Native American Pottery What We Can Lean From the Master Potters

Native American Pottery: What We Can Lean From the Master Potters?

Survival Duty will cover many techniques to the art of pottery making for self sustainability. I am lucky to live near the birth place of pottery making in North America. About 40 miles East of Savannah Georgia, near the Savannah River, sits one of the oldest settlements in North America. The first Americans to invented ceramics for food storage.

I happened on owning possibly 10,000+ year old pottery shreds near Blue Springs in Screven County Georgia, 30 miles from where I live. I am no stranger to finding artifacts on my own, for I have found pottery shreds even in Douglas Georgia back in the 1990’s near a historic site on private land called “Indian Rock” that is a nature outcropping of eroded rock to form small canyons. Yet, some enthusiast can find pottery by the bucket full if they know of former historic squatting sites near the river. I value pottery to arrow heads for pottery was handled and formed with detail and skill. Then the finished product stored grain and dried goods for years that sat with and among the people going back thousands of years.

The original inhabitants of the Blue Springs site go back to the Late Archaic hunter-fisher-gatherers starting in 2500 BC. Earthenware fiber-tempered ceramics, (grass), burnt oyster shell and  grit tempering, (sand), was used. The earliest attested pottery is in the Stallings culture area, around the middle Savannah River. The Southeastern Woodlands period, agricultural based inhabitants of the area were Yuchi Indians. William Bartram stopped here back in the 1700’s. The first European settlers of “Screven County” were Germans who arrived back in 1751. They were followed by native-born American settlers who came mainly from the Carolinas and Virginia back in the 1770s. The Battle of Briar Creek in 1779 was a major event in Screven County’s history. Although American forces lost the battle, it is believed to have been a critical campaign during the Revolution. Another major event occurred in 1791, when U.S. president George Washington visited the area as part of his mission to travel to all thirteen existing states. So, any pottery found today would be at least 250 years old or up to 3000 to 5000 years back in time. So human history spans over 10,000 years yet we, as Americans today, only identify with the industrial man then those who inhabited this very land for many millenniums. See Figure (1).

Figure 1

I wanted to take a moment to study the methods of early pottery production in the Americas, by studying my own samples. The first process to mold clay is to use a “temper.”  Temper is the coarse substrate used to bind to the clay molecules so to avoid cracking and to help mold clay to form. Firing is the second process that forms a crystalline structure that is durable and hard. Most common temper in this area is sand, coarse rock, burnt oyster shells, or fiber. There are no “glazed” finishes on the pottery found here. The firing methods are open fire pit, hot coals inside the pots, or a primitive form of a kiln to keep the open flame off the clay during firing.

Dating pottery shreds by the surface patterns left by their creators is one method, yet to really know the true dates is by radiocarbon dating. Other two visual methods of dating is by: the clarity of the surface treatment or the roughness of the break of the shred. If the surface treatment is hardly visible and the breaks are smooth, then this is a good indicator that the shred is well over 1000+ years old. A clear stamp pattern and a ragged break, then this shred is at least 250 years old. We can have a worn surface treatment and a sharp ragged clean break simply means that this is a really dated piece of pottery that has a recent break.

Figure (2), Cord marked cross hatched; burnt oyster temper; primitive kiln (no blackening on surfaces).

Figure 2

Figure (3), Cord marked cross hatched rock temper with quartz, inside fired (blackening inside only).

Figure 3

Figure (4), example of firing a new pot by adding hot coals inside to harden the clay.

Figure 4

Figure (5), Curvilinear Complicated Stamped; sand temper, open fire pit (blackened inside and out).

Figure 5

Figure (6), Check Stamped pot lip treatment, sand/rock temper, open fire pit (blackened inside and out).

Figure 6

The oldest fragment in my collection, (possibly 5000+ years old): Figure (7), surface treatment unknown, Fiber tempered with sand, open fire pit (blackened inside and out).

Figure 7

Figure (8), Round pottery “hot rocks” used for cooking. Temper: Sand. Firing: placed in hot ash.

Figure 8

Figure (9): Surface treatments: Check stamp. Temper:  Sand. Firing: (A) open fire pit, (blackened both sides). (B) hot coals inside pot, (blacken inside only). (C) primitive kiln (no blackening on surfaces).

Figure 9

Figure (10): Pot handle hole. Treatments all unknown. Sand/rock temper.

Figure 10

Figure (11): Broken arrow heads found with pottery.

Figure 11

Figure (12). Sculpted bone fragment, heat treated, petrified. Fragment maybe symbology of an animal, human or game. Will not know for sure unless I run DNA test on this sample to determine age.

Figure 12

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2 thoughts on “Native American Pottery: What We Can Lean From the Master Potters?”

  1. Yep, you are living where the oldest pottery in North American is found. There is no telling what else in under the ground there. South Carolina archaeologists, working at the Topper Site on the Savannah River, had to dig down 15 feet to get to the earliest level of human habitation.

    Quite a special place you are at!

    1. Thanks Richard! Too bad all the Savannah river north of Augusta is flooded now from its original water level. What a loss of potential historical sites there.

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