Sunday, December 27, 2020

Pots from the Past: A Look at some Native American Pottery Types of the Early Contact Period

In our last blog post on “Pots from the Past” (posted 10/23/20), we showcased the Late Woodland pottery types of the Susquehanna Valley. In this blog we describe Susquehannock pottery dating to the period around the time of European contact. The Susquehannocks were an Iroquoian-speaking group who also lived in the Susquehanna Valley but principally established settlements in the Lower Susquehanna of Pennsylvania and the Potomac valleys of northern Maryland and eastern West Virginia after leaving the Upper Susquehanna of northcentral Pennsylvania in the early 1500s (Herbstritt 2019). Their settlements occupied fertile river bottoms where farming, principally comprised of growing corn, beans and squash and the harvesting of many different wild plant foods was economically feasible. Coupled with the harvesting of deer, elk, birds, fish and river mussels, and a modicum of other protein-based foods formed a vital part of their subsistence economy. Unlike their Late Woodland predecessors of the Susquehanna Valley, the Susquehannocks, only lived at these select locations for about 200 years (ca. 1525-1750 AD), until their culture was devastated by foreign diseases, wars with other Iroquoians, assimilation and economic hardship brought about by and through European colonialism.

Enter the potters! Archaeologic, ethnographic and historic evidence point to females as the makers of Native American clay pots. French Jesuits witnessed Iroquois women making cooking pots in Canada and contemporary Native American potters in the south and southwest United States of more recent times are women.

Much of what is known about Susquehannock pottery has been the result of samples recovered from large scale excavations that took place near Washington Boro, Pennsylvania in the 1970’s and 1980’s. These investigations were largely undertaken by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission under the direction of Dr. Barry C. Kent, the Commission’s State Archaeologist (Kent 1984). The research conducted by Dr. Kent and other archaeologists developed a pottery chronology for the Susquehannock occupations that clearly demonstrated a sequence of different pottery types through time. 

The Susquehannock pottery types in chronological order 

We begin our discussion on Susquehannock pottery by presenting these types in chronological order with the earliest defined type and working through to the latest as follows.

Schultz Incised is a high collared shell tempered pottery type largely found at the Schultz site located in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (Figure 1). This type generally dates between 1525 AD and 1600 AD. The overall surface treatment of this type is cord-marking with pronounced broad line incising decorating the collars which form different geometric patterns that include right triangles, trapezoids and vertical bars. Most often, the areas with these patterns are infilled with dentations that look like they were made with the oval-shaped end of a bone or wooden tool. Schultz pots range in volume from a pint to many gallons indicating utilitarian use and many retain evidence of carbonized residue suggesting that they were used in cooking. 

A Schultz incised pot from the Schultz site (36La7). 

Washington Boro Incised is a low to medium collared shell tempered pottery named after the Washington Boro site also located in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (Figure 2). It generally dates between 1600 AD and 1635 AD. The type shared some characteristics with Schultz Incised such as an all over cord-marked surface and collars with incised lines. However, the line incising is largely defined by horizontal panels of incising separated by a broadly spaced vertical line. The hallmark of the Washington Boro Incised type is the presence of two to four stylized expressionless human faces located on castellations along the pot’s rim. These are commonly accompanied by one or more V-shaped notches above each face. Full bodied effigies of the human form are present on these pots but rare. Interestingly, full bodied effigies are also found on pots from non-Susquehannock Iroquoian sites in New York where they are also rare. As with its predecessor, Schultz Incised, Washington Boro Incised pots are highly variable in volume capacity – big and small seems to have been the norm and many contain charred cooking residue inside the pot. 

A Washington Boro Incised pot. 

      Strickler Cordmarked, for the most part is a collarless cordmarked pottery type named after the Strickler site, also located in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (Figure 3). It generally dates between 1635 AD and 1680 AD. Some Strickler site potters tempered their pots with shell, other potters did not, as many of the pots exhibit little to no evidence that a tempering agent was added to the clay. Strickler Cordmarked pots departed from earlier Susquehannock types in that there was a definite departure in their aesthetic presence. Absent are the various incised line designs and effigy faces from former times – little to none of the earlier artistic expressionism is evident. It has been postulated that Strickler Cordmarked was a pottery type that was increasingly being replaced by utilitarian metal pots traded into the Susquehannock economy from Europeans (Kent 1984). After all, metal pots lasted longer and heated the food more quickly. Pots of the Strickler type were small in comparison to Schultz Incised and Washington Boro Incised pots–they rarely held more than a quart’s worth of capacity. It can perhaps be stated that Strickler Cordmarked had a longer tradition in Susquehannock culture insofar as the type was being produced well into the 1670’s after the Susquehannocks moved their settlements to the bluffs of the Susquehanna’s west shore in York County, Pennsylvania. By the early 18th century after the Susquehannock’s set up residence at Conestoga town, native pottery seems to have become a relic of the past.

