Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Late Woodland Era Pottery

For the first two weeks of this field season, we have been excavating a smaller site about one hundred yards south of where Fort St. Joseph used to be, known as the Lyne site. The Lyne site is close to the river and has been used for camping well before the Fort was constructed in 1691, and the artifacts we have been finding definitely prove this theory. Perhaps some of the more significant finds at the Lyne site are several pieces of pottery from the late Woodland era [500 C.E.-1200 C.E.], these pieces of pottery not only prove that Natives have been camping here for quite some time, they also give us insight as to how they were living.
 Pottery from the Late Woodland period are identified as different from other pieces of pottery by the depth in which they are found (in our case about 35-40 cm below ground level) and by the structure of the pottery itself, which is much different than from earlier periods. Generally speaking the pottery that was manufactured in this period had thinner walls with large collard rims, and compared to pottery from the Early to Middle Woodland periods would have been highly decorated with impressions made from plant cords. Because pottery allowed the Native tribes to store food, a nomadic lifestyle was no longer necessary to feed everyone, and because of this they had time to perfect their pottery making techniques, which resulted in larger, more stable, and time consuming craft objects being produced. The pottery was made by first selecting the clay very carefully; this clay would then be pounded with a hammer stone (which we have also found on site) until it had the consistency of a very fine powder. Water would be added and the powder would be worked until it was malleable, and then a tempering material like crushed mussel shells, sand, or limestone would be added to prevent shrinking when the object was fired. The vessel walls would be created by rolling the clay into a ropy shape and coiling these ropes on top of each other, the surface of the vessel would be paddled with a flat beater to bond the coils into a single unit. When the clay pots were dry they would be put on top of rocks in a fire pit and covered with manure so they would burn slowly and evenly, after several hours the pots would be removed from the fire and rubbed with grease to waterproof them and protect their contents.
This sherd is one of the largest we've found at about 4cm long.
(photo by Aaron Howard)
Pottery chips have been found in two units on the Lyne site, but my pit partner Gary and I were lucky enough to have found our pottery pieces very close to what appears to be a very old fire pit beneath the plow zone. We can only guess as to how this pottery was being used, but the presence of small chert flakes in this same area, and of a similar depth, indicate that Natives were busy finishing tools and possibly making pottery next to this fire pit, which we have labeled as “Feature 24”. Giving a voice to artifacts is a passion of ours, and we are blessed with the opportunity to do so this summer at Fort St. Joseph. Be sure to join us and check out the site during our Open House on June 27th-28th! Thank you for your support!


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