Saturday, June 5, 2021

Colonial Ceramics - Porcelain

This week we go back to our series on early historic ceramics recovered from archaeological sites and their significance in interpreting the historic and archaeological record. Previous posts have included both European and locally produced ceramics of the three main categories: Earthenware, Stoneware and Porcelain. Archaeological research of fragments of broken pottery have led to a better understanding of the pottery industry in the colonies, as well as insightful stories related to the individuals who created, purchased, and used these vessels. Our focus on porcelain is another example of the story a broken piece of pottery can tell us about our past.

Chinese porcelain was imported to England in the fourteenth century as very high end, luxury items often mounted in gilt silver. By the sixteenth century, commercial trade had increased and a greater quantity of porcelain, specifically created for trade, was available, although it was still considered a luxury. Chinese porcelain was the highest quality porcelain produced and was what others attempted to create. It was made from a combination of kaolin clay and finely ground feldspathic rocks, characterized by its high gloss glaze, highly vitreous body of white to light gray and a thin translucent glaze. Decoration in the form of underglaze blue designs of scenery or flowers, and in the late 1700s, the inclusion of red overglaze with gilding on vessels copied from the popular Japanese porcelains. Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century English potters attempted to produce these various vessel forms and patterns, but never captured the translucency and quality of the Chinese porcelains. However, porcelains of both sources were considered high-end, expensive furnishings that were not obtainable by many households. 

Chinese porcelain cup recovered from excavations by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission at Fort Loudoun (36FR0107). In the collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia was the largest colonial city until 1790 and was an important center for commerce. Its location along the Delaware River and in close proximity to the Chesapeake Bay, allowed for shipments from industries across the region. Imported wares from England and the West Indies were stocked by  merchants and shipped to the surrounding communities. Rich in natural resources, manufacturing of an assortment of goods contributed to the Commonwealth’s status. Philadelphia potters established their ability to produce earthenware vessels known as redware in the first half of the 18th century and were beginning to experiment with production of other vessel forms.

In 1765, the Triphena carried an appeal from Philadelphia merchants to merchants in Liverpool requesting their help in lobbying the British Parliament to repeal the Stamp Act of 1765. Archaeologists found this tin-glazed punch bowl in 2014 on the site of what is now the Museum of the American Revolution. Ceramic vessels embellished with political rhetoric provided an opportunity to express political views for both the potter and the consumer.  On display, the collection of the Museum of the American Revolution, Philadelphia.

The period surrounding the Revolutionary War was ripe with colonial protests over taxation by the British Parliament. The Townshend Acts (1767) were a series of laws and taxes on the American colonies to raise revenue for England following the end of the Seven Years War, known to us as the French & Indian War (1756-1763). Resistance to these taxes and control of the colonies by Parliament incited political writings and increased the resistance to England’s control. Philadelphia newspapers were widely read and expressed the political views of many patriots who inspired colonists to support domestic industries, further reducing dependence on Great Britain.

 COME join hand in hand brave AMERICANS all,

And rouse your bold hearts at fair LIBERTY'S call;

No tyrannous acts shall suppress your just claim,

Or stain with dishonour AMERICA'S name

In FREEDOM we're born and in FREEDOM we'll live,

Our purses are ready,

Steady, Friends, steady,

Not as SLAVES, but as FREEMEN our Money we'll give.

Philadelphian John Dickinson wrote The Liberty Song, July 1768

In March of 1770, the Acts were repealed but the decline in demand for British exports had created irreversible change.  To boycott the imported goods and their associated taxes, local industries which could produce wares in forms similar to the British imports had begun.  Seen as symbols of patriotism, interest continued in these local wares even after the termination of England’s taxation.

Philadelphia potters Gousse Bonnin and George Anthony Morris began planning in 1769 for the American China Manufactory, the first American porcelain factory dating from 1770/71-1773 in an area known as Southwark. Their porcelain was described by Joseph Shippen, Jr. to his father in 1771 as “preferable to that made in England, as to its fineness or quality; but as yet it has rather too yellowish a cast, owing to the want of a particular ingredient used in the composition for glazing; which could not hitherto be imported from England on account of the Non-Importation agreement.”

