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Virginia Department of Historic Resources

Elk Island Ware

Period: Early Woodland
Defining Attributes: Elk Island Ware is an Early Woodland very friable and fragile ware with a large proportion of inclusive fine sand. The surface treatments are plain, cord, and net.
Chronology: One sample of charred material associated with Elk Island Ware was dated to 895 B.C. +/- 150 (UGa 3347). Elk Island Plain Type appears first, followed shortly by Elk Island Cord Marked Type, and then Elk Island Net Impressed Type.
Distribution: Elk Island is found along the Piedmont portion of the James River, including Goochland, Powhatan, and Albemarle counties. It is also found just east of the Fall Line in the Interior Coastal Plain in Henrico County.
Description:
Paste/Temper: The paste is very friable and contains a large proportion of inclusive fine sand, which may occur naturally in the clay. The sherds are commonly coated with a fine grained, light colored precipitate. Since the sherds are highly porous, this coating may represent unconsolidated clay from the interior which percolated to the surface of the sherd due to the act of ground water.
Surface Treatment: Early Elk Island has a plain surface treatment follow in time by a fine cord and net impressed. A coarser cord and net was used on later examples.
Decoration: None
Morpholopgy:
Vessel Form: Elk Island Ware vessels are usually large. The large size and thin walls of the typical pot suggests that they were storage vessels used in pits, rather than cooking jars. Most pots do not appear capable of standing under their own weight, and must have been substantially supported.
Vessel Diameter: Unknown
Vessel Height: Unknown
Rim Form: The rim top may be notched with the cord or net wrapped paddle, or finger pinched. Usually the rims and necks form a straight wall with the body. Examples of lug handles do occur.
Base Form: Bases are flat, rounded or conoidal, although rounded to slightly fattened bases appear to be more common.
Vessel Wall Thickness: For being an early friable ware, the body walls of these large vessels are amazing thin, in the range of 5 to 8 mm.
Discussion: Elk Island Ware follows on the heels of the steatitetempered Marcy Creek Ware. Early Elk Island Ware may still retain lug handle and flat bases, characteristics of Marcy Creek Ware. Early Elk Island Ware is plain, soon followed by smoothed over cord, by cord, and finally net was added as a surface treatment. The ware seems to gradually grade into a more compact net-impressed pottery that may be called Popes Creek. Elk Island Ware is similar to Accokeek Ware of the Potomac River valley, and Hyco Ware of the Roanoke River valley.
Defined in the Literature: Mouer defined the ware in 1981. The ware has not been discussed further in the literature, since limited archaeological research in the region has not recovered similar pottery in cultural context.
References: Mouer 1981;
Prepared By: Egloff 2007

Updated February 6, 2020