Digging into the Collections May 18, 2016

Stallings Island

For the first post, I thought that I would keep the topic familiar to most readers before exploring more eclectic artifacts in the Ohio History Connection archaeology collection.  So the first artifact is a Late Woodland pipe (A3865/1).

American Indians smoked tobacco throughout their history, primarily for ceremonial purposes.  According to the  Mitchell Museum of the American Indian, “the practice of using tobacco is the most prominent common unifying element among the tribes of North America.”  As a result, pipes can be found throughout American Indian history.  The shapes of the pipes differed in the various regions, cultures, and time periods.  While sometimes these distinct shapes can be used to identify a specific culture, American Indians shared their designs with one another so other times it is difficult to attribute certain styles to a specific group or tribe.
This pipe, in particular, is an alate pipe.  The word alate means “wings” or a “wing-like structure.”  In the case of this pipe style, alate refers to the stem of the pipe which tapers at the end in a wing-like manner.  The stem is also decorated with incised geometric patterns: three rectangles are located near the bowl with a straight line pattern on the one side of the stem and a triangular one on the other.  According to Martha Otto, this pipe has also been patched at some time.

Alate pipes are found in southern coastal regions and are datable to the Late Woodland period (ca. 500-900 AD).  The provenience of this pipe- or where exactly it was found- is what I find truly fascinating.  Don’t get me wrong, this is a fine example of an alate pipe.  But the site where it was found is amazing!

Google Maps. 2016.

According to the accession information, this pipe is from the Stallings Island Site- a multi-component settlement site on Stallings Island located in the Savannah River near Augusta, Georgia.

A multi-component site means that the location was occupied intermittently throughout history.  Much like how the Romans occupied Rome and now the Italians do.  In the case of Stallings Island, the Archaic people occupied the site around 4,500 years ago and the site has been occupied at various times by various cultures and tribes until the Early Historic period around the 1600s, including during the Late Woodland period (for more information, see the Stevens Creek Hydroelectric Project report).

Stallings Islands most notable (and in my opinion, interesting) occupation was during the Late Archaic period around 4,500 to 3,500 years ago.  This culture created the first and oldest documented pottery in North America!  The pottery is fiber-tempered which means that fiber was added to the clay to keep the clay from cracking during drying and firing.  This invention was so significant that the culture was named after the site- the Stallings Culture.

According to the Archaeological Conservancy,

People at Stallings Island probably lived in round houses made from bent saplings covered with skins or bark and possibly arranged around a circular plaza. They produced the earliest forms of decorated pottery, along with carved bone pins, banner stones, and stemmed projectile points.

The architecture and habitation of the site was more complex than any previous and contemporaneous societies in the region!  Sadly, it didn’t last as the site was abandoned around 3,500 years ago because, according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, of diminished health and environmental degradation.

So even though this pipe is not part of the Stallings Culture, I find it fascinating that the Ohio History Connection curates an artifact from such a renowned and important site in North American archaeology!

Posted May 18, 2016

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