Bonnin and Morris saucer recovered during excavations for the I-95 corridor in 1976, in the area identified as 121-123 Market Street. Collection of The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

Based on historic records, wealthy patriots, such as John Cadwalader, John Dickinson, and John Penn purchased cups, saucers, tea pots, plates, pickle dishes and sauceboats from this factory. Despite the support of these influential patriots, the factory began to faulter and looked to the Pennsylvania General Assembly for financial support in 1771. The cost of starting the factory and the difficulty in finding skilled potters, however, were insurmountable. In November of 1772, a rebellion by their workers against poor working conditions and unfulfilled promises led Bonnin to close the factory and advertise his intention to sell to the highest bidder.

Despite advertisements in newspapers, the factory failed to sell and Bonnin was bankrupt, leading to the property being sold at a sheriff’s sale in July 1774. Bonnin and Morris’s efforts to establish a porcelain factory were sufficiently successful to lead to other porcelain manufacturing in the colonies, so credit for the first porcelain factory lies with them. Indeed, the patriotic movement had taken hold and a desire to break free from British control was greater than ever. The political campaign throughout the colonies to break free culminated in 1776 with the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia.

The Revolutionary War and the role of Pennsylvania in manufacturing goods was significant. Philadelphia’s patriots would help to lead the way in supplying goods and people necessary to win the war. The American China Factory had ended but, in its place, grew a new industry.

John Adams, who served as a member of the Continental Congress, visited the site in late March 1777, as recounted in a letter to his young son, Charles:

I then went to the Foundery of Brass Cannon. It is in Front Street in Southwark, nearly opposite to the Sweedes Church. This Building was formerly a China Manufactory, but is now converted into a Foundery, under the Direction of Mr. Biers [Byers], late of New York... (Brown, 2007)

A plan of the city of Philadelphia, the capital of Pennsylvania, from an actual survey ,Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division, published 1776.  

The 1774 sheriff’s sale described the lot as; “on Front-street aforesaid, 232 feet, and in rear or depth on Wicacoa Lane, 319 feet, containing by computation one acre and an half.”

Excavations conducted by students from the University of Pennsylvania in 1967 and 1968 on the lot described above produced multiple vessel fragments, and discards from the manufacturing process. Comparative research of the fragments with known vessels marked by Bonnin & Morris with either an “S”, sometimes reversed, or a “P” provided a better understanding of the vessel forms produced. Advertisements in a 1771 newspaper had listed only S as a manufacturing mark, but analysis of the clays through x-ray diffraction enabled the identification of additional manufacture marks. The researchers identified manufacture of vessel forms to include fruit baskets with latticework edges, bowls, cups, punch bowls, and sauceboats.

The colonial ceramics recovered at various sites across the Commonwealth are an important tool for studying our past. They reflect consumer behavior, ethnic choices and in the case of those wares produced later in Philadelphia, the beginning of manufacturing in our state. Those industrious individuals that produced wares from local clays in a similar manner as they had in England, created an industry that would see Pennsylvania become a leader in manufacturing of durable goods for decades to come. We invite you to view additional examples of colonial ceramics on the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s on-line collections


Brown, Michael K.

2007      Piecing Together the Past: Recent Research on the American China Manufactory, 1769-1772. Ceramics in America, Chipstone Foundation.


John L. Cotter, Daniel G. Roberts, and Michael Parrington

1992      The Buried Past: An Archaeological History of Philadelphia. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.    

Hume, I. N.

2001      A Guide to the Artifacts of Colonial America. University of Pennsylvania Press Accessed 6/1/21.


For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

Friday, May 21, 2021

Projectile Point Types in Pennsylvania: Middle Paleoindian Fluted Points, 10,800-10,100 years ago

This week we return to our series on Native American projectile point types in Pennsylvania with a description of the post-Clovis fluted points from the Middle Paleoindian period dating from approximately 10,800 BP to 10,100 years ago. The fluted point types from this time are not as well defined and not well dated compared to the Clovis projectile point type. They are found during an abrupt return to very cold temperatures known as the Younger Dryas climatic episode and they are important because they reflect the cultural adaptation to these harsh environmental conditions.

