Wednesday, March 23, 2016

To continue with our Florida Archaeology Month-themed blogs, let's take a look at one of the important parts of Woodland culture: pottery!

Here in Northeast Florida, we see two main types surface during the Woodland Period: St. Johns and Swift Creek. St. Johns is our tried and true sponge spicule tempered pottery found all over Northeast Florida from 500 BC until around AD 1600. I feel like a lot gets said about St. Johns, so I thought I would focus on Swift Creek.

Swift Creek pottery dates between AD 100 - 850 and is found predominately in Georgia and adjoining states including Florida, South Carolina and Alabama. The complicated-stamped wares were first adopted around the Lower St. Johns and Altamaha Rivers and soon became the most common wares in the region during the period.

While Swift Creek is primarily found around in the grey area, archaeologists have found it at sites as far away as Indiana and Ohio. (Wallis 2011)

So what does Swift Creek look like? It features elaborate designs stamped on various types of bowls and cups. Early vessels had rounded and flattened rims as well as fancier notched, nicked, scalloped and crenulated. Later vessels had thick folded rims and simple rounded or flattened lips.  The pottery is usually sand tempered but charcoal is common in earlier vessels. They've even found some with bone and grog tempering! 

Early Swift Creek rim sherds (Ceramics Technology Lab)
Late Swift Creek rim sherds (Ceramics Technology Lab)
Swift Creek body sherds (Ceramics Technology Lab)

The designs were pressed into the vessels before firing by using carved paddles. However, no wooden paddles have ever been found. Archaeologists have been able to determine what they could have looked like based on the stamped designs in pottery.

Reproductions of paddles - an steriotypical Swift Creek design is second from left.

Some interesting notes about Swift Creek:
  • Archaeologists have created a database of specific design motifs and can track the patterns through space and time.
  • Not only have they found matching designs, but even specific paddles! Flaws such as cracks in the wood have been found in impressed designs, allowing researchers to track specific paddles through space and time.
  • Chemical anaylsis of the clay itself has shown non-local vessels were found almost exclusively in mortuary settings while locally made vessels were used in daily village life.
  • Technofuntional analysis shows vessels found in village settings were mostly cooking vessel while mortuary assemblages included a diverse array of special-use and ceremonial vessels in addition to cooking.  

Check out Neil Wallis's The Swift Creek Gift for more information about this awesome pottery.
You can also search for Swift Creek pottery from your area in the Florida Museum of Natural History's database!

Unless otherwise noted, text and images by Emily Jane Murray, FPAN Staff.

Works Referenced:
2011 Wallis, Neil. The Swift Creek Gift. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.
Ceramics Technology Lab at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

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