Virginia State Seal

Virginia Department of Historic Resources

Dan River Ware

Dan River Ware
Dan River Ware
Dan River Ware
Dan River Ware
Dan River Ware
Dan River Ware
Period: Late Woodland
Defining Attributes: The temper of Dan River Ware is a distinctive mix of medium to coarse sand and occasional pieces of crushed quartz of small to medium size. Therefore it rests in the middle between the earlier crushed quartz Grayson/Uwharrie wares and the later finetempered wares. The surface treatment includes mainly net, cord, corncob, and plain, with knotted and looped net predominating. Decoration is a series of fingernail pinches, gashes, incision, or punctates around the neck and/or shoulder of the vessel.
Chronology: There are more then 80 radiometric dates for the ware in Virginia that spans the period 1000 to 1700 CE, with many of them occurring late in time. In North Carolina the ware is placed in the period 1000 to 1450 CE. Apparently the ware’s popularity lasted longer in Virginia, well into the historic period.
Distribution: Dan River Ware occurs in the southern piedmont of Virginia and northern piedmont of North Carolina, typically along the Roanoke and Dan rivers but also along the James River where it bends south. It occurs from Halifax County on the east to Patrick County on the west and north to Roanoke and Botetourt County.
Paste/Temper: Dan River Ware is tempered with a medium to coarse sand, and occasional pieces of crushed quartz of small to medium size (2 to 5 mm). Temper can composes about 25 percent of the paste, imparting a very sandy and gritty texture to the vessel. Small vessels typically have no crushed quartz and the paste may only exhibit a medium to fine sand.
Surface Treatment: As originally defined by Coe and Lewis, Dan River Ware was mainly net impressed, followed by cord and plain, with minor amounts of corncob, brushed and complicated stamped. Net impressed pottery was at its peak of popularity, cord mark was waning, plain was increasing, and the remaining surface treatments were minor variations. Net impressions were either a knotted or a looped-net variety. Either net when crumpled or wrapped repeatedly around the paddle leaves impressions that are difficult to decipher. The knots on knotted net tend to leave a pock-marked surface impression. The looped net, when pulled obliquely across the paddle which is often the case, appears to leave an impression that looks like a woven fabric. Interior surface finish is normally smoothed, but up to 25 percent may retain parallel grooves indicating scraping. This attributes increases in frequency to the west in Wythe Ware.
Decoration: The most common type of decoration is one or more horizontal bands of fingernail pinches, either wedge-shaped or reed punctations, or incised lines encircling the neck or shoulder of the vessel. Decoration can also include incisions and punctates on a diagonal or zigzap patterns, and block designs. Loop or strap handles occur but not as commonly as on pottery from southwest Virginia. Rim peaks and nodes rarely occur, but again are more common on pottery to the west. The top edge of the lip is usually modified by notches, incisions, or reed punctations (Davis et al 1998). The finger pinching, punctation, and gashes were done to tack down the thickened or folded rim.
Vessel Form: Deep globular jars and bowls
Vessel Diameter: Oral diameter ranges from 8 to 39 cm
Vessel Height: The height ranges from 14 to 55 cm. Some storage jars are very large, and leave the astonished viewer with the reaction ‘How did they make such large and thin vessels by coiling?
Rim Form: Rims are usually everted with slight to pronounced flare in jars. Lips are either flattened or rounded. A small percent of the rims are folded. Folded rims are more common to the east in the Clarksville Ware.
Base Form: Usually conoidal with some rounding.
Vessel Wall Thickness: Usually conoidal with some rounding.
Discussion: Much has been written about Dan River Ware. It is related to Clarksville Ware on the east and Wythe on the west. It is preceded by Grayson and Uwharrie tradition and leads into the Caraway and Hillsboro wares (Coe and Lewis 1952). In general more and larger crushed quartz occurs earlier in time. Finer sands and little temper occur later. Cord and net occur early while net gradually dominates later in time. Corncob appears in the middle-to-late time frame and last into the historic period. In North Carolina after 1400 CE finer sand particles were used as temper and crushed-quartz particles were rarely used. Some pots lack temper all together. This new type of pottery is called Oldtown Series. Eventually net-impressed surfaces were quickly replaced during the historic contact period in North Carolina with plain surfaces and carved-paddle impressed surfaces, first simple stamped (Jenrette Series) followed by check stamped (Fredericks Series). However, Dan River Net Impressed pots continued to be made in small amounts into the eighteenth century (Ward and Davis 1993, Davis et al 1998). In Virginia simple-stamped and check-stamped pottery are rarely encountered, indicating the conservative nature of Late Woodland ceramics in southern Virginia.
Defined in the Literature: Coe and Lewis defined the ware in 1952. Gardner refined the definition, analyzing examples from Virginia in 1980. The Research Laboratories of Archaeology, Chapel Hill detailed the distribution and transitions of Dan River Ware in North Carolina.
References: Coe and Lewis 1952; Davis et al 1998; Garden 1980; Ward and Davis 1993;
Prepared By: Egloff 2009

Updated February 6, 2020