Precontact projectile points, stone spear and arrow points, are made in a variety of shapes for functional and cultural reasons. In addition, in some cases, Native Americans preferred specific types of stone to make a spear point. A projectile point type can be defined as an assemblage of artifacts that share a group of traits that distinguish them from all other groups of projectile points. Some of these shapes were only used during specific time periods and once dated by carbon-14 methods, the shape or type can be used by archaeologists to date other sites where carbon-14 dates are not available. The use of diagnostic projectile point types is probably one of the most important and commonly used methods of dating Precontact sites in the absence of carbon-14 dating. Although, we have learned that some projectile point types were being made over long periods of time and are not very useful in dating sites, but others are “diagnostic” for relatively short time periods.


Clovis point from the Shawnee Minisink site (36Mr43). (Smithsonian Collection; Photograph by Kurt W. Carr, curated in the Section of Archaeology, The State Museum of Pennsylvania) 

Our first blog post in the projectile point series was the Clovis fluted point type (November 2020) which is the earliest fluted point type found in Pennsylvania dating to 11,000 years ago. This point type is well dated, well defined, and generally correlates with a period of warming temperatures near the end of the Ice Age. The Clovis type is characterized as a lanceolate, parallel sided, medium to large projectile point with a slightly concave base, grinding along the lower third of the lateral edges and a flute on both sides that extends no more than half of the length of the point. The type covers a relatively short period of time between 11,200 and 10,800 years ago. Clovis is the only continental wide projectile point type. Points from this time period are very similar in shape and occur throughout North America. This is interpreted as an idea that spread across North America very quickly. Once people in the various river valleys had adopted the concept of fluting a spear point, they began to experiment with slight changes that led to the development of new styles and types. Due to the harsh conditions of the Younger Dryas climatic episode, there was likely less communication between the hunting bands in river valleys and new regional fluted point types emerged. These types are the topic of our discussion below.

A variety of type names have been used to identify fluted point styles/types from this period. Bradley et al. (2008) in New England, Gingerich (2013) in the Upper Delaware River Valley and the comprehensive survey for Pennsylvania by Fogelman and Lantz (2006) have identified five to eight of the most common fluted point types from this period. Unfortunately, these studies do not share the same type names or definitions of these types. This reflects the somewhat confusing array of fluted points from this period. In the presentation below, the New England sequence will be used, as it very comprehensive, it is partially based on carbon-14 dates and reflects most fluted points from Pennsylvania. 

The Fluted projectile point sequence for New England (Bradley et al. 2008:120 Fig 1)

The first type following Clovis migration into the Middle Atlantic and New England regions is the Kings Road-Whipple fluted point type. Projectile point type names are usually designated after the site where they were first discovered. The hyphenated name of this type reflects the fact that two sites produced points of this type. The Kings Road-Whipple type is a medium to large, lanceolate projectile point, robust in appearance, parallel sided but sometimes with slightly divergent sides. Another hallmark is the moderately deep arc-shaped base, occasionally with slightly flaring ears. This type illustrates a more careful technique for fluting, resulting in longer and more robust flutes. According to Bradley et al. (2008:127) it dates to approximately 10,800 years ago. Further afield, the type is known as Gainey in the Great Lakes region and it is identified in western Pennsylvania as such. 

Kings Road-Whipple fluted projectile points from New England.  (Bradley et al. 2008:128 Fig 6)

Vail-Debert fluted point type from Snyder, Lycoming, Berks, and Lancaster Counties. (Fogelman and Lantz 2006:29, Fig 58)

The Vail-Debert type is a large to very large, robust, lanceolate fluted point related to the Kings Road-Whipple type. The most distinctive trait is a deep U-shaped basal concavity with careful retouching on the interior of the concavity. Flutes extend a third of the length of the point. The Vail-Debert type is frequently made from locally derived chert rather than exotic cherts characteristic of most fluted point types. Edges are frequently reworked to be used as a knife or scraper, indicating a multi-purpose tool function. The deep notching of the base is thought to be part of the hafting mechanism and unrelated to the fluting process. Although there are many carbon-14 dates associated with this type, they cover a broad time period and as such are considered problematic by most archaeologists. According to Bradley et al. (2008:132-135) this type dates to approximately 10,500 years ago. 

 The Bull Brook-West Athens Hill type is lanceolate in shape with slightly divergent lateral edges, medium to large in size, with a moderately deep arc-shaped base that frequently exhibit basal ears. The flute extends half the length of the point and sometimes guide flakes are used in the fluting process to control the shape of the flute. According to Bradley et al. (2008:136-141), the ears suggest the point was designed to stay embedded in the animal to increase damage and eventually cause death. Bradley et al. (2008:141), date this type to approximately to 10,500 years ago. Further afield in the Great Lakes region, this type is known as Butler. 

Michaud-Neponset (Barnes) fluted point type from York, Lancaster, and Lycoming Counties. (Fogelman and Lantz 2006:26-27, Fig 56)

The Michaud-Neponset fluted point type is a lanceolate point that is thinner and more gracile than previously described types with lateral edges that are divergent rather than parallel creating the widest spot at the mid-section of the point. The basal arc-shaped concavity is moderately deep with prominent ears creating a “fishtail” shape. The flutes extend from half the length of the point to the tip; a very diagnostic trait for this type (Bradley et al. 2008:141-149). According to Bradley et al. (2008:142), this relatively thin and “delicate” point is the most technologically sophisticated of the fluted point types. The fluting process also used guide flakes to control the shape of the flute. The tip was ground and blunted suggesting some type of jig or device was used to hold the point as it was being fluted. This is known as the “Barnes finishing technique.” Bradley et al. (2008:143) argue that the delicate proportions and distinct basal ears suggest “a specialized hunting (piercing) tool similar to the Cumberland point.”

According to Bradley et al. (2008:146) this type dates to approximately 10,300 years ago. In the Great Lakes region, it is known as the Barnes type.

Crowfield fluted point type. Lancaster and Dauphin Counties. Bottom left – cast of point from western New York. Bottom right – cast of point from Crowfield site. (Fogelman and Lantz 2006:30, Fig 59)

The Crowfield fluted point type is a thin, flat, delicate, pentagon shaped, medium sized point. The lateral edges are strongly divergent. Multiple flutes frequently extend the length of the point. It is rarely found in New England or the Middle Atlantic region. They are, however, found at two stratified sites in Pennsylvania. This type represents the last of the fully fluted points. The best dated site for the Crowfield type is the Nesquehoning site in Carbon County where the point was associated with a date of approximately 10,300 years ago (Koch 2017 and Stewart et al. 2018). 

Cormier-Nicholas fluted point type from Union, Crawford, Columbia, Chester, Dauphin, and Lycoming Counties. (Fogelman and Lantz 2006:32, Fig 60)

The final fluted point herein described is the Cormier-Nicholas point type, which is a thin, irregularly shaped lanceolate point of small to medium size, with a shallow crescent shape base. Flutes can occur on both faces, one face, and in some cases, the point is unfluted. Locally derived cherts are the preferred lithic material and occasionally, these points were made on flakes rather than bifacial blanks, an additional radical change in fluted point technology not observed on earlier fluted points. According to Bradley et al. (2008:148-155) these represent an abrupt change in technology that correlates with the end of the Younger Dryas at approximately 10,300 years ago and a change in vegetation from a cold open forest to a warmer coniferous forest. 

In conclusion, there are at least six generally recognized fluted point types attributed to post-Clovis fluted points and not all archaeologists agree on these names. Alternatively, it may be more useful to interpret these types as part of a continuum beginning with Clovis fluted points and ending with unfluted lanceolate types. Following the Clovis type, the lateral edges of the Kings Road-Whipple type are sometimes less parallel, the basal concavity is generally deeper, sometimes with ears and there is a greater emphasis on controlling the fluting process. The Vail-Debert type is a subtype of this with a very deep basal concavity. The trends in more divergent lateral edges, deeper basal concavities with ears and an emphasis on more precise fluting continue with the Bull Brook-West Athens Hill type. These trends culminate in the Michaud-Neponset type with a moderately deep basil concavity with prominent ears creating a fishtail shape. In addition, the flutes frequently extend the length of the point. This is the last of the true lanceolate shaped fluted points. The Crowfield type is the last of the fluted point types but its overall shape is very different than all other fluted points. It corresponds to the end of the Younger Dryas climatic episode and the emergence of a radically new environmental system. 

