Middle Period Wares

For about 2,000 years people in South Carolina made ceramics with plain finishes that were either left undecorated or which served as palettes for incising, punctation and other simple decorations. But around 500BC paddles carved with a simple grid motif came into use, giving us check stamped pottery.

Pottery marked with textile wrapped paddles may have been introduced as early as about 1500BC, but textile marked wares increased in popularity after 500BC and continued to be made into the 18th century. Check stamping became part of a group of carved paddle decorations after about 500AD, so that date is used to terminate the middle period.

During this time span the population appears to have grown considerably. Societies would have been forced to become more complex as groups were forced to compete for vital resources. Competition and cooperation can go hand in hand, however, and neighboring groups could have joined together to work fish nets, herd game, and exchange resources. Such interaction, which is not unique to this time period, led to the spread of cultural traits. At European contact women were the potters in the Southeast. It is not necessary to assume this was always the case, but either way the spread of pottery technology and decorative motifs marks the increasingly complex nature of living in the state and region.

William Henry Holmes was among the first to give an overview of the distribution of pottery traditions in Eastern North America. This shows a dominance of paddle stamping from the Pee Dee south, and textile marking to the north. Yet paddle stamped variants of textile marked pottery series are found in North Carolina, and the opposite is true to the south. Yadkin linear check stamped and Deptford cord marked are good examples. This suggests interaction that resulted in potters of one group moving to a new group.

From the pottery analysis perspective this leads to increasingly difficult questions. Is the appearance of outside traits the result of a new group of people moving to the area or a single potter? Is the new trait the result of a person moving or an idea? Do pottery finishes reflect belief systems or are they merely decorative accents? Or are they functional? That is, a cord marked vessel would be easier to handle than a slippery burnished pot. If they reflect belief systems what is implied by extra-local traits showing up? Are groups interacting cooperatively at seasonal trade fairs, or is a dominant group, sanctioned by their god, taking captives? Pottery can give us much food for thought as we seek to understand the cultures of the past, but there is still considerable work to be done.