The Use of Shell-Tempered Pottery in the Caddo Area of the Southeastern United States

By Perttula, Timothy K.; Trubitt, Mary Beth et al. | Southeastern Archaeology, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

The Use of Shell-Tempered Pottery in the Caddo Area of the Southeastern United States


Perttula, Timothy K., Trubitt, Mary Beth, Girard, Jeffrey S., Southeastern Archaeology


Introduction

The preparation of this article was directly inspired by a 2008 thematic issue in Southeastern Archaeology that dealt with a variety of issues concerning shelltempered ceramics in the Eastern Woodlands (Feathers and Peacock 2008). A particular focus of the contributions to that issue was summarizing the temporal and spatial distribution of shell-tempered pottery in prehistoric and early historic contexts in different parts of this broad area (including the central Arkansas Ozarks, the northern lower Mississippi Valley, the upper Mississippi Valley, the northern Gulf Coast, the middle Ohio River Valley, Kentucky, the Mississippi Black Prairie, and the Middle Atlantic). Also of import was establishing when shell-tempered pottery first began to be made and used (Feathers and Peacock 2008:286-287; see also Feathers 2009; Peacock and Feathers 2009) in the Eastern Woodlands, as well as when - if this occurred - shell-tempered pottery began to dominate native ceramic traditions.

Although the Caddo area is part of the Eastern Woodlands with respect to its archaeological character, and Historic Caddo people surely were Southeastern in much of their cultural traditions (see Rogers and Sabo 2004), pottery from the Caddo archaeological area was not included in the recent compilation.1 Our main purpose in presenting the available archaeological data on the manufacture and use of shell-tempered pottery across the Caddo area is to help add to the broadening but complex understanding of the "origin and spread of shell-tempered pottery" (Feathers and Peacock 2008:286) in the larger region of which it is a part.

The Caddo Archaeological Area

Caddo archaeological sites are found over a large area of four different states, including East Texas, northwestern Louisiana, southwestern Arkansas, and eastern Oklahoma. The southern Caddo area is centered on the Red River and its main tributary streams as well as the Sabine and Neches rivers in East Texas (Figure 1), and it includes the Gulf Coastal Plain and Ouachita Mountains physiographic provinces. The northern Caddo area is centered in the Arkansas River basin and includes parts of the adjoining Ozark Plateau. At its maximum extent, the Caddo archaeological area extends 600 km north to south and 300 km east to west, covering approximately 180,000 km^sup 2^.

The Caddo archaeological and cultural tradition represents "an archaeological concept ... recognizable primarily on the basis of a set of long-standing and distinctive cultural, social, and political elements that have temporal, spatial, and geographic connotations" - (Perttula 1992:7). Best known for the distinctive and beautifully made engraved ceramic vessels found on mound and habitation sites, but also by the massive quantities of exotic prestige goods found at the Spiro site in eastern Oklahoma (see Brown 1996; Phillips and Brown 1978), the Caddo archaeological tradition in basic terms is characterized by dispersed but sedentary settlements, the development through time of an horticultural to an agricultural economy, and a complex sociopolitical structure denoted principally by a complex network of mound centers and the differential treatment of the dead by rank, most notably in burial mound shaft tombs accompanied by elaborate kinds of grave goods.

Considered a Mississippian tradition by some, Caddo archaeologists have argued that the development of Caddo cultural traditions in prehistoric times took place relatively independently of - and with a different cultural trajectory and tempo than - Mississippian period developments in the southeastern United States, though they consider Caddo society to be southeastern in character. Caddo societies share much with their southeastern U.S. Mississippian neighbors, including the adoption of maize and the intensification of maize agricultural economies, as well as in systems of social authority and ceremony (Blitz 2010; Butler and Welch 2006). Consequently, patterns of cultural change and trends in material culture and technological practices - among them the use and manufacture of shell-tempered pottery - in different parts of the Caddo archaeological area (see Figure 1) are not directly comparable with, nor temporally synchronous with, that of Mississippian groups in the Southeast. …

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