The study of projectile point types and developing chronological sequences has been an important research topic in archaeology and specifically in Pennsylvania. Many studies have been able to correlate changes in projectile points with environmental change. It is reasonable to assume that projectile points are tied to these changes, however we know that the fluting of points was an incredible technological feat and was tied to social organization and religion. These are research topics that we need to examine and with more carbon-14 dates and better controlled excavations, archaeologists may be able to elucidate these issues. 

We hope you have enjoyed our description of the post-Clovis fluted points and will visit us again for more on the projectile point types of Pennsylvania. We invite you to view additional examples of Precontact projectile points via Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s on-line collections database

All the images in this picture depict points in the collections of the Section of Archaeology, The State Museum of Pennsylvania except the Shawnee Minisink point that is curated in the Smithsonian Museum. 


Bradley, James W., Arthur E. Spiess, Richard A. Boisvert, and Jeff Boudreau 
2008      What’s the Point?: Modal Forms and Attributes of Paleoindian Bifaces in the New England-Maritimes Region. Archaeology of Eastern North America 30:119–172. 

Fogelman, Gary L., and Stanley W. Lantz 
2006    The Pennsylvania Fluted Point Survey. Fogelman Publishing, Turbotville, Pennsylvania. 

Gingerich, Joseph, A. M. 
2013      Revisiting Shawnee-Minisink. In The Eastern Fluted Point Tradition, edited by Joseph A. M. Gingerich, pp. 218–256. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City. 

Koch, Jeremy W. 
2017      Paleoindian Chronology, Technology, and Lithic Resource Procurement at Nesquehoning Creek. Ph.D. dissertation, Temple University. 

Stewart, R. Michael, Jeremy Koch, Kurt Carr, Del Beck, Gary Stichcombe, Steven G. Driese and Frank
2018      The Paleoindian Occupation at Nesquehoning Creek (36CR0142) Carbon County Pennsylvania. In the Eastern fluted Point Tradition, Vol. II, edited by Joseph A. M. Gingerich, pp. 68-92. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City 

 For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

Friday, May 7, 2021

Colonial Ceramics in Pennsylvania: Pearlware, 1780-1840

Continuing with our discussion of colonial ceramics and their value in the archaeological record, we are sharing a post on a familiar form of earthenware known as pearlware. In the last part of the 18th century, English potters recognized the public’s desire for a change from the popular cream-colored wares of the period to a ceramic with a whiter appearance. Although Josiah Wedgwood is credited with popularizing a light-bodied ceramic with a blue tinted glaze, the production of pearlwares was soon taken up by many other British manufacturers.


Pearlware ceramics are categorized by their type of decoration. Each of these varieties has a slightly different period of manufacture, a useful diagnostic tool for archaeologists attempting to determine the age of an object. Determining the period of manufacture and length of use, is important in assigning a time-period for an event or an archaeological site’s occupation. Within each category, variations in vessel shape, paste, and decoration can help further narrow the date of production due to the evolving nature of ceramic technology.  The following examples are just a few of the many designs employed by potters in decorating this refined earthenware of the 18th and 19th centuries.


Edged pearlware 1780-1830 

This style first appeared on creamware ceramics just before the advent of pearlwares, and it was one of the earliest and most popular forms of decoration during the 18th century on this ceramic type. There were several slight variations of the edge motif over the course of its production. Molded rims included scalloped, embossed, plain, and shell-edged.  Shell-edged wares were inspired by Rococo designs which mimicked the scalloped edges of seashells. Edges of these vessels were commonly coated in cobalt blue or green glaze.  

Photo from the Section of Archaeology, The State Museum of Pennsylvania

                           Photo from the Section of Archaeology, The State Museum of Pennsylvania
This green feather-edged pearlware plate, may have been made by J. Heath Hanley c.1780-1800. Variations in the design of the edge-wares can help archaeologists identify their manufacturer.

