Wilmington Cord Marked

from David Anderson's type descriptions


The type Wilmington Heavy Cord Marked was initially defined by Caldwell and Waring (1939) based on WPA-era excavations at a number of sites at the mouth of the Savannah River. Originally defined by a single type, Wilmington Heavy Cord Marked, and encompassing both sherd and grit tempering, the series has come to include a range of types, all characterized by clay/grog tempering. The type has been described by DePratter (1979: 1991)who in his most recent formulation dropped the word "Heavy" from the name. This seems particularly appropriate, since the word refers to the thick, typically parallel stamped cord impressions that are commonly found on Wilmington cord marked pottery along the lower Savannah, yet are uncommon away from this area.

Clay/grog or sherd tempered pottery characterized by cord marked and fabric impressed finish occurs widely in the Coastal Plain of both North and South Carolina, and two major series have been traditionally used to encompass this variation. These are Wilmington, defined from work conducted at the mouth of the Savannah during the late and Hanover, defined by South (1960) based on survey work in southern Coastal North Carolina in 1960. In recent years the temporal and spatial distribution of these two series have run together, creating considerable taxonomic confusion. For this reason, use of Wilmington terminology is adopted here for all initial Early Woodland Refuge, pre-initial Mississippian St. Catherines clay/grog tempered pottery in the Carolinas.

The clay/grog tempered pottery at the mouth of the Savannah has been used to define three phases, Wilmington I, Wilmington and St. Catherines (DePratter 1979: 111 1991: 11). The first, Wilmington/Walthour dates from AD 500 to 600, and is characterized by claylgrog-tempered Wilmington Check stamped, Heavy Cord Marked, Plain, and Walthour Complicated Stamped ceramics, the latter an apparent late Swift Creek variant. Wilmington phase components, which dates from ca. AD 600 to 1000, are identified by the presence of Wilmington Plain, Brushed, Fabric Marked, and Heavy Cord Marked pottery. The St. Catherines phase, which dates from ca. AD 1000 to 1150, is characterized by the St. Catherine Plain, St. Catherines Burnished Plain, St. Catherines Fine Cord-Marked, and St. Catherines Net-Marked types.

Wilmington and St. Catherines wares, however, are both clay/grog or sherd tempered and are differentiated primarily by temper size and quality of manufacture:

St. Catherines phase ceramics are characterized by finer clay tempering than that of preceding Wilmington types and by the increased care with which the ceramics were finished. The lumpy, contorted surface of Wilmington types was replaced by carefully smoothed and often burnished interiors and exteriors. St. Catherines Burnished is characterized by careful exterior burnishing, whereas surfaces of St. Catherines Plain are simply smoothed. St. Catherines Fine Cord Marked has more carefully applied and more consistently spaced crossed cord impressions than did its predecessor, Wilmington Heavy Cord Marked. A new type, St. Catherines Net Marked, is also included in the St. Catherines series, but it is rare at most sites (DePratter 1979: 1 19).

A number of radiocarbon dates for Wilmington/St. Catherines components from the Georgia and South Carolina Sea Island area support the posited time range of roughly AD 500 to AD 1150 for these wares, and stratigraphically the materials are clearly post-Deptford on the north Georgia coast (Waring 1968c; Caldwell 197 1; DePratter 1979; Trinkley 1980a, 198 1 a). The decision to retain separate Wilmington and St. Catherines series in the present taxonomy was based on the differences in paste and surface finish between the two series. Given the potential for overlap, however, it is possible that some or all of the St. Catherines types may ultimately need to be subsumed within the Wilmington series.

A second clay/grog or sherd tempered ware, the Hanover series, was reported by Stanley South in 1960, based on materials collected from predominantly coastal shell midden sites in southeastern North Carolina and northeastern South Carolina. The paste was described as:

Tempered with large lumps of aplastic clay. The majority of these tempering lumps appear to be crushed sherds. The smoothed interior of the original sherd can be frequently seen on some of the crushed tempering fragments. These large lumps of temper result in a rough, lumpy surface on the interior of the sherd, around which a series of small cracks are frequently seen. Occasionally a rounded quartz pebble can be seen in the paste, but this is more the exception than the rule (South 1976: 16).

A sample of 1034 sherds of this ware were collected, from 68 sites, and two finishes were identified, cordmarked sherds; 24.3 percent) and fabric impressed 75.7 percent). While preparing his report, South contacted Waring and described the sherd tempered ware that he had found. While recognizing the similarity with the Wilmington series, they decided that separate terminology would be appropriate because of the geographic separation, and since the ceramics of the intervening area coastal South Carolina) were then unknown (South 1960, personal communication). Two types were identified within the series, Hanover Fabric Impressed and Hanover Cord Marked, and these taxa have been widely adopted in the South Carolina archeological literature, particularly in the Coastal Plain north of Charleston Harbor into North Carolina.

Clay/grog tempering has been reported from other localities in North Carolina, although either the wares were untyped (e.g., Haag 1958:69), or else the names advanced have not been widely adopted, as is the case with the Carteret and series. In the mid- 1970s, for example, Loftfield (1976: 157; 182) formally defined the clay-grog tempered Carteret series, based on materials from 83 sites in south central coastal North Carolina, predominantly from and Craven Counties. Three types were recognized in the Carteret series, Carteret Cord Marked sherds; 22.2 percent) Carteret Fabric-Marked sherds; 73.8 percent) and Carteret Plain sherds; 4.0 percent) 1976: 175-182). An Early/Middle Woodland age for the Carteret series was indicated. A similarity or identity of the Carteret series with Crawford's (1966) series from County, North Carolina, immediately west of and Craven Counties, was noted (Loftfield 1976: 234). Comparison of both the descriptions and type specimens for the Carteret and Hanover types indicates that the differences between the series are minimal. In the present study, the Carteret series is dropped and the types subsumed with Hanover as local geographic variants within the Wilmington series.

Sorting Criteria

Cord impressions stamped over the exterior vessel surface when the paste was wet. The paste is characterized by crushed sherds or grog from 3 to 5 mm in maximum dimension, although larger inclusions up to 10.0 are sometimes noted. Occasionally materials are tempered with smaller (0.5-2.0 mm) lumps of aplastic clay (grog).


Wilmington Cord Marked occurs in the Sea Islands of Georgia and South Carolina north to Charleston Harbor. From Charleston Harbor to the Pamlico River, it is found both along the coast and in the interior to the Fall Line.

Chronological Position

North of Charleston Harbor: Early/Middle Woodland periods (500 BC - AD 500). South of Charleston Harbor: AD 500-100.

Primary References

(DePratter 1979: 129, 1991:177)