Deptford Overview

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Check stamped pottery called Deptford is among the most common found in South Carolina (Anderson et al 1996). It was originally named at a site in Savannah and variations on the series appear to extend as far west as Louisiana (Brown 1982). Middle period check stamped pottery is fairly common on the Pee Dee, but does not extend far into North Carolina in either the Coastal Plain or Piedmont. At Minim Island sherds with the same paste featured check stamping, fabric impressions and cord marking. Fabric impressed sherds replaced cord and check stamped wares there after about 200AD. Some researchers consider wares with these decorations a different type (Deep Creek/New River - Cable and Cantley 2005:119; Herbert 2003) while others consider the textile marked wares Deptford (Trinkley 1991 for example). It is likely that a number of discrete types considered “Deptford” could be sorted out if the detailed analysis applied by John Cable at the Maple and Big Jones Swamp sites was systematically applied at targeted sites. The temper in pottery called Deptford varies from fine to very coarse, with granule and pebble sized pieces occasionally present. Regular and linear check stamped designs are the most common surface finishes, but a variety of others have been identified, including plain, simple stamped, cord marked, fabric impressed, incised and punctate. Interiors are usually well smoothed and vessel walls tend to be moderately thick- 7-10mm.

The Deptford series was defined in the late 1930s during WPA investigations along the Georgia coast, where it was found in stratified context at the Evelyn Plantation and Deptford sites (Waring and Holder 1968). At Deptford, a large shell midden located on the Brewton Hill bluff overlooking the Savannah River just east of the city of Savannah, a stratigraphic occurrence for Deptford materials intermediate between Stallings and Wilmington series ceramics was demonstrated. Linear check, check, and simple stamped and plain finishes were shown to occur throughout the Deptford period. Earlier and later Deptford assemblages were recognized at the type site, however, the latter distinguished from the former by the addition of Swift Creek Complicated Stamped pottery. On this basis DePratter (1979:111-112) differentiated two Deptford Phases, Deptford I (ca. 400BC to 300AD) and Deptford II (ca. 300-500AD). DePratter (1979:126) additionally defined the type Deptford Cord Marked, noting that the finish occurred during both phases on the Georgia coast.

In the middle Savannah River ceramic sequence two subphases have been advanced, Deptford I and Deptford II, corresponding to the early Middle Woodland (ca. 600BC-0AD) and later Middle Woodland (ca. 0-500AD). In most respects these phases correspond to those proposed at the mouth of the river. Both phases are characterized by plain, linear check, check, and simple stamped finishes, with Deptford II distinguished from Deptford I by the addition of the Deptford Cord Marked, Swift Creek Complicated Stamped, and Deptford Zoned-Incised Punctate types. Stratigraphic evidence from the G. S. Lewis site on the SRS indicates the type Deptford Linear Check/Simple Stamped occurs primarily during Deptford I, and declines or drops out entirely during the Deptford II phase (Hanson 1985). Cord marked finishes may have been present in the Deptford I phase locally, but are not common until Deptford II. Deptford Linear Check/Cord Marked finishes are observed at this time, but are extremely rare. Fabric impressed pottery appears for the first time in low incidence during the Deptford II phase, possibly reflecting the spread of this finish from the north.

The slightly later appearance for Deptford I in the middle Savannah River sequence than that proposed at the mouth, 600BC as opposed to 900BC, is based on recent radiocarbon determinations placing the beginnings of the Deptford series at about this time (Anderson 1979; Trinkley 1989). The earlier date for the onset of Deptford II in the Middle Savannah sequence, ca. 0 AD as opposed to AD 300, reflects a presumed earlier local appearance for the Deptford Cord Marked, Deptford Zoned-Incised Punctate, and Swift Creek Complicated Stamped types. Two radiocarbon dates from the G. S. Lewis West site indicate cord marking and zoned-incised punctate finishes may be this early. Swift Creek materials are assumed to come in somewhat later, after ca. 200AD, when the finish becomes widespread in Georgia.

Deptford wares were in use for approximately 1100 years, and demarcate the Middle Woodland period locally. Differentiating Deptford I and II assemblages is difficult on small assemblages, however, since linear check, check, simple stamped, and plain finishes occur during both phases. The presence of Deptford Linear Check/Simple Stamped sherds indicates that a Deptford I component is present, while the presence of Deptford Zoned-Incised Punctate or Swift Creek Complicated Stamped types, or cord marked or fabric impressed pottery, indicates the presence of a Deptford II component. Only the Deptford Zoned-Incised Punctate and Swift Creek Complicated Stamped types unambiguously document a Deptford II component. While design size has been examined a number of times for cultural/chronological trends, none have been noted.

Deptford, Cartersville, Booger Bottom, Wright Check Stamped, and McLeod Check Stamped . . . go together. . . . I think we have a constellation here of early check stamped types, generally involving a deep jar, rather small size, generally involving a strong tendency towards linerality, always associated with a granular temper, and almost always with sand temper, with the exception of Wright Check Stamped, which still seems to fall in the group...I would suggest, that a valid way to look at these is with Deptford as a central type perhaps based only on its priority...Cartersville, Wright, and McLeod seem clearly strongly related, and I would put them in a variety status (Fairbanks 1962:11-12).

This paper recommends the use of the type-variety approach to pottery typology for Deptford tradition ceramics...the Deptford, Cartersville, and limestone-tempered complexes of the period between roughly 610BC - 490AD should be considered variants of a basic type. . . . the differences exhibited between these complexes are here considered to be less significant than are the similarities between them (Smith 1971:2, 58).

A third attempt to employ variety designations on Deptford pottery locally was made by Anderson et al. (1982), based on materials from Mattassee Lake, who argued that it would acknowledge what is already tacitly known: that many of the current check stamped types cannot be reliably sorted from one another on a sherd by sherd basis. While use of a type-variety system might provide a more rigorous and objective taxonomy of local and regional check and linear check stamped ceramics than the array of types currently in use, it has never been adopted by archaeologists working in the South Appalachian area.

Most of the quartz (sand) inclusions that are found in Deptford pottery are white or clear in color, but a small minority exhibit predominantly reddish, or rose colored quartz inclusions. These rose quartz inclusions appear restricted almost exclusively to Deptford series ceramics in South Carolina. While the significance and occurrence of this "temper" is currently unknown, although it may eventually prove to be useful marker for Early/Middle Woodland pottery.