The Virginia Foundation for Archaeological Research, Inc. The Virginia Foundation for Archaeological Research, Inc.
The Virginia Foundation for Archaeological Research, Inc.
Prince George County, Virginia, Research

Note: this article was published in The Chesopiean* in 1983 and is presented here for those who do not have access to that periodical.
The photographs below were not published then.

Zoned Pottery from the Hatch Site
[Weyanoke Old Town] (44PG51) in Prince George County, Virginia

by L. B. Gregory
5 April 1983

Over the past three years an unusual type of aboriginal pottery, referred to here as "zoned pottery," has been recorded at the Hatch Site. The term "zoned" is used to describe the surface treatment of incised decoration found on the exterior of this particular pottery type. Usually the zones are clearly defined areas of extremely fine incising, which include several motifs to complete various patterns. These incised patterns are enhanced by open areas of undecorated surface.

This pottery has been found in a relatively small area of the site. Less than a hundred sherds have been recovered and are available for study at this time. Obviously, at a site which has produced hundreds of thousands of sherds, this is a minority type.

We have not been able to locate pottery of this type from any other site in Virginia. At present we know of only one other site where this type of zoned pottery occurs, the Abbotts Farm site in New Jersey. We have not yet had the opportunity to physically compare sherds from the two collections, but we hope to do so in the near future.

Being aware that the "let's give the pottery a name" game has been overdone, we are simply describing and reporting on the existence of this type of pottery at the Hatch Site, and we are requesting information from anyone who has seen or found a similar type of aboriginal ceramic from any other site.

Following is a description of the sherds recovered thus far from the Hatch Site and drawings of their incised surfaces and rim sherd profiles.

Surface Treatment

Preliminary surface treatment of sherd exteriors is smooth and unimpressed. Most sherds show some degree of burnishing, quite similar to the surface of Colono Ware. Preliminary surface treatment of sherd interiors appears to have been done by smoothing with the fingers; no scraping is visible.

Decorative surface treatment usually consists of fine line incising in zones with burnished open areas between design motifs. Although most burnishing appears to have been done prior to incising, there are indications that secondary burnishing was done on some sherds to cover errors in incising. Generally the incising appears to have been done with reasonable care and skill, however, there are several instances of lines running over the borders. One noticeable feature of these designs is the unusual straightness and even depth of most of the lines, almost as if a straight edge had been used to lay out the pattern outline.

Several patterns and motifs are employed in the surface designs. The predominant design element found on this pottery, as with most Woodland pottery, is the "V" or chevron. On the zoned pottery it is usually in miniature form, often with tiny Vees placed close together in rows that give the impression of a herringbone design. (See Figures G and J.) Frequently Vees are placed so that they form diamonds of various sizes. Sometimes fine checquered incising is combined with the diamond motif, like the checquering found on gun stocks, with each checquer a tiny diamond rather than a square.

In all of our examples double border lines are employed to enclose patterned areas. Possibly these double borders were employed for the same reason that they are used on hand-checquered gun stocks, to conceal or disguise checquer lines that run over their borders. On some Hatch Site sherds double lines are placed so that they form diamonds larger than those in the checquered areas. (See Figure E.)

Banding, in widths from one half inch to one inch, is another major design component found on many sherds. Most of these decorated bands appear to encircle the vessel near the rim, but some appear farther down on the vessel, below other components of the pattern. Most are bordered with two incised lines. Figure A, a rim sherd, shows a decoration unique to this pottery type. Bands parallel to the rim are divided into squares about one and one half inches wide, which are alternately smooth and filled with incised parallel lines perpendicular to the rim. These bands are bordered with double incised lines filled with incised perpendicular lines. (See Figure A.) Other minor design variations may be seen on the sherds in the accompanying drawings.

Rim Treatment

All rim sherds found to date (five) have a flattened top, angled slightly down on the interior, giving the appearance of slight beveling. Pressure applied to flatten the rim was apparently great enough to cause the clay to bulge out on the interior of the vessel, making the rim thicker than the main body of the vessel. (See profile drawings A1 though D1.)

Vessel Shapes

Due to the limited number of sherds available for study, it is not possible to make a positive statement concerning variations in size and shape of the vessels represented by the sample. It does appear that many sherds are from a bowl shaped vessel rather than a pot or jar. The only reasonably accurate measurement that we have is from an assembly of six sherds, and it indicates a vessel of approximately nine inches in diameter with a projected depth of five inches. All sherds have an arc almost identical to this assembly. In fact, any other sherd placed inside the are formed by these six sherds shows little or no clearance at any point.

Manufacturing Technique

The clay used in making this pottery appears to have been of reasonably good quality, fairly well kneaded before use, and relatively free of sand, grit, or other foreign materials. Moderately coarse, crushed shell, probably from fresh water mussels, was added to the clay. The amount of added shell was small, estimated to be less than five percent of the total clay-shell mixture. All shell on the surface of these sherds has leached out, leaving only the leaching cavities. Shell is found only in the cores of sherds, and it is visible only at fresh breaks.

There is no visible indication of the "coil" manufacturing technique on any sherd examined. All evidence points to either free form shaping or possibly "fillet" manufacture, using strips of flattened clay. Probably small lumps of clay were flattened into plates and welded to each other to form the desired size and then molded into the intended shape. Sherds are invariably broken in irregular shapes with ragged edges. Even the weld fractures appear to be at odd angles, usually quite wide and irregular in shape, unlike weld fractures found on coil manufactured pottery.

All sherds appear to be of about the same medium hardness, well fired in a moderate to low oxygen atmosphere. Little variance has been noted in sherd thickness, with most sherds ranging from three sixteenths to about three eighths of an inch thick.

At present there is no indication of vessels having been encased or enclosed in a wrapping or container during their manufacture, as was true of much of the later Woodland pottery. Neither is there evidence that they were not.

If there were initial surface impressions from fabric, net, cord, or other materials, they were subsequently obliterated completely, so that no traces remain on the sherds.

Sherd Coloration

The predominant coloration range is gray-tan to buff. Some sherds show a carbonized black color at the core, which may or may not be the result of reburning in a camp or cooking fire. No sherd has been found in the orange, rust, brown, or red range of the spectrum.

Preliminary Conclusions

Obviously there are many questions about this pottery type that cannot be answered at this time. Perhaps further excavation and comparisons with material from other sites will clarify the mystery surrounding the occurrence of zoned pottery at the Hatch Site.

When these sherds were first noted at the Hatch Site it was believed that they belonged to one of the last phases at the site, perhaps even the late phase of the Weyanoke Indians. But it soon became evident that they are from a much earlier culture. All sherds found in situ were either at, or just above, the leach zone between the visible and non-visible stratigraphy. This is the same level that has produced pottery with sand and pebble inclusions, an occasional flat-bottomed sherd, and sherds with lugs. Eared projectile points similar to Potts points and points like those called "Piscataway" are found at this level.

While no final pottery analysis has been done yet, preliminary field observation seems to indicate that this is the only type of incised pottery that occurs on the Hatch Site at this depth. Certainly no other pottery from this depth shows the sophistication of decorative design that the zoned pottery exhibits. In fact, the makers of this ceramic type showed an artistic ability and skill of workmanship that is superior to any indicated by later pottery from the Hatch Site thus far. The uniformity and beauty of this pottery type suggests a well developed ceramic industry at a time when other potters were producing relatively crude and less artistic utilitarian wares.

Thus far there is no evidence of evolution into the zoned pottery type at the Hatch Site. It appears there fully developed in workmanship and artistic form. Much cruder forms of incised pottery, made by less sophisticated potting techniques, occur above the level at which the zoned pottery is found, but apparently not at or below it.

Who were these potters? Where did they come form? And where did they go when they left the Hatch Site? Why is there such meagre evidence of their presence in Virginia? These are the questions to which we must address ourselves.

Obviously, there was not a large population making this type of pottery at the Hatch Site. But I do not believe these sherds are the work of a single potter. There is too much pattern variation among them for that to be the case. In addition, the sherds were distributed over an area measuring approximately sixty feet by two hundred feet. This is an area too large to encompass the work of one potter.

From the evidence apparent by field observation and some preliminary lab research, I have formed several conclusions. Because of the stratigraphic origin of the sherds, I conclude that this pottery is associated with either the latter part of the Early Woodland period or the early part of the Middle Woodland period.

Due to the advanced manufacturing techniques, the sophisticated decorative motifs displayed, the absence of similar sherds from other Virginia sites, and the limited quantity found at the Hatch Site, I conclude that this pottery was not made by the permanent inhabitants of this area, but was manufactured by an immigrant group from quite a distance away. Based upon the limited quantity of zoned pottery found and the small area of its distribution on the site, it is evident that their stay at the Hatch Site was of limited duration.

There are two possible explanations for the disappearance of this pottery type from the Hatch Site and the lack of it at nearby sites. Either the potters left the area and traveled far away before they settled again, or they became extinct after a short stay at the Hatch Site. I favor the first explanation at this point.

Please keep in mind that this paper was not written so much to give answers as to pose questions, and to bring to the attention of the archaeological community the existence of this pottery type and its possible early date of manufacture at the Hatch Site. We hope that others will use this information to identify this pottery type on other sites and will let us know of its existence. We also request that anyone who already knows of the occurrence of this pottery type at any site will pass this information on to us.

Click on a photograph for a larger image in a pop-up window. You might have to enable pop-ups on your browser.

*Note: The Chesopiean A Journal of North American Archaeology, Vol. 21, No. 4, October-December 1983.

The Virginia Foundation for Archaeological Research, Inc.
Pages updated 7 December 2018. © Virginia Foundation for Archaeological Research, Inc.
Donations to the Foundation are tax-deductible.
Your support is important to our effort to preserve and disseminate information about the history and prehistory of Virginia.

Webmaster, Eve Gregory