Shell-Tempered Pottery on the Central Plains

By Roper, Donna C. | Southeastern Archaeology, December 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

Shell-Tempered Pottery on the Central Plains


Roper, Donna C., Southeastern Archaeology


The recent literature of the Southeast and adjacent areas attests considerable interest in questions surrounding shell-tempered pottery in the eastern United States. In addition to a number of book chapters and individual journal articles (Feathers 2006, 2009; Galaty 2008; Jenkins and Krause 2009; Livingood 2007; Michelaki 2007; Neff 2008; Peacock and Feathers 2009; Stoltman et al. 2008) is the recent thematic issue of Southeastern Archaeology devoted to shell-tempered pottery in the Eastern Woodlands. Here, after finding that little information was available regarding the spatial and temporal distribution of this material, James Feathers and Evan Peacock (2008:286) brought together eight articles that reviewed the origin and spread of shell-tempered pottery throughout the Southeast and somewhat beyond. Coverage included the Atlantic Coast (Herbert 2008), Gulf Coast (Weinstein and Dumas 2008), lower and central Mississippi Valley (Lafferty 2008; Rafferty and Peacock 2008), central Ozarks (Sabo and Hilliard 2008), and parts of the Ohio River valley or drainage (Cook and Faragher 2008; Pollack et al. 2008) in the Southeast and the upper Mississippi River valley to the north (Boszhardt 2008). Missing, however, was a review of the occurrence of shell-tempered pottery at its northwest limit in the eastern United States, namely, the Central Plains. This paper aspires to provide that missing portion of the coverage.

The Central Plains certainly is not the first place one thinks of as having shell-tempered pottery, but over a century ago, William Hohnes (1903:P1. TV) showed that this material occurred as far west as the west side of the Missouri River valley in northeast Kansas. We now know that it was only the lack to that time of investigations beyond the Missouri River valley and bluffs that kept Holmes from being able to portray shell-tempered pottery as found more widely on the Central Plains, for within a decade or two, shelltempered pottery was being reported from sites to the north along or near the Missouri River valley (Gilder 1926:32 [based on work conducted in the first decade of the century]; Sterns 1915:245; Zimmerman 1918:482483). By the 1930s, at which time investigations were reaching ever farther onto the Central Plains, reports were appearing of shell-tempered pottery west of the immediate Missouri River drainage in Nebraska (Hill and Cooper 1936a, 1936b, 1936c, 1937; Strong 1935), to as far as about 150 miles west of the Missouri River valley in north-central Kansas (Wedel 1934a:225). It has been steadily documented from Central Plains sites ever since.

In this review, I use the term "Central Plains" in the sense of Donald Lehmer's (1971:28) définition of the Central Plains cultural (archaeological) subarea. In this usage, the Central Plains encompasses Nebraska, western Iowa, and northwestern Missouri, but only that part of Kansas north of the Arkansas River drainage. This means that I exclude from consideration the shell-tempered-pottery-using Lower Walnut focus of the Great Bend aspect (ça. cal. A.D. 1350-1700), which is spatially restricted to a portion of southcentral Kansas in the Arkansas River drainage near the Oklahoma border. This would fall within the Central Plains as Waldo Wedel (1961:79, 130) conceived of this cultural subarea (he included all of Kansas within his Central Plains subarea), but Lehmer's division of the Central Plains from the Southern Plains at the Arkansas River drainage got it exactly right for the Plains cultures of the late prehistoric and historic periods, and the Lower Walnut focus properly is a Southern Plains cultural tradition, originating from sources other than that of the Central Plains cultural traditions.

This paper, therefore, deals with ceramic remains from two cultural traditions: the Central Plains tradition and the Oneota tradition. Oneota dates to about the fourteenth to eighteenth centuries on the Plains in general (Henning 1998). Oneota remains are spatially restricted on the Central Plains and do not appear to result from either an extensive or an intensive use of the area, except perhaps along the border of the Missouri River valley. …

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