With National Science Foundation support, Dr. Neill Wallis and Dr. Thomas Pluckhahn will use a unique form of pottery to identify patterns of social interaction across the "Deep South" of the southeastern U.S. during the late Middle and Late Woodland periods (ca. AD 200 to 800). Termed "Swift Creek Complicated Stamped pottery" and associated with the Swift Creek and Weeden Island archaeological cultures it has the potential to provide an unexpected insight into prehistoric social organization. Before drying and firing, the vessels were decorated with impressions from a carved wooden paddle. The unique "fingerprints" of more than 400 individual carved wooden paddles have been recognized in the impressions on complicated stamped vessels, and the same paddle stamp can be identified on vessels distributed across multiple sites, sometimes hundreds of kilometers apart. These "paddle matches" between sites lend detailed temporal and spatial resolution to social connections.
This research makes a significant contribution to the currently limited body of anthropological knowledge of social interaction and exchange among non-hierarchical, foraging, or tribal societies in a precolonial world. It is also important in delimiting patterns of interaction that may be correlated with important trends such as village aggregation, mound-building, mortuary practice, and long-distance exchange.
The project integrates five methods of analysis: (1) Instrumental Neutron Actication Analysis (INAA), (2) petrographic analysis, and (3) digital imaging of paddle stamp designs as complementary methods for determining where vessels were made; (4) technological analysis to identify how vessels were made and used; and (5) radiocarbon dating to develop a chronology of designs and paddle matches. Examining collections from 24 sites distributed across nine regions in northern Florida and southern Georgia, these data will be used to distinguish between alternative forms of interaction.
Broader impacts include facilitating future collaborative research and presenting results in a public and timely fashion. Painstaking research has resulted in the identification of hundreds of Swift Creek paddle designs, but the research potential of these data has been limited by haphazard data management. The project will develop a searchable database that links high-resolution images of designs with other vessel attribute data and absolute dates. This database will integrate multiple datasets and provide the synergistic foundation for integrating a growing body of data that can enrich many other research projects, especially regionally-focused theses and dissertations. Maintained and integrated with the collections database at the Florida Museum of Natural History, portions of the research database will also be publicly accessible. The web accessible version of the database will provide a collaborative forum for the public and an interpretive synthesis of current research results.