'T19 SUR,'" (T19 is the site number Gorman gave Spirit Cave). Elsewhere I stared that sherds marked T19 SUR were "most likely to be from surface deposits with potential to have been 'kicked around.'" I noted to Lampert that only "Sherd G and Sherd F appear to come from the lowest stratigraphic positions of your set of sherds" with possible association with Hoabinhian lithics (all italics in the original White 2001). However, Sherds G and F have no resin coating.
Lampert's spreadsheet of her 20 sherds and Gorman's discussion of the 426 sherds from the 1966 excavations make clear that there is variability among the fabric, surface treatments, and decorative finishes in the ceramics recovered from Spirit Cave, so that the sherds from the overall assemblage do not have to be of similar date (the full count and character of sherds from the main 1971 excavation squares are unknown). Regarding the earliest sherds from the site, Gorman (1969:672) states, "Impressed into the surface of layer 2 were several concentrations of pottery ... The ceramic material [was] characteristically cord-marked, [and] also included a smooth, burnished ware ... The cord-marked sherds were a uniform dark reddish brown ... averaging 3 to 6 mm in thickness." The dating of these sherds to the early Holocene is noted in Lampert et al. (2003). It consists of three early Holocene dates from the same surface as the ceramics (surface of layer 2), but Lampert et al. (2003: 128) note that "it is largely on the date obtained from the sample taken from within Layer 1 [7400 [+ or -] 300 BP uncalibrated; FSU 317] that the possible debate hinges." Deposition of the charcoal providing this latter fourth date from within Layer 1 arguably superseded deposition of the sherds impressed into the surface of Layer 2.
According to Gorman (1972:96), resin coating was found on only one kind of sherd: those that had been net-impressed. In the Lampert collection, all four resin-coated sherds were also listed as net-impressed. Only two net-impressed sherds had no resin coating. Gorman provides no specific information on the stratigraphic context of the resin-coated or net-impressed sherds, but neither does he mention them as among the "early ceramics" impressed into the surface of layer 2. …