Cape Fear Fabric Impressed

Stanley South's Cape Fear series has been criticized as being too broad (Cable and Cantley 1998). Indeed, as it can contain nearly all sand tempered textile marked wares there is much to be said for refining the definition. South said that the paste had a high percentage of sand, with occasional large inclusions, but not enough to consider them any more than incidental. He noted that cord marking and fabric impressing had a reverse relationship when compared with Hanover. Cord marked dominates in Cape Fear, with fabric impressed more common in Hanover. He noted a loose heavy cord and a tightly twisted fine cord. Rigid warp fabric includes both heavy and fine fabric varieties. Both cord and fabric marked rims and upper vessel interiors were noted.

Joe Herbert (2009: 16, 17) narrows the definition to exclude net impressed wares, and feels Cape Fear has a lower proportion of sand in its paste than New River. He thinks cord marking that is perpendicular to the rim, and rigid warp fabric impressions are key characteristics. Earlier "cord marking is more often parallel or haphazardly oblique" (Herbert 2009a: 17) and earlier fabric tends to have a flexible fibrous warp. Joe says this is the same ware that Phelps would call "Mount Pleasant." In 2003 Herbert thought Cape Fear dated between 400BC and 400AD, but in 2009, with 16 empirical dates in hand, he narrows the range to 300BC to 300AD.

In South Carolina ceramics called Cape Fear have received carbon dates in nine cases. These all range between 611 and 1534AD. Five of these were from Mattassee Lake (Anderson et al 1982), and they were internally consistent, ranging from 611-775AD. At Sandy Island (Clement et al 2001) the dates were highly variable, with two from charcoal at 860 and 841AD, and two from shell at 1523 and 1534, (median with Calib 5.1, reservoir effect applied or 1158 and 1224 without). Either way everything they called Cape Fear is later than Anderson's Cape Fear, and all of these are later than everything Joe Herbert calls Cape Fear. So again the importance of keeping in mind that the clustering of attributes that we use to define types and ware groups can occur, and reoccur over time and space is illustrated.


from David Anderson's (1996) type description


The type Cape Fear Fabric Impressed was originally defined by Stanley South in 1960, based on a sample of 273 sherds from 59 (predominantly) coastal shell midden sites in southeastern North Carolina and northeastern South Carolina (South 1960:38-41, reprinted 1976:18-20). The Cape Fear series, or ware-group, as South later termed it, was characterized by "a high percentage of sand" in the paste, and cord-marked, fabric impressed, and net impressed surface finishes. Of these three finishes, fabric impressed accounted for about a third of the sherds in South's sample 36.2 percent), with the remainder cord-marked (58.1 percent) and net impressed 5.7 per cent) South The Cape Fear series has since come to be used by many local investigators to refer to almost all sand tempered cord, fabric, or net impressed sherds found in the South Carolina Coastal Plain (exclusive of the Mississippian period types Savannah Fine Cord-Marked and Pee Dee Textile Wrapped; (Caldwell and 1939, Coe 1952, Reid 1967). Recently, however, it has been suggested that the category is too broad, and Trinkley 1981b:11) has "recommended that it be phased out of usage."

Five series of cord and fabric impressed wares have been suggested as possible replacements for the Cape Fear series. These arethe New River, Deep Creek, Mount Pleasant, Adam's Creek, and (tentatively) McClellanville series (Trinkley 1981a, 1981b, 1981c), based on work in coastal North Carolina and central coastal South Carolina. The Deep Creek and Mount Pleasant types have been briefly described by Phelps (198 and indicate Early (1000-300 BC) and Middle (300 BC-AD 800) Woodland period components, respectively, in northern coastal North Carolina. Coarse sand tempered cord, net, fabric, and single stamped wares arereported for the Early Woodland Deep Creek series (Phelps 1981: vi), which appears to be identical to Loftfield's (1976) coarse sand tempered New River series, reported from the central North Carolina coast. The New River series differs from the Deep Creek series in the addition of a plain ware, which in any event is quite infrequent in Loftfield's (1976: 175-182; 45 sherds) sample. The northern coastal Mount Pleasant types are described as sand and pebble tempered, with cord-marked, fabric, and net impressed surface finishes (Phelps 198 1: vi). No comparable ware is reported from the central North Carolina coast, and the Adam's Creek series, as defined by Loftfield (1976: appears to postdate the Mount Pleasant series. The Adam's Creek wares are characterized by a hard, compact, fine sand tempered paste, and cord and fabric impressed finishes. A Late Woodland (post AD 800) even protohistoric age is inferred for the series (Loftfield 1976: 200-201).

