Friday, June 24, 2011

A Cascade of Pottery

So far this season, pottery has been the predominant class of artifact recovered from feature contexts. This is a bit unusual because normally stone tool debris, primarily flint flakes, are much more common at sites in the region. The rarity of lithics says something significant about the kinds of activities not carried out in and adjacent to the oval enclosure That is, stone tool making was not a primary task for the Early Woodland inhabitants. So what does the relatively frequent occurrence of pottery tell us? Well, the direct inference, of course, is that pottery was broken and disposed of on-site. The behavior inference linked to this is that the cooking and perhaps storage of food in pots were common activities. The most vivid evidence for this interpretation is the dense concentration of Early Woodland ceramics found in Feature 11-09. As the image below reveals, a large quantity of pot sherds was deposited in this medium-sized pit.

The pottery is confined to one side of the sloping pit wall, as if the sherds were unceremoniously dumped into the pit. This virtual 'cascade' of pottery includes several large rim sections of a single vessel. One of the rim sherds shown below has a plain, out-turned lip, below which is a distinctly fabric-marked neck. Also found in this cluster was a riveted lug handle and many body sherds with this same surface treatment.

But is this simply a case of trashing an old pot or something more? Given our working hypothesis that the enclosure served a non-domestic function (community area, dance ground, communal feasting site, etc.), such a deposit may represent the ceremonial disposal of a pot used in a ritual context. Ritual disposal of this kind appears to have been the case at another Early Woodland enclosure, the Adena culture Dominion Land Company site in Columbus, Ohio. Here, numerous Early Woodland vessels were disposed of in pits found beneath the circular ditch that enclosed two burial mounds. Very little pottery was found outside these particular contexts. It is thought that these vessels were used during mortuary feasts inside the earthwork and then deliberately buried beneath the ditch. "Food for thought" when we examine the Heckleman pottery deposit in the lab this off-season.