Articles

A NORTH CAROLINA LAMAR BOWL

Around 1830, a man by the name of John B. Lamar, who was of French Huguenot ancestry, acquired some land in south central Georgia that bordered the Ocmulgee River and that had previously been the home of South Appalachian Mississippian Indians who had built several earthen mounds near the river.  John was fatally wounded while fighting for the Confederacy in 1862 and his lands were inherited by relatives.  It is doubtful that John Lamar knew or understood the importance of these large ceremonial piles of earth but we certainly do today.  One of the man-made hills was later named Lamar Mound in his honor and one of the most important late prehistoric southeastern pottery styles was named for the mound and the man – Lamar.

The territory encompassed by Lamar pottery extends from northern Florida into Georgia, South Carolina, eastern Tennessee and Alabama and western and southern North Carolina.  The time period recognized for this ceramic horizon is AD 1350 to AD 1600 and it is certain that the Spaniard Hernando de Soto and his army would have met some of these natives during their foray in the region during the AD 1539 to 1540 period.  This vast territory was made up of many small agricultural chiefdoms and loosely controlled by one or two overall kingdom rulers according to early European accounts.  Most of the natives lived in villages near rivers and streams and by AD 1500 there would have been a village every few miles on the alluvial plains of the water systems.  There they would have cultivated extensive fields of corn, squash and beans but they also continued to hunt for deer and other small game and fished the area streams and lakes. 

The pottery motif that is called Lamar encompasses several variations, depending on location.  In some areas, the pottery was grit, sand or crushed quartz tempered while in other regions the ceramics had pulverized mussel shell tempering medium.  Today the various sub-styles are known by site names where found, such as Little Egypt, Estatoe, Mulberry, Irene, Mouse Creek, Pee Dee, Town Creek, Pisgah, Burke and Cowens Ford but they all had one commonality – the exterior surface decoration.  In the early years of this pottery phenomenon, the outside walls of the vessels were complicated stamped with a wooden paddle carved with motifs such as scrolls, circles and filfots. The vessel shapes were mostly bowls and jars with thin walls and some were quite large and probably used for food storage. As the years passed, the pottery decoration changed but the types of the vessels basically remained the same – bowls and jars.  The ornamentation, though, was altered to incised motifs rather than being stamped and included curvilinear scrolls, rectilinear elements, concentric circles and figure eight motifs.  Originally, around AD 1450, these decorations constituted three incised furrows and later, during the height of the Lamar Culture, as many as twenty swirling lines flowed around the body of the vessels near the rims.  Around AD 1400-1450 the natives began cultivating more common beans (i.e. pintos, navy, kidney, black) and the pottery was altered to have thicker walls on the plain or undecorated vessels and these had smooth burnished interior walls probably to reduce porosity or leakage of the vessels. This would have been because these beans needed more lengthy cooking times to increase gelatinization and to make the legume protein more readily available.  The wall thickness of the decorated pottery, though, remained relatively thin meaning that these vessels were probably used for serving and eating rather than being cooking pots.  The heart area of the Lamar Culture seems to have been in modern Georgia with the earliest and the most Lamar vessels being found in the central part of the state.  The areas furthest away are deemed to be later in time and with fewer of these unique vessels being made.  And almost as quickly as it started, the Lamar pottery decoration vanished around AD 1600 and this was most likely due to the various illnesses brought to the region by the Spanish invaders.

In North Carolina, the Lamar Culture was predominately found along the lower Pee Dee and the Catawba Rivers in the Piedmont and also westerly in the southern Appalachians.  These would have been mostly fine sand tempered ceramics with smooth exterior surfaces. To the north and east of this area, few remains of this cultural phase can be found but it does occasionally exist.  The vessel pictured with this article was found along the Yadkin River near where it is crossed by Highway 421 in Yadkin County.  It is five and five-eighths inches tall by ten inches in diameter and is in a carinated bowl form.  The paste is sand tempered and the vessel walls are thin and dark grey in color.  There are five incised lines just below the flared bowl rim with eight semi-circular scrolls placed evenly around the circumference and the rim has small stick punctuations encircling the entire vessel.  This bowl will probably date to the AD 1500 to 1600 time period and would be considered unusual for one reason - it is classic Lamar Incised in an area where there should not be any pottery of that motif since it is too far north and east of the traditionally accepted regions for the culture.  Was it made by a local potter in the ancient village at this location?  Was it made by a potter after seeing the decoration at another Lamar village? Or was it brought to the setting by a trader after having been made many miles away?  These are the usual questions about Indian artifacts and with only the usual guesses for answers.  But unanswerable queries are okay when the most important response is the beauty and rarity of this North Carolina Lamar Bowl.

 

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Dickens, Roy                                                              1976

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            SUMMIT REGION

Griffin, James B.                                                         1952

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Holmes, William H.                                                    1903

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            ETHNOLOGY ANNUAL REPORT, No. 20

Hudson, Charles M.                                                   1976

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Lewis, Thomas & Madeline Kneberg                         1946

            HIWASSEE ISLAND: AN ARCHAEOLOGICAL ACCOUNT OF FOUR

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Moore, David G.                                                        2002

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Setzer, Frank M. & Jesse D. Jennings                        1941

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Williams, Mark & Gary Shapiro                                1990

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Woodall, J. Ned                                                          1990

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