Saturday, October 3, 2009

Another tool for projectile point identification

As a follow-up to the post on projectile points I did two days ago, Jim thought it would be appropriate to suggest a useful website he has stumbled upon. The site is set up as a guide for identifying projectile points based on their attributes. It is part of the official website of Delaware, and can be reached here. You may wonder why we would suggest a site that deals with identifying points found in Delaware when we are working in Maryland. The reason is that many types of projectile points are found across larger regions, not to mention that Native Americans were making these points prior to the existence of state boundaries.

To use the site click on the links in accordance with the characteristics of the point you are trying to identify. I played around with the site a little bit using this point pictured to the left. I am inclined to call it a Kirk-Stemmed type, but must admit that I am no expert when it comes to point identification. It also looked a little bit like a Bare Island Point, which goes to show that a point may not always fall neatly into its proper type (this also suggests that I should keep practicing!). By no means is this a complete point type database, but it certainly is a wonderful tool to get you to start thinking about what we look for when we identify projectile points.

Hope you all are having a wonderful weekend.

Friday, October 2, 2009

James Swann House

In May Pete and a bunch of ASM volunteers devoted several days and a great deal of energy trying to find remains of the James Swann House in the hedgerow that separates the Compton and Jamison fields. They found some 18th-century material (not really what we were looking for, but welcome just the same) and a some 19th-century material, which is what we were looking for. We expected a lot more. Toward the end of the field session, Scott and I rummaged about the woods and found some brick rubble and artifacts, not 30 ft from where Pete and Company were digging. We decided that this likely was the Swann House.

Last week Anne and Kelley were processing material recently loaned to us by the Maryland Archaeological Laboratory...Becky Morehouse brought us two boxes of artifacts that Jerry Braley and members of the Southwestern Chapter of the Archeological Society of Maryland excavated and collected in the early 1970s. One bag had a small scrap of paper with a sketch map showing where the few artifacts in the bag had been found. The note indicated that the objects were collected on the surface near a brick foundation in the same area that Scott and I looked at in May. The foundation is no longer readily seen on the surface, but there can be no doubt that we were looking at the same place.

It is my intention to return to Port Tobacco this month to excavate some test units in the area of the surface rubble and expose a portion of the foundation, as well as collect a representative sample of artifacts, of this suspected African American inn dating to the middle of the 19th century. I will announce details next week.

Also, our staff person of the week spotlight will have to wait until next week when I can find a photograph of the camera-shy rascal.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

A brief point about types...of points

In addition to analyzing the Aboriginal ceramics from Port Tobacco, I have been cataloging the projectile points that have been found. While Jim has previously emphasized in this blog that classifying points in Maryland can be quite a difficult endeavor, there are a few general guidelines that can be used to place a point within a certain time period, even if the point cannot be readily identified as a particular type. For this general classification I frequently refer to William Jack Hranicky's Middle Atlantic Point Typology and Nomenclature and thus will base my brief descriptions off of his. The general categories he assigns projectile point styles to are lanceolate, notched, stemmed, bifurcate, and triangular. Click on the chart to the left for a general sense of how these categories break down and which attributes of a point are examined and described. Of course, as you read keep in mind that there are projectile points that do not fit neatly into these categories or dates as differences in materials and knapping ability result in each projectile point being at least a little different from the next. Furthermore, the Native Americans that made these points were not sitting down with Hranicky's guide to make sure they were making a point that fit into a particular category! Nevertheless, these types are a good place to start when identifying and dating a point.

Lanceolate points are large triangular points that tend to have excurvate edges, meaning the edges are convex curves. The most well-known examples of these are Clovis and Folsom Points. This is the oldest style of point found in this area, dating from roughly 10,000BC-8500BC. Many of these points were fluted, meaning that flakes were removed from the middle of shaft on the end opposite the tip in order to better haft the blade to a handle. These points are found much less frequently than more recent types, and we certainly have not had any at Port Tobacco.

Notched points were developed next, sometime between 8500BC and 8000BC during the Archaic Period. This development likely had to do with increasing the ease of hafting, as a notched point was much easier to secure to a handle as the notched would prevent the sinew used to hold the point in place from slipping. Earlier notched points were corner-notched, as is the point to the left, found in Stratum 1 of Unit 44. This means that flakes were removed at an upward diagonal angle from the corners of the base to make two notches. The other type of notched point is the side-notch, which, as the name suggests, is when flakes have been removed from the side of the point, perpindicular to the base. The example to the right is from Stratum 1 of Unit 35 . There is no clear chronological separation between the manufacture of corner-notched points and that of side-notched points, and there is frequent overlap of these types during this period. Notched points were
followed by the stemmed point type around 6500BC. This stemmed point, to the left, was not excavated from the Compton field, but is one of the many points from the 1970s Port Tobacco Braley Collection.

A more unique type of point is described as bifurcate, though sometimes these points are grouped with stemmed varieties. Hranicky suggests that this type of point was first used around 7000 BC. Though the quartz point pictured to the right is broken, the lobed bifurcation of the base is clear, making this type of point easy to identify. This point is also from the Braley Collection.

The most recent point type is called triangular. This type first appears during the Late Archaic period and carries into the Woodland and Contact periods, originating just prior to 1000BC. Notched and stemmed points are still found from this period, though triangular points, such as this Braley Collection point to the left, are much more common. Following contact various projectile point types were sometimes made from metal, generally iron, obtained from Europeans.

Many of the points we find are quartz or quartzite, though occasionally we come across a rhyolite point, and, even more rarely, a point made from an exotic material such as jasper.


William Jack Hranicky's (1994) Middle Atlantic Point Typology and Nomenclature, published by the Archeological Society of Virginia

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Let's get decorating!

