PISGAH PHASE POTTERY OF THE APPALACHIAN SUMMIT
In 1881, Edward Palmer, working for the US Bureau of Ethnology, excavated some pottery from a mound site near the French Broad River in the Appalachian Mountain range. Even though much more of this pottery was encountered in subsequent years, almost a century passed before a name was officially given to one of the most beautiful prehistoric pottery types ever discovered in the southern mountains - Pisgah.
The Appalachian Summit is the name given to the mountainous area from Virginia to Georgia. The Summit encompasses extreme eastern Tennessee, southwest Virginia, northeast Georgia, northwest South Carolina and much of western North Carolina. Prehistoric Americans have lived in this region since the Paleo Period or 12,000 years ago. The people of the Pisgah Phase, which is a focus of the South Appalachian Mississippian Culture, lived there from about AD 1000 to AD 1500 and the phase precedes the well known Dallas Culture of eastern Tennessee. These people lived primarily in the upper valleys of the streams in the Tennessee River drainage area and their predecessors in the region are not known (though they could be the Lamar people from further south) but their ancestors eventually became the Cherokee Nation.
Pisgah Phase pottery takes a number of forms but the basic vessel shape is a globular jar or bowl with a rounded or slightly conical base. Tempering mediums that were used include fine river sand, grog (finely broken pottery) and crushed quartz. Shell temper, as was extensively used in Dallas Culture pottery, was rarely used in Pisgah ceramics. Jar and bowl rims are normally everted and often have additional strip of clay attached to the rim edge to form a sort of collar but unmodified and straight and inverted rims were also used. Rim decoration usually consisted of incised patterns or bands of punctations. Vessel rim appendages that were used include lugs, nodes, handles and appliqué strips. Animal effigy vessel forms and tripod feet, as are more commonly found in pottery farther south and west, are essentially unknown in Pisgah Phase pottery. Vessel surface finishes were rectilinear and curvilinear complicated stamped, check stamped, corncob impressed and plain. This pottery is normally colored buff to light grey on the exterior surfaces and grey to black on the interior, often with a high percentage of mica showing in the fired ceramics. There was no red colored clay slips employed on Pisgah Phase pottery as is found on Dallas Culture vessels.
Pisgah Phase pottery represents one of the climaxes of the influence of the Mississippian or Temple Mound Culture in the Appalachian Summit area. As it was ending, the European invasion of North America was about to begin and the Indian civilization that had stood for at least 12,000 years came crashing down. But as students of prehistoric archaeology and materials, we can be pleased that these natives left for us to enjoy such rare and attractive artifacts as the Pisgah Phase Pottery of the Appalachian Summit.
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