Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Dating Methods in SE Archaeology

2009 Problems of ceramic chronology in the Southeast: does shell-tempered pottery appear earlier
than we think? American Antiquity 74(1):113+.

As the title of the article would suggest, the author attempts to show in this article that the
number of pots that use shells as temper material in the Southeast are too paltry to make a cogent chronology.  Despite this, the author claims, the origin of these pots can be calculated with some accuracy by exploring the luminescense dates for the pots that we do have.  The author is more interested in the methods by which shell-tempering came about rather than the time, but explores precise dating as well.

                Early in the analysis of pottery, tempering material became a very broad way to organize pottery.  These early distinctions were rightly determined mostly to be based on geography and the availabilities of certain materials to use in clay pottery.  However, shell tempering came almost exclusively later in almost all regions quite suddenly, and thereupon had a much larger role, as shell-tempered pots are much more resistant to damage than dirt, sand, or grog tempered ones.  Early explanations for this sudden growth in shell-tempering were based in rapid migrations around AD 1000, and it is doubtless that migrations certainly played a role.  However, this does not explain why it shows up in smaller numbers throughout the region it later became popular in.  Previous scholars had reduced these occurences to natural effects.  However, the author shows using the dates given by luminscense that the locations of many of these shell-tempered pots cannot be reduced to effects of nature; they fit into the internal chronologies of the site too well.  Because of this, the general principle of shell-tempered pots being later in time can be effectively dismissed in this region.  The ideas of shell-tempered pottery manufacture clearly were simultaneously developed with the ideas for more prominent tempering materials.  Although not explicitly stated, the author suggests it is possible that a new technology such as a lacquer to improve the smoothness of interior of the pots, or perhaps a new method to remove small shell pieces juttting out are to blame for the sudden increase in popularity.  Perhaps further research will define a tool as having just that purpose. 

Little, Keith J.
2010 Sixteenth-Century Glass Bead Chronology In Southeastern North America.
Southeastern Archaeology 29(1):222-232.
                The essence of this article is to make corrections to the typical chronology of glass beads in Southeastern North America, to take into account thirty years of findings since the chronology was constructed.  The reason this is important is because glass beads can be extremely distinctive, and have been used many times in the past as chronological indicators for other archaeological finds.  Obviously, glass beads are all European in origin, and therefore these beads only help define dates for sites that are post-contact. 
                Some of the characteristics of  that are used to try to chronologize bead assemblages seem arbitrary, such as the number of stripes and their color, the color of the bead itself, or the presence of holes.  However, including these with the more rigorous qualities of cut length and angle, as well as mass spectrometry sourcing data, and awknowledging the large number of dated beads found in Europe, the task of creating a chronology becomes substantially easier; even if the number of beads are not always large.  Although much of the article is rather dull in explanation of distinctions, some of the most interesting chronological conundrums came from sites where multiple time periods, as well as multiple bead manufacturers were involved.   In some cases, guesses were made by reading between the gaps in sequences, but overall a semi-complete chronology is displayed in the article.
                Not only is  glass bead sequencing helpful for getting actual dates for sites, but looking at particular collections can help to show what happened at a particular place by looking at what types of beads are most prominent.  For example, the article mentions a site  where beads sourced to England are abundant, but are overtaken (in stratigraphy as well as by dating) by Spanish beads.  Even if one were to not know the dates, one could easily suggest that Spanish influence grew in the area.  It is surprising that so many different beads were manufactured so as to make a coherent chronology of just one region in one period of time.


  1. I find both of these articles interesting because they show a few issues that arise when using material culture to create chronological sequences; issues which go beyond the typical recognition of the issues of using seriated material culture alone to do so. This is not to say that chronologies based on seriation of material remains is no longer relevant, in fact the advent newer methods for dating materials the has made it possible to cross-check the accuracy of current regional chronologies with more specific testing.
    The first article brings a few questions to mind about seriated ceramic assemblages by using both luminescence and the use of tempering agents. Firstly, to what extent is the use of tempers restricted to particular locations and could this be connected to resource availability? Were there designs present that could be indicative of the development of special use vessels and/or clan or individually owned materials? I am also curious if the spread of ceramic manufacturing techniques is related to population shifts in or out of the region or if the chronological sequences suggest lont-term development and refinement by a prticular group.
    The second article is interesting for two reasons. One it respresent an imortant way to dinstinguish between sites that were used before, after, or continuosly through historic contact. Artifacts like this are particularly important because they are evidence the earliest of the cultural exchange in the Americas between indigenous peoples and European colonist. Additionally they represent the changes to the way indigenous groups acquired materials for use in the making of personal goods. Another factor which makes processed goods from Europe a valuable time marker in the archaeological record is that products from the old world are seriated much mroe accurately than many of the material items used in North America.

  2. The first article is really interesting to me as one of my articles (Rafferty 2008) relied on shell-tempered ceramics entirely, which would indicate that they came to a different conclusion than Feathers did. This may simply be a regional difference as the Rafferty article is about northern Mississippi, but I found it particularly noteworthy as my article actually cites some of Feathers’ earlier work regarding luminescence dating. Did Feathers mention a more specific location in the article? It seems like a broad generalization to say that the entire Southeast has little evidence of shell-tempered pottery when Rafferty wrote about shell-tempered pottery just the year before, not to mention other articles that state the same thing.

    Works cited
    Rafferty, Janet and Evan Peacock
    2008 The Spread of Shell Tempering in the Mississippi Black Prairie Southeastern Archaeology 27(2):253-264