Today I figured it was time to take a break from reviewing Aboriginal ceramic types we have found at Port Tobacco and instead look at the methods people used to decorate these wares. Common decoration types include cord impressions, cord-wrapped stick impressions, incising, punctations, net or fabric impressions, and added nodules.

Cord-marked designs are created just as the name implies. A piece of cord made from woven plant fibers is taken and applied to the soft clay, leaving behind an impression, as seen on this piece of Potomac Creek to the left. This particular sherd came from Stratum 1 of Unit 60. These designs are often horizontal along the rim of a vessel though more elaborate geometric designs were also used, as seen in this sherd of Potomac Creek. Cord-markings can be described as being an "S-twist" or a "Z-twist," depending on which direction the woven fibers are facing. These pieces of Potomac Creek both have a Z-twist.

One of the variations seen in cord-marked designs is called a cord-wrapped stick impression. These decorations were made by wrapping woven cord around a paddle, similar to the one in the image to the right. Paddles could be made from any hard material such as wood or bone. During the manufacture of a vessel a cord-wrapped paddle was pressed against the wet clay, as seen in the image to the left.

Incising and punctation could be created using a thin pointed tool often made from bone, shell, or stone, though fingers and finger-nails produce similar results. Incised designs were often geometric or linear. Punctated wares have impressed dots, often along the rim of the vessel. This sherd of Rappahannock from Stratum 2 of Unit 54 may have small punctations along its top (it is difficult to discern whether these are small punctations or a variation of cord-markings, please click on the image for a better look). So far this has been the only sherd catalogued from this year's field session with this type of decoration. Net and fabric-impressions were created by pressing woven fabrics, rather than a single cord, against the wet clay.

Nodules or handles were created by adding additional pieces of clay to the main body of the vessel. I have yet to come across any examples of this decoration in the Aboriginal pottery found at Port Tobacco.

Hopefully that was not an overwhelming primer on Aboriginal pottery decorations. Please do check out the links and enlarge the images--I know there are quite a few of them today, but looking at examples of these decoration styles really is the best way to understand what the terms are referring to. Of course, there are many variations to the types I discussed here, but hopefully I have been successful in laying down the basic styles.


Image Resources:

Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum

The University of Texas

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Accokeek Creek

The Aboriginal ceramic type of the day is Accokeek Creek. This is a considerably earlier ware than both Mockley and Moyaone, dating to 900BC-300BC in the Early Woodland Period. During this time people were experimenting with different types of tempers and methods for producing pottery. It was during this period that coil-construction was first used, which means that wares were created by stacking rolled coils of clay on top of one another. These coils were then smoothed together, and a paddle was then used to shape and decorate the vessel.

Defining attributes of Accokeek Creek wares include a fine to coarse temper of sand or crushed quartz with a rough and sandy texture. There are, however, some variations of these characteristics with some wares having mica or gneiss in their tempers as well. The above image is of two similar sand-tempered sherds of Accokeek. The sherd on the bottom was found in Stratum 3 of Unit 60 and the sherd on the top was from Stratum 4 of Unit 54. Both units were in the Compton Field.

Accokeek is generally reddish in color due to the presence of ferrous material in the clay. The outer surfaces of the vessel were typically cord-marked, creating a rough striated surface as seen in the image. These markings are known as oblique cord-markings as they generally extend diagonally from the rim to the base. In some sherds additional cord-marked or incised decoration is present though undecorated sherds have also been found. Take a look at the Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum website for some examples of these variations.Vessels were generally medium to large in size and conical or globular in shape, as shown in the image to the right.

As usual, please click on the image for a much better close-up.


Monday, September 28, 2009

Don't Mockley Me!

Hey folks, as promised here is another bit of Aboriginal ceramic review. Today I am focusing on the type known as Mockley. These particular sherds (to the left) were found in Stratum 3 of Unit 60 in the Compton Field. The top sherd is a body piece while the bottom is a rim.

Mockley vessels date to between AD 200-900 during the Middle Woodland Period. These wares have a soft, clayey texture. Coarsely crushed shell (usually oyster shell) is used to temper the clay, though frequently the shell fragments have leached out. This leaching occurred when the sherd repeatedly came into contact with water which, over time, dissolved the shell, creating the pock-marked surface as seen in the above image. This characteristic makes it possible to detect a shell-temper quickly, as often all that remains of the temper are holes in various sizes.

Mockley wares come in different varieties including undecorated, net-impressed, and cord-marked. Hopefully sometime this week or next I will post a blog on how the various decorations on Aboriginal ceramics are created (once we have gotten through our type review of course!). One or both of the sherds from Unit 60 may be cord-marked, but as you can see it is difficult to discern if there is any decoration amidst all of the holes. Mockley vessels came in a range of colors, from buff to black, and generally were medium to large in size.

If you would like to get a closer look at these sherds just click on the above images--they will enlarge.

Next up I'll go back in time a bit more into the Early Woodland Period and take a look at some Accokeek sherds!



Jefferson Patterson Memorial Park and Museum

Sunday, September 27, 2009

St. Nicholas Wrapping Up

Rather than work on Port Tobacco material, I spent Saturday at St. Nicholas Cemetery with Scott and Laurie. Batteries in my camera died, so I do not have any pictures. We resurrected 17 markers (possibly a record, for us, for most recovered in one day), and that places us within two field days of completing the recovery phase of the restoration. (We still need to plumb a few markers and fill in some depressions.)

With luck, we will finish the effort, the largest of its kind in the area, and possibly in the State of Maryland, within days of the sixth anniversary of our first day recovering markers. Looking around us after re-erecting the last monument for the day, I was impressed with what we had accomplished and, briefly, wondered what the hell motivated us to undertake such a massive and physically demanding project. Probably one of those brief bits of insanity that we all experience from time to time.