Articles

A Square Stem Collared Pipe

The natives in late prehistoric and early historic North America made and used many kinds of instruments for smoking diverse types of plant material, including hallucinogenic botanicals.  Some groups and some villages seem to have produced larger quantities and more complex varieties of pipes than others with the current thoughts being that these particular bands of aborigines were more spiritual and ritualistically inclined.  It is difficult to separate the pious and pompous existences that were so closely intertwined in the daily lives of these endemic ancient cultures, so today we generally just call them religious/ceremonial societies.  We do know, according to the reports from seventeenth century European visitors, that these indigenous people did indeed use and smoke native tobacco as well as many other medicinal/herbal/addictive and mind-altering plants such as salvia, passionflower, morning glory and, of course,  flowers and leaves of the hemp plant, or as we normally call it today cannabis or  marijuana.  In the area that is now North Carolina, a venerable settlement of these ethnic folk did make many smoking implements in order to inhale the vaporous fumes from almost countless plants – smoking implements such as this unusual square stem collared pipe.

In modern Stokes County, NC, near where Town Fork Creek flows into the Dan River, prehistoric aboriginals began residing around AD 1300-1400.  They appear to have moved onto and away from the village site numerous times until another group settled on part of the land in the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century.  These later inhabitants seem to have come from Southwestern Virginia and were possibly of the South Appalachian Mississippian group who we now call the Dallas Culture.  These Amerinds lived in this NC village, which is named Upper Sauratown, from around AD 1600 to about AD 1700 at which time they packed up and moved further south, ostensibly to escape the ever increasing hoards of Europeans moving into their territorial lands.   They were apparently a highly religious sect who made many artistic creations used in their daily prescribed devotions to their immortal beings.  Based on the quantity of pipes recovered from this site, they made and regularly used smoking implements in the faithful worship of their deities.  Most of these Indian-made pipes were of sand or crush quartz tempered ceramics or locally mined steatite and were of the simple elbow type with plain round stems and bowls.  But some were more complex in zoomorphic/anthropomorphic shapes or more unusual elbow profiles such as the pipe pictured with this article.   It technically would be called an obtuse angle elbow pipe which is the most common form of late prehistoric to early historic clay pipes that were made in the Piedmont.  But it is also very uncommon in that there is a raised collar or flange at the juncture of the stem and the bowl and the stem, itself, is in a square shape rather than the normal round profile.  These two oddities, combined in one smoking contrivance, should be considered extremely unique in late Prehistoric to early Historic Period pipes in the region.  This artifact is 3 ¼ inches long while the bowl is slightly less than one inch in diameter and it is made of well-burnished tan ceramics that is tempered with very finely crushed quartz.  It was found in the 1960’s at the Upper Sauratown site which is near the old Major Winston plantation adjacent to the Dan River.   The Reverend Douglas Rights, in his 1947 book, THE AMERICAN INDIAN IN NORTH CAROLINA, pictured a small ceramic pipe (one of his reputed 45,000 artifacts), with a collar near the bowl opening – but not at the stem and bowl intersection.  It was found at the Steelman Plantation site in Yadkin County, NC and Rights documented this pipe as T-6 in his artifacts register but neither the book photo nor his drawing in the records log show it having a square stem which makes it different from the Sauratown pipe.  Based on the place where found and the early documentation number, Reverend Rights possibly found the pipe shortly after the Great Flood of 1916 while he was home on leave from the US Army during World War I.  Also, any artifact from the Steelman site would probably have been made and used many hundreds of years before the Dan River village came into existence, so it could be safely ascertained that this earlier collared/flanged example probably did not act as the model for the later Sauratown pipe.  From where the pipe artisan came up with his inspiration for the Saura Indian square stem pipe, most likely, will always remain a mystery.

This is a beautiful, and maybe one-of-a-kind, ceramic pipe produced during the early Historic Period in north-central North Carolina.  As the evil and unstoppable viruses, brought in by the Europeans, began to wreak havoc on the lives of the natives in the region some three to four hundred years ago, these Saura Indians were forced to flee the death and destruction that they could not control or probably even comprehend.  They moved on, as a much disease reduced population of living Indians, and they never again reached the zenith of liturgical art as was seen while they lived at Upper Sauratown.  But they did make, while dwelling at the Dan River village complex, many beautiful ceremonial art objects, among which would certainly be this simple but exceptionally rare square stem collared pipe.

 

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