A detailed sequence for cord and fabric impressed ceramics has been developed for the central and northern North Carolina coastal plain, from the early New Rive / Deep Creek material to the later Mount Pleasant and final Adam's Creek series. This sequence has been corroborated by both survey and excavation data, and tied down with several radiocarbon dates (Loftfield 1976, Phelps 1981). While a comparable sequence remains to be thoroughly worked out for the southern North Carolina coast, a Stallings-Thom's Creek-DeptfordNew RiverIHanover-Cape Fear-Oak Island succession appears probable (South 1960, 1976; Phelps The variability documented in coastal North Carolina ceramics, it has been suggested (Trinkley 1981b, 198lc), can be used to help partition South Carolina sand tempered cord and fabric impressed wares, which are currently subsumed under the Cape Fear series. In an attempt to refine coastal South Carolina cord and fabric marked typology, Trinkley (1981b, advanced the McClellanville series, here subsumed under the Santee series. The McClellanville series was originally described by Trinkley 1981b: 1 1 -based on a sample of 220 sherds from the Walnut Grove shell midden near Awendaw, in northern Charleston County, South Carolina. Four types were defined: McClellanville Simple Stamped, McClellanville Fabric Impressed, McClellanville Cord-Marked, and McClellanville Plain, and close similarities with Loftfield's (1976) New River series, and with the type Santee Simple Stamped (defined here) were noted. A date of about AD was initially suggested for the McClellanville series (Trinkley 1981b: 15), although this has since been revised to about 500AD to 800AD (Trinkley 1981; 10). Trinkley has questioned the relationship of the McClellanville Cord Marked and Fabric Impressed types to the plain and simple stamped wares since his original publication, however, stating that these finishes "cannot be associated positively with the McClellanville Series" (Trinkley 1981 c: 18) and that "the association of both fabric and cord-marked surface treatments with the McClellanville Series is currently tenuous" (Trinkley 1981d: 10). The samples used to define the two types were small (McClellanville Cord-Marked, nine sherds; McClellanville Fabric Impressed, 15 sherds; Trinkley 1981b: 16), and formal type designation appears to have been premature.

The McClellanville series, given these qualifications, is dominated by plain and simple stamped ceramics, with other finishes (such as cord-marked or fabric impressed) possibly present as minority types. Trinkley has discussed external relationship of the McClellanville series, noting that:

It is closely related to the Middle Woodland Mount Pleasant Series (Phelps 1981) although the simple stamped motif is absent in Mount Pleasant. It appears that McClellanville is typologically midway between and bridges the Deep Creek and Mount Pleasant pottery types (Trinkley 1981d: 10).

While Trinkley's research indicates that a post-Deptford cord and fabric impressed, sand tempered series is present on the South Carolina coast, and that the material may be coeval with his McClellanville Plain and Simple Stamped types, his reported sample sizes, chronological controls, and descriptions are such that creation of new types, distinct from those currently in use Cape Fear Cord-Marked Cape, Fear Fabric Impressed), cannot be justified. Since his original type descriptions, Trinkley (1982) has dropped the McClellanville cord and fabric types and incorporated them under Phelps' (1981, 1982) Mt. Pleasant series. A Deep Mt. Pleasant cord and fabric impressed succession is advocated for the central South Carolina Coast (Trinkley 1982).

While such a succession may eventually prove viable in the coastal plain of South Carolina, evidence for it was not found at Mattassee Lake. Representative fabric impressed sherds from the terrace, including material from radiocarbon dated features were, however, examined by Dr. David S. Phelps, who pronounced them within the range of variation of the Mt. Pleasant type (David S . Phelps; personnel communication August 1982, March 1995). If a Deep Pleasant succession can be securely documented in the central South Carolina area, and the range of variation between North and South Carolina collections delimited, then the regional assemblages should be reclassified. For the present, however, use of South's Cape Fear terminology has been retained.

The relationship of the Coastal Plain types and varieties with Piedmont needs to be addressed. Cape Fear Fabric Impressed, for example, appears quite similar physically to Coe's (1964:28-29) Badin Fabric Impressed type.

Sorting Criteria

Fabric impressions applied over the exterior surface of the vessel while the paste was plastic; occasionally smoothed somewhat after stamping. Paste characterized by varying amounts of small (0.5-2.0 mm), rounded clear, white, or rose quartz inclusions. Interior finish slightly sandy or gritty in texture. Rims typically straight to excurvate, incurvate uncommon; lips rounded, flat, or less commonly slightly thickened. Lip treatment (simple stamping, or stamping with the fabric wrapped paddle) common.


Cape Fear Fabric Impressed ceramics occur throughout the Coastal Plain and Fall Line areas of eastern South Carolina and southeastern North Carolina. The related New River series is found from the New River to the in central coastal North Carolina, while the Deep Creek and Mount Pleasant series are found north of this area to the Virginia line. The type becomes increasingly uncommon proceeding from northeast to southwest in the South Carolina Coastal Plain.

Chronological Position

Middle/Late Woodland periods, (AD 200-700). Six radiocarbon dates from four features containing the ware were obtained at Mattassee Lake, all from the block unit. The dates ranged from AD 520 to 710, with an average of AD 638. The dates are in rough agreement with South's (1976: general placement of the ware.

Primary References

Trinkley (1981b, 1981c, 1981d); Anderson (1975a, 1975b); Anderson et al. (1979: 142-143; 1982: 293-299); South (1960, 1976); Loftfield (1976).