A Strickler Cordmarked pot. 

We hope you have enjoyed revisiting our This Week In Pennsylvania Archaeology blog site. Please visit again as we present more in the series on “Pots from the Past”



Herbstritt, James T.

2019      Becoming Susquehannock: The West Branch and North Branch Traditions: in The Susquehannocks: New Perspectives on Settlement and Cultural Identity. Edited by Paul A. Raber. The Pennsylvania State University Press. University Park.

Kent, Barry C.

1984      Susquehanna’s Indians. Anthropological Series, no 6. Harrisburg, Pa. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.


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

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Unearthing Time Periods - Jackfield

In our last post we discussed the good fortune historic archaeologists enjoy upon discovering coinage on an archaeological site, particularly in the discrete context of a feature. Few artifacts other than coins have their date of manufacture literally stamped directly on them. Naturally, these artifacts greatly aid in determining the age of a site, or a portion of a site.

Other artifact types can also help determine when a site was inhabited. Certain types of ceramic wares for example are known to have relatively short periods of manufacture, and this in turn can aid an archaeologist in narrowing down the potential window of occupation. With respect to the mid to late 18th century there are a number of ceramic types that can be attributed to this time period.


A refined earthenware ceramic known as Jackfield is one such type. Produced in the region of Shropshire, England between 1745 and 1790, this ceramic is characterized as thinly turned, with a paste that turns a purple/grey after firing and is covered in a lustrous black glaze. Typical forms include tea pots and pitchers as well as mugs and bowls.

 Although associated with the town of Jackfield in Shropshire, this ware was also commonly produced in Staffordshire by potters such as Thomas Whieldon, with a redder hued body. This recognition of a broader area of manufacture has led some scholars to endorse the term “Jackfield-like”, or even “blackware” when referring to these pieces (Barker and Halfpenny (1990). The choice to produce a black glazed ceramic is a curious one, as at this time English and other European potters were endeavoring to create a white ceramic to mimic the superior export porcelains arriving from the East. According to Hume, in his much referenced A Guide to Artifacts of Colonial America, examples of Jackfield ceramics are common on American sites of the 1760’s (pg.123).

Not unlike instances of counterfeit coinage, imitation or debased forms of Jackfield were made in the colonies by regional potters. Here, the intention was not to swindle someone out of their goods with fake currency, but rather an effort to “keep up” with the latest trends and styles originating out of England. While exhibiting a similar solid black glaze, these Jackfield-like examples constructed of regionally sourced clays have an orange body typical of redwares as opposed to a purple/grey body, and are generally thicker in cross section than their English counterparts.

As with coins having the potential to be in circulation for decades after minting, so too can ceramics be in use long after their run of manufacture has ceased. These factors are taken into consideration when using these artifacts to evaluate the age of a site or feature within a site. Historical archaeologists analyze ceramics based on the mean date or the midpoint in the period of manufacture for an identified ceramic. This mean date for each ceramic type is recorded and the average of all ceramics identified and analyzed is utilized in determining the approximate date of the site.  In addition, the behavior of curating heirloom ceramics – think your grandmother or great-grandmother’s “good” china plates – is a phenomenon, that if not recognized as such during analysis of a ceramic assemblage could greatly skew age estimates (particularly for domestic sites) several decades earlier than when the actual site occupation took place.

We hope this brief description of just one of the tools archaeologists use to analyze the past was of interest and a greater appreciation is realized as to the significance of the broken pottery recovered from archaeological sites.  Please visit our online collections.  


Barker, David and Pat Halfpenny

(1990) Unearthing Staffordshire: Towards a new Understanding of 18th Century Ceramics City of Stoke-on-Trent Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent, EnglandHume, Ivor Noel

(1969) A Guide to Artifacts of Colonial America. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia (reprint)


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