An Analysis of the Aboriginal Ceramics from the Washington Square Mound Site, Nacogdoches County, Texas

TitleAn Analysis of the Aboriginal Ceramics from the Washington Square Mound Site, Nacogdoches County, Texas
Publication TypeBook
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsHart, JP
Series Title Stephen F. Austin State University Center for Regional Heritage Research, James E. Corbin Papers in Archaeology
Series VolumeVol. 1
PublisherStephen F. Austin State University Press
CityNacogdoches, Texas
KeywordsCaddo Indians, Ceramics, Texas

This book is the thesis I wrote as part of my master’s degree program in geosciences at Northeast Louisiana University (NLU, now the University of Louisiana at Monroe) from which I graduated in May of 1982. My thesis committee consisted of Drs. Glen S. Greene, James E. Corbin, and Mervin Kontrovitz. By the fall of 1981 I had participated in three Stephen F. Austin State University (SFASU) Archaeological Field School seasons directed by Dr. Corbin at the Washington Square Mound Site in Nacogdoches, Texas—in 1979 as an SFASU undergraduate student and in 1980 and 1981 as Corbin’s teaching assistant. In 1979 and 1981 the field school included the excavation of burials, features 32 and 95, located within the Reavely-House Mound. I participated in the excavation of both, assisting with the shallow burial, feature 32 excavations in 1979, and with Corbin, excavated the deep shaft burial, feature 95, in 1981. These excavations took place prior to the enactment of the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and before the growth in appreciation by archaeologists of Native Americans’ sensitivities to disinterment of their ancestors’ remains. Included in the grave furniture of the two burials were 15 and 32 complete pottery vessels, respectively. Among the latter were bottles with engraved snake and sun-like designs that captured my imagination and persist there to this day. The 47 whole vessels from burial contexts, two other vessels, and over 6,000 sherds from non-burial contexts comprised the artifact assemblage I analyzed for my thesis. In the thesis I described three new tentative pottery types based primarily on the vessels recovered from the burials. I also provided summary statistics on the sherd collection and attempted to delineate temporal changes in the pottery at the site and place the Washington Square pottery within broader trends in Caddo pottery decoration.

This thesis was the first publication on Washington Square. In 1998 Corbin and I published an article in the Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society that summarized excavations by the SFASU field school from 1979 through 1982 and the Texas Archaeological Annual Field School in 1985. By that time, Corbin had done research that expanded our knowledge about the site and impacts to it during the development of the City of Nacogdoches. In 2009 Perttula published an analysis of artifacts recovered from the site during the 1985 Texas Archaeological Society Field School in the Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society. In 2010, Perttula and colleagues published their documentation of the grave goods from Washington Square done as part of SFASU’s compliance with the NAGPRA. In that volume, published by SFASU Press, Perttula et al. provided detailed descriptions and color photographs of each pottery vessel and other items recovered from the graves including shell beads, shell pendent fragments, and a lithic cache. Selden’s 2010 master’s thesis provided a GIS-based analysis of Washington Square, which was summarized in a 2011 Caddo Archeology Journal article. Also in 2010 Pertulla and I published an article in the Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology that identified a Southeast Ceremonial Complex style zone in Northeast Texas based largely on Washington Square and the pottery vessels from Feature 95.

What this thesis represents is a reflection of my training and thinking to that time. Those who know my body of work over the intervening 30-plus years may be surprised that I contextualized the thesis within a standard culture historic framework and that a large part of it is devoted to the formal description of new tentative pottery types. Much of my work over the past two decades has sought to highlight how such constructs are detrimental to explorations of the past. At this early stage of my career, however, I believed that the description of new types was the best way to communicate the uniqueness of the Washington Square pottery. Also at that time I was beginning to explore anthropological and archaeological theory and was quite taken by Marvin Harris’ (1979) book Cultural Materialism: The Struggle for a Science of Culture. I attempted to integrate some of Harris’s concepts with those of Krieger (1944) and Rouse (1960) on types and modes, respectively, to which Corbin had introduced me. Whether I succeeded or not is open to debate, but what strikes me is that even at this early stage in my career I was concerned with variation in artifact form and its implications for understanding past human behaviors.

What I remember most about the research and writing process is the firm yet gentle guiding hand of Jim Corbin. He was always willing to sit and discuss issues that were puzzling me, and I always walked away from those discussions with a better understanding of the issues at hand. I also remember how gracious Jim was in allowing me to transport from SFASU portions of the pottery collection at any given time to work on at NLU. Jim and I always planned to write a comprehensive publication on the Washington Square pottery, incorporating my work with analyses of collections made during later excavations. Various factors prevented us from doing so, and our plans to collaborate on such a publication ended with Jim’s untimely death in 2004. My own responsibilities at the New York State Museum have prevented me from pursuing our goal alone. What this volume does, then, is make available to a wider audience information on the pottery collection unearthed during the first three field seasons at the site. Washington Square is a critical site within the southwestern distribution of the pre-Contact Caddo sites and their distinctive material culture. Symbols on the fine-ware pottery vessels excavated from the two burials are key to understanding how fourteenth century A.D. Caddo people in Northeast Texas participated in broader Southeastern socio-religious traditions while maintaining their own distinctive identities (Hart and Perttula 2010). This thesis constituted a first step toward that understanding.

I am grateful to Dr. Jerry Williams for suggesting and making possible the publication of this volume through SFASU Press. I am also grateful to Dr. Tim Perttula for sparking a renewed interest in me for Washington Square specifically and Caddo archaeology generally. Finally, I am forever in debt to Dr. Jim Corbin, who set me on the path to a lifetime of archaeological research.