Woodland Plain

from David Andersons type descriptions


The type subsumes all plain finished ceramics with fine paste manufactured during the Woodland period (c. 1000BC to AD 900 ) in the southeastern Atlantic Coastal Plain in the general vicinity of South Carolina. Previously described Woodland period types, such as Refuge Plain, Deptford Plain, or New River Plain, should be considered varieties. The sand inclusions are distinct from the larger crushed quartz fragments characterizing the Yadkin and Onslow series wares (Coe 1952, 1964; Loftfield 1976) or the pebble tempering reported from series such as Cashie in northern coastal North Carolina. Related plainware types from the Georgia and South Carolina Piedmont Cartersville Plain) are excluded from the present discussion; separate varieties (under the type Woodland Plain) may eventually be needed to effectively classify these wares.

The development of an effective taxonomy for sorting local plainwares is still in its infancy, and delimiting useful types and varieties will prove a major challenge to area researchers. The need for refinement is evident, however; sorting local assemblages on the basis of published plainware descriptions has almost invariably (it is argued here) produced classifications that are either ambiguous or overly general. These problems have, of course, been recognized by local archeologists, who have typically chosen one of three (alternative) solutions: (1) use the established types as best as possible, often with a disclaimer about potential ambiguities (Wauchope 1966: 52; Waring 1968c; Trinkley 1980a, 1981la); (2) lump the existing types into a single, inclusive type (DePratter 1979); or (3) use no type names, but instead provide detailed descriptions of the materials (Anderson et al. 1979). None of these solutions is very satisfactory, however, and only through fine-grained, comparative analyses will a more effective terminology emerge.

Plainwares account for an appreciable proportion of the ceramics recovered from archeological sites in the vicinity of the South Carolina Coastal Plain, rendering effective classification a matter of some importance. At Mattassee Lake, for example, Thom's Creek, Woodland, and Mississippian plainwares made up over forty percent of the total diagnostic assemblage (n=4728, 40.5%; Table 5 1). An analysis of surface collections from 313 sites in coastal South Carolina noted sand tempered plain sherds on 250 sites, and the category accounted for almost a third of all ceramics observed (n=5928, 29.3 %; Anderson 1875b). Comparable figures have been reported from other excavation and survey reports in the region.

Three major fine tempered Woodland period plainwares are currently in use in the Georgia to North Carolina Atlantic Coastal Plain, the Refuge, Deptford, and New River types. The first sand tempered plain pottery type described in the general South Carolina area was Deptford Plain, which was mentioned in Caldwell and McCann's (n.d.) unpublished report on the Deptford site, written about 1940. Use of the type has appeared in a number of manuscripts and papers since that time (Caldwell 1952: 315; Wauchope 1966: 52; Waring 1968a:175; Williams and Milanich 1971: 164; Trinkley 1981a: 50) although it has never been fully described.

The second sand tempered plain type, Refuge Plain, was reported by Waring(1968c: 200) based on his 1947 excavations at the Refuge site near Savannah (see Background discussion for Refuge Dentate Stamped). Descriptive information on the Refuge series did not reach print until the late 19600s, with the posthumous release of the Waring Papers (Williams, ed. 1968) although Waring had discussed the general nature and significance of the series with his colleagues, most notably in a 1955 SEAC paper on the cultural sequence at the mouth of the Savannah River (Waring 1968c). No formal or even detailed description of Refuge Plain was provided, however, and the distinctive attributes of the type had to be inferred from his general descriptions of the Refuge series (Waring 1968c: 200). Sorting Refuge from Deptford plain thus proved difficult, something that prompted DePratter (1979) to combine them under a single, Refuge category. In DePratter's formulation, Refuge Plain subsumes both the earlier Refuge Plain and Deptford Plain types (much as his Refuge Simple Stamped type subsumes previous Refuge and Deptford simple stamped types). Taxonomically, DePratter's approach is sound since the wares clearly intergrade and hence do not meet the primary criteria for the establishment of types, notably sortabilitv, or discreteness Ford and Griffin 1939; Phillips 1970).

The third major Woodland period sand tempered plainware currently in use in the region, New River Plain, was formally described by Loftfield (1976: l52-153), based (in part) on a sample of 46 sherds from 19 sites in Craven and Onslow Counties, North Carolina (data from 1976: 175 182). Closely resembling South's (1960) sand tempered plain type from the southeastern North Carolina coast; the ware appears to be fairly early, and is probably contemporaneous with the Refuge or Deptford types to the south Loft field 1976: 195 196; 198 1).

The three Woodland period plainwares described here-Refuge, Deptford, and New River-are quite similar and, from their descriptions, clearly intergrade. Use of variety classification, rather than three separate type names, therefore, would be clearly appropriate, under a single type, Woodland Plain. The material is designated Woodland Plain, to avoid the temporally limiting connotations of the three type names now in use. Sand tempered plainwares occur over a long time range in the region (1 100 BC to AD 500 in the mouth-of-the-Savannah sequence; DePratter 1979: 111 –112) and use of Refuge or even Deptford terminology to cover materials over this entire span and region appears inappropriate. While in this guide Thom's Creek Plain was retained as a separate type, this may eventually prove untenable if considerable intergradation can be documented.

Woodland Plain differs from Thom's Creek Plain in several respects. Although macroscopic quartz inclusions were almost ubiquitous in Woodland Plain sherds, the surfaces arealso commonly well-smoothed and in some cases almost "soapy" in texture. Thom's Creek pottery, in contrast, typically has sandy or gritty surfaces. Thom's Creek Plain rims are typically straight or incurvate, and only rarely excurvate. In contrast, Woodland Plain rims are characterized by excurvate or straight forms, with an incurvate profile less common.

Both shallow hemispherical bowls and larger flaring jars arerepresented at Mattassee Lake; incurvate rims appear to occur on the smaller bowl forms. The Mattassee Lake Woodland Plain assemblage is generally similar to DePratter's (1979: 122) Refuge Plain type, although it differs in at least three respects: (1) it lacks tetrapods, (2) it has (occasional) incurving rim forms and, (3) its surfaces are somewhat better smoothed. This latter point is of interest, since little evidence was noted at Mattassee Lake for "interiors and exteriors coarse and friable due to sand content" (DePratter 1979: 122). While the Thom's Creek Plain assemblage at Mattassee Lake is slightly sandy in texture, the Woodland Plain wares are (usually) quite smooth in comparison. Close similarities are apparent with South's (1960) "sand tempered plain" assemblage from southeastern coastal North Carolina, and Loftfield's (1976) New River Plain type from central coastal North Carolina; the described variability in wares can be readily subsumed within the Mattassee Lake Woodland Plain assemblage. The Mattassee Lake assemblage also resembles the plain wares recovered at the Cal Smoak site on the central Edisto River (Anderson et 1979: 151-152). Well smoothed, otherwise nondescript "sand tempered" plain wares are extremely common in the coastal South Carolina area; the data from the Mattassee Lake sites, although limited, suggests thatdelimiting variability in rim and lip treatment offers the best hope for temporarily subdividing the ware.

Sorting Criteria

Plain surface finish. Paste characterized by varying amounts of small (0.5-2.0 mm) rounded clear, white, or rose quartz inclusions. Both the interior1 finishes are typically well smoothed or "soapy" and only occasionally sandy or gritty in texture. Rims typically straight to excurvate, incurvate less common. May be confused with Thom's Creek Plain, with which it tends to intergrade.


Found throughout the Coastal Plain and fall line areas from eastern Georgia to south central North Carolina. In western South Carolina and eastern Georgia, the ware is sometimes reported under the types Deptford Plain or Refuge Plain (eg Waring 1968c; DePratter 1979); in south central North Carolina the ware is some times described as New River Plain (Loftfield 1976).

Chronological Position

Woodland (1000 BC -AD 900). A range from 1150 BC to AD 500 for Refuge Plain (which includes Thom's Creek Plain and Woodland Plain as defined here) has been reported from the north Georgia coast Depratter 1979: 111-112). Loftfield's (1976) New River series, which includes a sand tempered plain ware, is reported as "the earliest ceramics on the North Carolina coast that appear in any number"; contemporaneity with Creek and Deptford ceramics is inferred Loftfield Phelps 1). At Cal Smoak, along the Edisto River, Woodland plain wares are reported in "an Early-to-Middle Woodland context, coeval with or slightly post dating the Deptford material" (Anderson et al. At Mattassee Lake, Woodland Plain is stratigraphically fairly early, coeval with the Refuge, Wilmington/Hanover Fabric Impressed, and Deptford Linear Check Stamped material.


Anderson et al. 1979, 1982 (Woodland Plain); Caldwell and McCannnd (Deptford type); Griffin 1945: 473-474; Caldwell 1952, 1971; South 1960; Waring l968a, l968b, (Refuge, Deptford Plain types); Stoltman 1974 (sand tempered plain), Anderson (1975b (sand tempered plain); Trinkley 1980a, 1981 a, 1981b, 1981c (Refuge, Deptford Plain types); Depratter (1979: 122; Refuge Plain).