In this installment of This week in Pennsylvania
Archaeology (TWIPA), we are going to examine Late Woodland pottery from four
site locations in the Upper Ohio Valley of western Pennsylvania and West
Virginia dating AD. 400 to 900/1100. This is a poorly known period dating prior
to the development of palisaded Monongahela and Fort Ancient village sites that
dominated the region after AD. 1100. Habitation
sites from the Late Woodland period are found on river terraces including mound
sites. Smaller, less intensively occupied sites in the uplands likely
functioned as hunting and gathering places
for obtaining consumable resources and the quarrying of chert and other
hard stone that is not readily available in the main river valleys. These kinds
of materials were principally used by Late Woodland groups to make cutting and
grinding tools that included corner notched arrowheads, knives, celts and milling
stones. In contrast, clay, the principal material component for making pottery,
was essentially everywhere and easily quarried from riverbanks and slack water
wetlands where the soils are conducive to fine, close grained sedimentation. Late
Woodland sites along major waterways were often situated close to these high-quality
clay sources. Many centuries later, during the latter part of the 19th
century some of these clays from the Monongahela Valley were mined for their ceramic
qualities as mentioned in our last TWIPA blog post on stoneware pottery.
Only a few complete
or nearly complete Late Woodland pottery vessels from the Upper Ohio Valley
have been reported. The best examples, come from the Watson Farm site (46HK34)
Hancock County, West Virginia, the Ohioview site (36BV9) Beaver County,
Pennsylvania, and the Edinburg site (36LR3) Lawrence County, Pennsylvania. All,
to some degree, have been reconstructed from broken pottery fragments uncovered
from archaeological excavations.
Figure 1. Watson Farm
site vessel (Image courtesy of Moundsville Museum, Moundsville, West Virginia.
The Watson Farm vessel is an example of a
partial reconstruction showing the rim, neck, and shoulder of the upper half of
the pot. It is a collarless vessel that is tempered with coarsely crushed
limestone as is most pottery from the site. Bold vertically emplaced cordmarkings
on the rim and neck abruptly change to an oblique pattern of cordmarkings on
the shoulder, and upper part of the body. This pot form is believed to have served
as a utilitarian storage/cooking container and is typed as Watson Cordmarked (Dragoo
Figure 2. Ohioview site
vessel (Image courtesy of The State Museum of Pennsylvania).
The Ohioview site vessel is the reconstruction
of an entire vessel. It is also a collarless form showing vertical to slightly
oblique cordmarkings extending from the rim to the bottom of the sub-globular
base. The temper is a medium to fine crushed igneous rock and at some places on
the surface the temper is exposed that shows a dark brown to a white color. Other
rimsherds from the site have a short collar strip molded onto the rim of pots demonstrating
that vessels with this applied collar treatment were also common. Identified by the placement of parallel
oblique or opposed oblique cord impressed decorations are, also observed as a pattern
on the pottery type Jacks Reef Corded Collar (Johnson and Myers 2004; Lantz and
Johnson 2020: Figure 12.6). The collarless and collared pots with their
elongated bodies were utilitarian forms also known regionally in the Upper Ohio
Valley as Mahoning Cordmarked (Mayer-Oakes 1955).
Figure 3. Edinburg site
vessel (Image courtesy Gartley, Richard T., Jeff Carskadden and James F. Morton,
2016 The Edinburg Site, Lawrence County, Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania
The Edinburg site vessel is also a complete
reconstruction. Like the Ohioview site vessel, it is collarless with boldly
emplaced cordmarkings running vertically down the exterior of the rim and neck
then obliquely onto the shoulder terminating in an all over criss-cross pattern
on an elongated sub-conical body. Again, the temper is of a fine to medium
coarse grained igneous rock. Some of the other rimsherds from the site exhibit
crushed limestone as the principal temper type.
Many of these rimsherds have parallel oblique and opposed oblique cord
impressions on an added-on collar rim strip containing cord impressions stamped
into the lip. Lip decorations are also present at the Ohioview site and at other
Late Woodland habitation sites in the Central Allegheny/Beaver River valley. In
addition, there are examples from Edinburg that are decorated with a series of parallel
horizontal cord impressions encircling the necks of some vessels. Considered a container
for food consumption and/or storage, the Edinburg site vessel is typed as Mahoning
Cordmarked (Gartley, Carskadden and Morton 2016).
4. Mahoning Cordmarked a.k.a. Jacks Reef Corded Collar (Image courtesy of Lantz,
Stanley W. and William C. Johnson, 2020, The Late Woodland Period in the
Glaciated and Unglaciated Appalachian Plateau Province of Northwestern
Pennsylvania. In: The Archaeology of Native Americans in Pennsylvania Volume 2.
Edited by Kurt W. Carr, Christopher A. Bergman, Christina B. Rieth, Bernard K.
Means and Roger W. Moeller. Elizabeth Wagner, Associate Editor).
Late Woodland vessels from the Upper Ohio Valley are
remarkably similar in size, shape and cordmarked surface treatment. When
present, these attributes, along with the inclusion of the simple cordwrapped
stick decorations on collarless and collared vessels are distinct hallmarks.
The attributes were widely embraced and represent a ceramic tradition that was
shared by groups throughout the Upper Ohio Valley between ca. AD. 400-1000.
Archaeologists examine the varieties of pottery recovered from
excavations as a tool to identify the culture groups who created them. The Late
Woodland was a fascinating period of social organization and change for indigenous
peoples who occupied our pre-Commonwealth borders. Our ability to identify
these various culture groups stems from decades of research and comparison of
thousands of broken pottery sherds to identify these distinct pottery types, which
are important in helping us to understand the activities of the potters who
made them. Understanding past human
behavior, is important in preparing for the future, and our ability to adapt
We hope that you have enjoyed this brief introduction into
Upper Ohio Valley Late Woodland pottery. Future TWIPA blog posts will present
more on the topic of Pre-Contact period pottery of the Upper Ohio Valley and other
regions of Pennsylvania where they are found.
Dragoo, Don W.
at the Watson Site, 46HK34, Hancock County, West Virginia. Pennsylvania
T., Jeff Carskadden and James F. Morton
Edinburg Site, Lawrence County, Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Archaeologist
Lantz, Stanley W.
and William C. Johnson
Late Woodland Period in the Glaciated and Unglaciated Appalachian Plateau Province
of Northwestern Pennsylvania. In: The Archaeology of Native Americans in
Pennsylvania Volume 2. Edited by Kurt W. Carr, Christopher A. Bergman,
Christina B. Rieth, Bernard K. Means and Roger W. Moeller. Elizabeth Wagner,
Associate Editor. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.
Mayer-Oakes, William J.
of the Upper Ohio Valley: An Introductory Archaeological Study. Annals of
the Carnegie Museum 34, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Johnson, William C. and Andrew J. Myers
Continuity and Dispersal: Cordage Twist Analysis and the Late Woodland in the
Glaciated Allegheny Plateau of Northwestern Pennsylvania. In Perishable Material
Culture in the Northeast, edited by Penelope Ballard Drooker, pp. 87-128.
Bulletin 500. New York State Museum. Albany.
For more information, visit PAarchaeology.state.pa.us
or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania