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Caddoan Pottery (Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas & Louisiana)

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  • Caddoan Pottery (Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas & Louisiana)

    The Prehistoric Peoples of Arkansas
    Steven R. Cooper
    Originally published in the Central States Archaeological Journal, Vol.55, No.4, pg.174

    It is easy to become confused with all the different terms involving Arkansas archaeology. Like the rest of the Mid-West, the state has a long pre-history that spans the Paleo through Mississippian time periods. Unlike some other areas, there are a lot of sites where there is evidence of contact with the early explorers. This "Proto-Historic" period is very interesting, producing such items as teapot shaped pottery and Spanish motifs.

    It is during the Mississippian period that you see the emergence of high quality pottery skills. While many sites are considered strictly Mississippian, there is also the rise of the Quapaw and Caddo, both very region specific and producing certain styles of pottery and other artifacts.

    Mississippian sites that were located along the Mississippi and the St. Francis River drainage basins produced a vast amount of the pottery associated with Arkansas. Many of the styles are named after sites, some in Arkansas and some in Mississippi. Styles such as "Barton Incised" or "Rhodes Incised" are named after sites where initially these styles were found (the Barton Ranch Site and the Rhodes Place Site, both in Crittenden County). The pottery produced in this area is ninety percent gray-ware, the other vessels being paired solid or multicolored.

    Gray-ware finishes are of two varieties, Neely's Ferry Plain and Bell Plain (again, named after the Neely's Ferry Site in Cross County and the Bell Place Site in Mississippi County). Neely's Ferry Plain (Figure 1) has a finish that shows the mussel shell on the surface. This is the result of utilizing larger, variable sized shell for tempering. Bell Plain (Figure 2) utilized very small crushed shell for tempering. Originally it was thought that the fine surface of these vessels was the result of being dipped in a liquid paste just before firing, so that a slip covered the entire vessel. However, recent research has shown that these vessels were fired at a relatively low temperature, resulting in the core of the vessel maintaining a lower temperature. This causes the vessel's surface to have a different color and texture. Many times after firing, Bell plain vessels were burnished to a high polish utilizing a polishing stone. Many features were added to these vessels, such as utilizing instruments to jab the pottery to create a design (punctation), creating additional features with clay strips to the vessel (appliqué), engraving on the vessel after firing or incising the vessel before firing. Incising could be executed when the paste was wet, soft, firm and dried, or even after firing in some styles.

    A Mississippian Hooded Corn God Effigy - height: 10" width 8" - Lee County, Arkansas

    In addition, certain vessels were painted (Figure 3) usually with a red or white paint. Painted vessels have a slip of pigment coloring applied to their surface.

    As mentioned previously, various sites produced distinctive forms. Nearly always named after the site of origin, some common forms are Barton Incised, Rhodes Incised, Parkin Punctated, Kent Incised, Fortune Noded, Walls Engraved, Avenue Polychrome and Vernon Paul Appliqué to name a few.

    In addition to these Mississippian Culture Sites, there are also two other distinctive Arkansas groups, the Caddo and the Quapaw.

    The Caddo occupied the four corners area of Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana. The approximate center of the prehistoric Caddo is near the Big Bend of the Red River. The most important site showing the transition of the earlier Coles Creek Culture into Caddoan is the Crenshaw site, which lies on the Big Bend of the Red River, near the present day town of Texarkana. There is recent evidence that the people who occupied Spiro Mound were Caddo. When Desoto and his expedition visited the area in 1541, they found the Caddo villages were spread out and not surrounded by stockades in contrast to the fortified villages on the Mississippi.

    The Caddo were master pottery makers. Their pottery too, is identified with the site and manufacturing earmarks (Figures 4 and 5). Styles of Caddo pottery include Bailey Engraved, Dunkin Incised, Harleton Appliqued, Handy Engraved and Keno Trailed. There are perhaps fifty or more styles. The Caddo continued to thrive well into the historic period, and their descendents moved to Oklahoma forming the modern Caddo Nation after the Civil War.

    The Quapaw too have descendents that live in Oklahoma. They traded extensively with the French during historic times. They occupied sites along the Arkansas River as well as the Mississippi River. Their pottery is very visual (Figure 7), with their painted and effigy pieces being some of the most artistic creations ever made. They occupied some of the same areas as the Mississippians, and again their styles are named in association with the sites and stylizations. Avenue Polychrome, Old Town Red and Winterville Incised are just a few of the styles they are known for.

    Obviously, these various cultures produced much more than pottery. The Caddo had some of the finest lithic skills of any prehistoric culture. Some of their miniature arrowheads, such as the Agee and Hayes styles are truly amazing (Figure 8). The Mississippians and the Quapaw too, created works of shell, stone and flint (Figure 6). In viewing the artistic output of these cultures, it is quite amazing to see how very talented, advanced and complex their prehistoric societies must have been.

    Used by permission of the publisher
    To learn more about or to join the Central States Archaeological Society, click here:
    I keep six honest serving-men (they taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.

  • #2
    The Unique Caddo Seed Jar
    Jim Maus, Advance, North Carolina
    Originally published in the Central States Archaeological Journal, Vol.56, No.2, pg.82

    During the first century AD, the natives of a culture known today as Marksville, were living in the lower Mississippi River Valley. These people made pottery similar to the vessels made by the ancient Hopewell in the contemporary state of Ohio and there probably was some type of interaction between these two assemblages. The Marks-vine people evolved, over the next 800 or so years, into a society we call Coles Creek and who, around AD 900, merged with some other peoples slightly farther north and west. Let us skip ahead a few centuries until the Spanish explorers moved through the region in the 1540's. They met these more westerly Indians who called themselves Tejas and whose name was later altered and became the word we use today for the state admitted into our Union in 1845 - - - Texas. The early Europeans also encountered, in the current states of Arkansas and Oklahoma, ancients known as Kodahadache, whose name was later anglicized into a moniker most familiar to Indian artifact collectors - - - Caddo.

    As mentioned above, the Caddo people and their ancestors have made pottery for at least two thousand years and one can assume that during that time, these people thoroughly learned pottery making techniques. Unlike their contemporary neighbors who lived further east and north nearer the Mississippi River, the Caddoans did not make major use of red, black and white clay slip on their vessels nor did they make lots of fish, fowl, animal and human effigy pots. But that does not mean that they were not master potters. They made, perhaps, the most symmetrical and beautiful vessels ever produced in our country during the late prehistoric and early Historic Periods. They made the usual bowls, jars and water bottles but they also embellished the surfaces of many of their creations with intricately incised (applied on green or un-fired vessels) and engraved (applied on the fired vessels), spirals, scrolls, ticks, lines, appliques and punctuates.

    By AD 1200, corn was an integral part of the Caddo people's diet along with squash, beans and various wild plants in addition to deer, rabbit and freshwater fish. The early European explorers noted that the natives in the Caddo homeland hung corn ears from the ceilings in grain storage buildings, as well as their homes, for the purpose of drying the corn kernels. These dried corn seeds would presumably have then been eaten or saved for planting the following year.

    And that brings us to the creation one of the rarest Caddo vessel types, the so called seed jar. The term "seed jar" comes from vessel examples seen in Historic Pueblos. These Southwest jars were globular in shape with a small orifice in the top and were used by the Pueblo dwelling Indians for the storage of seeds, according to early European accounts. The small vessel opening allowed a corncob plug to be inserted in the hole for the purpose of keeping insects and rodents from the enclosed seeds. The Caddo seed jars were similarly made with a small vessel opening, normally around one inch or so in diameter, in the incurved top of the vessel. They have been described as being barrel shaped but since the Caddo, before about AD 1540, would have likely never seen a barrel, the most probable model for these jars was the common gourd which was prehistorically grown by the people. Caddo seed jars are quite rare, are thinned walled and symmetrical and most have no surface motifs though some few were incised or engraved, especially around and/or near the vessel mouth opening. Many of these jars were apparently fired using low heat-low oxygen firing methods which produced an outside surface with mottled grey/black/tan fire cloud colorations. Some are short and wide but most are tall and stout with the ratio of height to width being around two to one. A very few have been found with two or four lugs applied to both the vessel base and top, of which there is no logical explanation.

    But were these "seed jars" actually used for the storage of seeds? There is no factual evidence to support this theory and the Spaniards did write that corn was saved by hanging the corn ears in buildings. If these vessels were actually used for the storage of corn, the major Caddo crop in the circa AD 1200-1700 time period, it would seem that many more seed jars would have been found than has actually happened. Also to be considered is the high humidity in the Southeast versus the Southwest where it is much drier. If seeds were placed in one of the jars in Caddo country and sealed with a stopper, they would probably sprout or mildew, either of which would render them uneatable. The best guess is that these jars were used for some purpose other than the storage of seeds. As is quite often the case in collecting Indian artifacts, the study of these vessels produces more questions than answers. But it is said that questioning the mysteries of life keeps us young and young at heart. If that is true, we may all become consummate teenagers as we contemplate the mysteries of the American Indians and the unique Caddo non-seed storage jar.

    Used by permission of the publisher
    To learn more about or to join the Central States Archaeological Society, click here:

    I keep six honest serving-men (they taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.