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Caddo Archeology Journal

Abstract

The Formative Caddo Period (A.D. 850-1100) of eastern Oklahoma was marked by dramatic material and ritual changes, culminating in the construction of aggregated villages and ceremonial centers (Girard et al. 2014). Formative Caddo groups are notable for their highly complex and ritually-charged ceramic vessels that were unlike anything archeologists have seen in the American Southeast (Bell 1984). Tracing the rapid development and spread of this early fine ware assemblage across a variety of social, ritual, and mortuary contexts is key to understanding the shared religious and ritual traditions of the pre-Columbian Arkansas River valley and surrounding Coastal Plain drainages. Yet despite nearly 60 years of archeological research, insight is still lacking into the organization of Formative Caddo ceramic production and the mechanics of exchange between the northern and southern Caddo areas.

While archeologists have shown Formative Caddo fine wares were locally produced in the Red River valley and surrounding Coastal Plain drainages (Girard et al. 2014:27-28), they have assumed that Caddo people in Arkansas River valley and Ozark Plateau locally produced them (Bell 1984). However, they are not recovered from the same contexts across both Caddo areas. Formative Caddo pottery is commonly found in both domestic and ritual contexts at Coastal Plain sites (Bell et al. 1969; Bohannon 1973; Burton 1970; Rohrbaugh 1972, 1973; Wyckoff 1965, 1967, 1968) but are restricted to ritual contexts at ceremonial centers on the Ozark Plateau (Bell 1972; Brown 1996; Schambach 1982, 1988, 1990, 1993). The ritual contexts in which Formative Caddo ceramics are recovered are also quite different. At Coastal Plain ceremonial centers, such as George C. Davis in Texas and Crenshaw in Arkansas, Formative Caddo ceramics were deposited in off-mound, on-mound, and mortuary contexts. Yet, at ceremonial centers of the Ozark Plateau, such as Spiro, Harlan, and Brackett in Oklahoma, Formative Caddo ceramics were deposited exclusively in mortuary contexts. The marked contrast between Formative Caddo pottery use and deposition between the northern and southern ceremonial centers provides insight into the development of Formative Caddo ritual practices and traditions. It suggests there may be fundamental differences in the ritual programs of the northern and southern Caddo areas.

To examine the emergence and spread of these traditions, I am conducting a regional-scale study of the production and distribution of Formative Caddo pottery in the northern and southern Caddo areas. This project has two major components. First, it involves the analysis of clay chemical composition of 264 fine ware sherds from five ceremonial sites in the Arkansas River Basin (Figure 1). I applied for and was granted a National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement Grant to pay for Instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis (INAA) on these sherds. Once the INAA is completed, I will compare the Arkansas Basin results with previously generated elemental sourcing data from the Coastal Plain region (Perttula and Selden 2013). Secondly, this project involves a stylistic analysis (i.e., following Plog’s [1980] and Early’s [2012] research on style) of the forms and designs on 199 fine ware vessels to understand their overall design grammar and structure. The sites to be studied include Spiro, Harlan, Norman, Reed, and Brackett in the Arkansas River drainage and Crenshaw, Boxed Springs, George C. Davis, and Mounds Plantation in the Gulf Coastal Plain region (Figure 2). I hypothesize that either (1) Formative Caddo fine wares found in the Arkansas River basin were imported from the Red River valley and surrounding Coastal Plain drainages, where they were fabricated, or (2) Formative Caddo vessels were manufactured in the Arkansas River Basin, but intended use was restricted for mortuary purposes. Whether the first or second hypothesis is supported by this research, it will determine whether this is a single or separate communities of practice, and will have major implications for how we view the integration of these communities and the origins of Caddo ritual traditions.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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