Hand-painted pearlware 1790-1840 

Before the invention of transfer-printing, ceramic designs were hand-painted onto the vessels by skilled artisans. Following the development of transfer-printing, hand-painted ceramics become less common.

Photo from the Section of Archaeology, The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

This pearlware punch bowl features a hand-painted design in cobalt blue. Drinking punch was a social affair, and the mixture may have contained curdled milk, lemon, sugar, water, and several pints of liquor, such as brandy (B. Franklin to J. Bowden, 11 October 1763, from the Bowden-Temple papers in the Winthrop family papers, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston)

Annular Pearlware 1790-1820
Annular pearlware was known for its bold stripes in brown, yellow, and blue slip. Slip is a liquified clay with added compounds for pigment. These designs featured prominently on tankards, mugs, pitchers, and bowls. Annular designs were a versatile decoration that could be used to frame or backdrop other decorative elements. 

Photo from the Section of Archaeology, The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

 The annular, or banded, designs on this pitcher were created by filling a groove that was created on a wheel or lathe with slip (Hume 2001, p.131). 

Mocha pearlware 1795-1840 

These vessels exhibit a distinctive branching or dendritic design applied to a vessel, sometimes with banded designs. It was inspired by moss agate which was popular in England during this time. They were created by applying a foul concoction of tobacco in stale urine and turpentine to the slip of a vessel (according to one recipe mentioned in Rickard and Barker 2006, p. 51). This acidic mixture reacted with the alkaline slip and created the dendritic designs through capillary action. The potter applied drops of the mixture at the vessel base, then inverted the vessel to allow the concoction to flow downwards towards the rim, providing the tree-like design when up righted.  These designs were named for the Yemeni port bearing the same name through which large amounts of coffee and considerable quantities of moss agate were exported. 

                           Photo from the Section of Archaeology, The State Museum of Pennsylvania.
The dendritic designs of this mocha ware bowl were applied over a slip which was first applied to the bowl.

Transfer-printed pearlware 1795-1840 

Transfer-printing is a technique of transferring an image from an engraved plate onto a piece of tissue paper and then onto a bisque fired (fired once, but unglazed) ceramic vessel. Transfer-printing allowed for the mass-production of ceramic vessels bearing detailed and uniform images. This technique is still used today by some artisan potters.

                            Photo from the Section of Archaeology, The State Museum of Pennsylvania. 
This transfer printed pearlware saucer features a popular Asiatic design known as blue willow.

Each of the vessels featured in this blog was recovered from archaeological deposits in wells dating to the 17th and 18th centuries at what was once 121-123 (old# 37-39) Market Street in Philadelphia. During colonial times, this part of Philadelphia was at the center of commerce with several governmental buildings, markets, and prominent gathering places located nearby. These artifacts were recovered in 1976 as part of the archaeology conducted prior to the construction of the Market Street ramp for I-95.


The colonial ceramics recovered at various sites across the Commonwealth are an important tool for studying our past. They reflect consumer behavior, ethnic choices and in the case of those wares later produced in Philadelphia, the beginning of manufacturing in our state. Those industrious individuals that produced wares from local clays in a similar manner as they had in England, created an industry that would see Pennsylvania become a leader in manufacturing of durable goods for decades to come. We invite you to view additional examples of colonial ceramics on the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s on-line collections


This image, dated 1800 from Birch’s Views of Philadelphia, looks North on Second Street at Market Street. It shows the old courthouse and the steeple of Christ Church. The structure from which these ceramics were recovered was located a few doors from the right-most building shown here.             
(Image: Library of Congress)


Godden, Geoffrey A.

1970 Encyclopedia of British pottery and porcelain marks. London: Barrie and Jenkins


Hume, I. N.

2001 A guide to the artifacts of colonial America. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Sussman, L.

1977 Changes in pearlware dinnerware, 1780–1830. Historical Archaeology, 11(1), 105-111. 


Rickard, Jonathan, foreword by D. Barker, and photography Gavin Ashworth.  

2006 Mocha and related dipped wares, 1770-1939. Hanover: Published by University Press of New England.

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .