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cover Current Research in New York Archaeology: A.D. 700–1300

edited by Christina B. Rieth and John P. Hart


Joseph E. Diamond and Susan O'Connell Stewart

Abstract. The site of Indian Hill was excavated by SUNY New Paltz under the direction of Leonard Eisenberg in 19761977. Important Late Prehistoric (ca. 15001000 BP) finds include a dentate pottery stamp, associated Middle Woodland (ca. 1300 BP) pottery decorated by the stamp, and other Middle Woodland ceramic vessels. An experimental study has linked the pottery to the stamp, and pointed out the need for similar studies on other sites where "idiosyncratic" notched artifacts and dentate or rocker-stamped ceramics have been found. The ceramics from this site represent one of the few samples of Middle Woodland ceramics from the upper Rondout drainage.

In prehistoric pottery analysis, classification and typology is dependant in large part on surface decoration. Terms used to describe decorative techniques include cord wrapping, rocker stamping, net marking, shell stamping, dentate stamping, incising, and trailing, among others. Tools used in decoration are hypothesized to be manufactured from cordage, fabric, netting, wood, stone, bone, and shell. However, attention is rarely given to the question of the design of lithic pottery tools and their use in the production and decoration of pottery. The discovery of a carved stone pottery stamp in association with decorated pottery presents a rare opportunity to reconsider artifacts in existing collections and in the field that may have in fact been used to produce and decorate ceramics. This chapter will hopefully provide an impetus to refocus efforts to locate and test, using experimental techniques, other artifacts that bear similar attributes.


The Rondout Drainage runs in a slight southwest to northeast direction as the Rondout Creek flows to the Hudson River from its origin near Ellenville, New York, in southern Ulster County. The Creek is bounded on its east by the Shawangunk Ridge, an escarpment of Silurian conglomerate that runs from High Falls, New York, south to northern New Jersey and the Delaware River (Fisher et al. 1970). The well-watered and easily traveled valley at the western edge of this escarpment is a natural and direct corridor from the Delaware River to the Hudson River. To the west of the Rondout is the southeastern edge of the Catskill Mountains. As the Rondout Creek flows northeast, its volume is increased by several small streams that enter at various points along both sides of the creek. The site of Indian Hill (NYSM #6645) overlooks the Rondout Creek and a small ancillary stream.

Indian Hill is a large multi-component pre-Contact site in Wawarsing, New York (Figure 6.1), that was partially excavated by the SUNY New Paltz Archaeological Field School in 1976 and 1977 under the direction of Dr. Leonard A. Eisenberg. The site itself is a relatively flat sand terrace that probably formed as a delta or glacial outwash plain (Tornes 1979:Sheet 101). The soils consist of a 5 cm humic layer overlying a 20-cm-deep yellow sand, which then overlays a 20-cm-deep stratum of red sand. The fourth stratum, a grey sand, was only investigated in two locations as it was found to be sterile. Currently a mixed coniferous-deciduous forest covers the site.

Figure 6.1

Indian Hill excavation, 1976.

The 1976 excavation consisted of 71 two by two meter squares (284 sq m), which, when added to the 1977 season of 29 two by two meter squares (116 sq m), brought the total excavated area to 400 square meters. Excavations in 1976 located eight features and an additional four features were found in 1977. During the 1976 and 1977 seasons, attempts to determine if the site had been plowed in the past were inconclusive. However, based on the lack of a definite plow zone and the fact that there were no artifacts with visible plow scars, the site was most likely cleared and probably used for pasture.

Occupations and visitations to the site span approximately seven thousand years. The earliest occupation at the site is represented by two projectile points from the Eva Phase (Lewis and Lewis 1961:Plates 10 and 11) at ca. 7150 BP, a relatively rare projectile point type in the northeast. This is followed by the Vergennes, Vosburg, Sylvan Lake, River Phase, Snook Kill, and Orient Phases (ca. 5500–2650 BP). There are also a number of untyped convex–based points that are reminiscent of Snyders points (ca. 2450–1450 BP), as well as lobate stemmed points such as Rossville (Ritchie 1971:46). Later occupations are represented by triangular points such as Levanna and Madison types, which are characteristic of the Late Woodland.


Ceramics from the site were somewhat limited. The 1976 excavations produced 825 sherds representing five ceramic vessels from the Middle Woodland period (ca. 1950–950 BP). The 1977 excavations produced 215 similar fragments that were determined to be from the same vessels. Of the 1,040 fragments, 273 were assignable to specific vessel lots, 49 were from either of two pots, and 718 were either too small, or were not cross-mended to determine from which pot or vessel lot they originated. These five vessels constitute part of a very small sample of professionally excavated ceramics for this portion of the Rondout drainage. The entire Rondout drainage, except near Kingston, New York (Eisenberg 1989; Fisher 1982), has not been extensively sampled by professional archaeologists.

The ceramics from Indian Hill were divided by vessel lot based on several criteria that were visible under low power magnification. The attributes used were temper, Munsell color of the fired ceramic, interior and exterior surface enhancement or decoration, manufacturing technique, estimation of vessel shape, thickness and profile of lip, and crossmends. In some instances, low power magnification at 35X was used to evaluate the similarities in decorative treatment and to assign small fragments to specific lots. As mentioned above, many were not assignable, primarily due to similarities in paste, temper, and color.

After the ceramic fragments were separated into vessel lots, a typological approach was utilized to classify the pots into previously defined types. These types, which are commonly used throughout the Northeast, originated in one major publication over 60 years ago (Ritchie and MacNeish 1949). The utility of using these types is based on the fact that the recurring sets of attributes that Ritchie and MacNeish defined appear to cover a wide area from central New York into northern New Jersey (Kinsey 1972; Stewart 1998) and Connecticut (Lavin 1992; Lavin et al. 1993).

Vessel Lot #1
(Welch and O’Connell 1976:Vessel A)
This pot is represented by 57 fragments. It is decorated with vertical cord-wrapped stick impressions with an oblique cord-wrapped stick impression on the lip (Figure 6.2). The exterior surface of the sherds has been malleated with a cord-wrapped paddle. The markings occasionally overlap, and there is no dominant direction of the cord pattern. The interior of the rim is plain, the lip is slightly outflaring, and there is no decoration on the interior. The color is a 5 YR 5/4-5/6 reddish brown to yellowish red. The aplastic consists of fine to medium-sized, round white and pink quartzite pebbles that appear to be from heat-affected Shawangunk Conglomerate. This vessel is typed as Jacks Reef Corded (Ritchie and MacNeish 1949:106–107).  This ceramic has been dated in other portions of New York State to 1428 ±41 B.P. (cal. 2σ range A.D. 543 [641] 668) (Hart et al. 2003) from the Kipp Island site, and 1430 ±40 B.P. (cal. 2σ range A.D. 559 [620] 662) from the Felix site (Hart and Brumbach 2005).

Figure 6.2

Vessel #1. Jacks Reef Corded.

Vessel Lot #2
(Welch and O’Connell 1976:Vessel B)
This pot is represented by 59 fragments (Figure 6.3). It was wiped vertically, then decorated with horizontal cord-cut impressions that almost totally surround the body. The same cord-cut decoration is across the lip, and then extends 2.5 cm down the inside of the rim. The lip does show a scalloped appearance that may be an incipient castellation. In some instances, two sets of cuts form rhomboids on the body. The color is a 5 YR 6/6 reddish yellow. The aplastic consists of fine-to-medium, quartzite-and-shale grit, and the breakage patterns and attributes indicate coiled construction. This vessel is typed as Wickham Corded (Ritchie and MacNeish 1949:104). Wickham Corded is one of the variations found at the Wickham site, which has recently been found to contain deposits ranging from ca. cal. A.D. 200 to A.D. 1200 (Hart and Brumbach 2005: Figure A4). A very similar vessel was reported by Funk (1989: Figure 5, No. 26) from the Ten Mile Rockshelter in Sullivan County, New York.

Figure 6.3

Vessel #2. Wickham Corded.

Vessel Lot #3
(Welch and O’Connell 1976:Vessel E).
This pot is represented by 45 fragments (Figure 6.4). It was wiped smooth, and then decorated with oblique dentate stamp impressions that cover the exterior portion of the body near the lip as well as down the inside of the vessel. These decorations extend down the neck and shoulder of the pot and continue on the body. The oblique dentate decoration also crosses the lip, which is outflaring. The color is a 5 YR 7/3 (pink). The aplastic consists of fine-to-medium feldspar or garnet amphibolite. This vessel is typed as Vinette Dentate (Ritchie and MacNeish 1949: 100–101: see also Stewart 1998:Fig.43). A recent date for Vinette Dentate was 1990±40 B.P. (cal. 2σ range 1863–2009 B.P.) (Thompson et al. 2004).

Figure 6.4

Vessel #3. Vinette Dentate.

Vessel Lot #4
(Welch and O’Connell 1976:Vessel D)
This pot is represented by 6 fragments, all of which are near the rim (Figure 6.5). It was wiped smooth, and then decorated with short linear oblique dentate stamp impressions that cover the exterior portion below the lip/ neck of the vessel. The slightly out-flaring lip has a dentate decoration that crosses the lip obliquely. The color is a 10 YR 7/3 (pale brown). The aplastic consists of fine mica-like flakes, and the existing portion of the rim shows the concave channel typical of coil construction. This vessel is typed as Vinette Dentate (Ritchie and MacNeish 1949: 100–101). An additional 49 fragments with dentate-stamped impressions may belong to either Vessel Lot 3 or 4. For general dating see Vessel Lot 3 (above).

Figure 6.5

Vessel #4. Vinette Dentate.

Vessel Lot #5
(Welch and O’Connell 1976:Vessel C)
This pot is represented by 106 fragments (Figure 6.6 and Figure 6.7). It has small rhomboids with deeper holes at the corners (knots) indicating that it was decorated with a net-wrapped paddle. The slightly out-flaring rim has a cord-wrapped stick decoration proceeding over the top of a scalloped lip for 4–5 cm and then obliquely down the inside of the rim. The color is a 7.5 YR 7/2 (pinkish grey). The aplastic consists of fine quartz pebbles that might have been derived from the nearby Shawangunk Conglomerate. This vessel was constructed using the coil method and it appears to have been shaped like a hornet's nest. It is typed as Ford Net-Marked (Funk 1976: 314).

Figure 6.6

Vessel #5. Ford Net-marked.

Figure 6.7

Vessel #5. Ford Net-marked.

Ford Net-marked is associated with the Fox Creek Phase (ca. 1450–1600 BP) in the Hudson Valley (Funk 1976:314) as well as its extensions into southeast central New York (Funk 1993; Ritchie and Funk 1973: 123–153). It is similar in the lower Hudson Valley to North Beach Net-marked (Kaiser 1963, 1968), and in New Jersey to Abbott Zoned Net Impressed (see Stewart 1998:171–183) and Broadhead Net-marked (Kinsey 1972:455–456). It dates to ca. A.D. 350–500 (Funk 1993:157), and has been dated in Dutchess County to 1450 ±70 B.P. (Beta-53915) at the Brandt’s Farm Rockshelter (Diamond 1995). Hart and Brumbach (2005) report a date of 1600 ±35BP (cal. 2σ A.D. 419–453). This ceramic type is normally associated with Fox Creek Points, although none were found at Indian Hill.

Pottery Stamp

A diamond-shaped pottery stamp composed of slate or greywacke was found in Unit-2/R14. It measures 2.8 cm in width and 2 cm on each side with deeply carved grooves that form teeth around the outside of the stamp (Figure 6.8). It also has a linear oblique cut on both its dorsal and ventral surfaces indicating that the tool was probably hafted and used to produce dentate-stamped decoration. It may have been tied to a string and used or worn as a pendant. In an experiment, the dentate stamping tool was used to impress a square, wet clay slab of untempered potters clay, which was later fired. The firing was undertaken in the SUNY New Paltz ceramics department in a modern gas-fired oven. The impressions formed by the stamp vary in spacing, size, depth, and form. This is due to the variation in individual serrations on each of the four sides of the stamp, each of which produces a unique row of dentate decoration. The dentate impressions produced were found to be identical to the patterns found on Vessels 3 and 4.

Figure 6.8

Pottery stamp on left. Clay slab on right.

One of the larger samples of Middle Woodland ceramic production in the published literature is from the Winooski site in Vermont (Petersen 1980). Here, decorative techniques similar to those found at Indian Hill suggest that similar tools were used throughout the Northeast for pottery decoration. “Although no decorative tools have been recovered at the Winooski site, such tools were presumably manufactured from wood, stone, or bone. Individual potters seem to have produced idiosyncratic examples” (Petersen 1980:19–24.).

Polished stone items with similar grooves and notches in many collections have been identified as “pendants" and similar dentate and rocker stamped motifs are thought to have been made with “notched end bone tubes” or “bone tubes and/or small square-barbed harpoons” (Ritchie and MacNeish 1949:100). In Moorehead (1917:16) he refers to “peculiar and problematical forms” and notes that there are hundreds of pendants labeled “ceremonial” whose function is unknown. Many plates in Moorehead’s work feature pendants that have serrated and/or notched edges.

For examples closer to Indian Hill, a perusal of the literature, particularly that of the Delaware Valley to the south would suggest that many similar artifacts have been found, but not explicitly linked to pottery decoration. At the Zimmerman site (Werner 1972:Figure 33, #25) and Camp Ministerium site (Kinsey1972:Figure 97, F) there are two similar objects composed of siltstone, and an unidentified lithic respectively. In each case, dentate or rocker-stamped pottery was found at the site. Additionally, Kinsey’s illustrated examples of Owasco artifacts show an object similar to the Indian Hill pottery stamp, but it is labeled a “possible awl sharpener or pendant” (Kinsey 1961:Figure 113, I). Further afield in central New York, Beauchamp illustrated one example (1898:Figure 239) that is particularly noteworthy, since it is made of ceramic. This is a circular artifact similar to the Indian Hill tool, even down to the lines across its surface. As Beauchamp notes “its use is conjectural …” (1898:139).

It may be reasonable to assume that many so-called pendants and gorgets that are illustrated in the archaeological literature may in actuality be tools used in the making and decorating of pottery (see Peabody and Moorehead 1906: Plate XVII, XVIII). Peabody and Moorehead (1917) state that “like many other specimens in the so-called ‘ceremonial’ class, gorgets are of unknown use and application.”  In his 1977 paper on stone gorget function, Curren (1977:97–101) compares prehistoric stone gorgets with contemporary wooden ceramic tools, noting the “striking similarity” in shape and possible function. He states that “the contemporary tools are used in a variety of manners to obtain different effects in clay” noting that the notched and serrated edges of these contemporary tools are used to make various designs on the vessels. In presenting working ceramists with specimens and photographs of stone gorgets, in all cases the contemporary artists suggested use as a ceramic tool.


The five ceramic vessels from the Indian Hill site provide data to fill in the gap in our knowledge of pottery decoration and technology between the Hudson and Delaware Valleys. The data indicate a similarity of form and design that connects the two valleys and extends, at least in some cases, into central New York.

The association of Middle Woodland pottery with the stone tool used for decoration is a rare occurrence in the archaeological record. In light of the correspondence between the stone tool and dentate designs found on Indian Hill pottery, we suggest that existing collections of polished stone tools, including idiosyncratic and “ornamental” items, reworked points with similar notches, and those notched items previously classified as gorgets, be re-evaluated with a view toward possible function as pottery making or decorating tools.

Although in his comment on Curren’s (1977) article, Starna (1979) argues that one must be cautious in equating form and function, the discovery of the stone tool at Indian Hill, which, in experiments replicated the exact design found in associated pottery, calls for a reconsideration of Curren’s ideas. We suggest an experimental approach, where pendants and artifacts with dentate characteristics are impressed into clay, and then compared (under magnification) with archaeologically retrieved examples of pottery from the same site, or sites from the same time period nearby. Comparisons need to take into account differences in the quality of clay, the effect that temper has on the impression, the depth of the impression, and the fact that such tools can be used for vertical stamping or rocked to form a modification of the design.    

An extension of this study, with a larger sample of well provenienced pottery from a broader area, should make it possible to define an individual potter (or her descendants using the dentate stamp) in the archaeological record. From here, it may be possible to outline the geographical boundaries of a specific individual or her family to determine seasonality and mobility patterns.


The authors wish to thank John Hart and Christina Rieth of the New York State Museum for their editorial comments on this paper. A very special thanks is reserved for the late Len Eisenberg, our Professor at SUNY New Paltz during the 1976 Field School at Indian Hill. We would also like to thank three anonymous reviewers who have assisted us with clarity and a reformulation of our original paper. Any errors are, of course, our own.



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