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Virginia Department of Historic Resources

Keyser Ware

Keyser Ware
Keyser Ware
Period: Late Woodland
Defining Attributes: Keyser is a Late Woodland ware, characterized by shell temper, a cord-marked exterior, a notched lip, and a wide mouthed globular body and rounded base. Variations include plainsurfaced exteriors.
Chronology: Radiometric dating indicates that Keyser pottery dates from 1400 to 1550 CE.
Distribution: Keyser is found throughout the Piedmont, Great Valley, and Ridge and Valley regions of Maryland, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Specifically to Virginia, Keyser Ware is restricted to the northern Shenandoah Valley and has been recovered from the Bowman (44SH0001), Miley (44SH0002), Quicksburg (44SH0003), Keyser Farm (44PA0001), and Cabin Run (44WR0003) sites.
Paste/Temper: Keyser has a compact paste that is fine to medium textured. Color ranges from an oxidized brown to reddish brown, but dull grayish brown is the dominant color. Vessel exteriors often have a blackened appearance. Interior surfaces are roughly smoothed and are dark gray to black in color. The temper consists of finely crushed freshwater mussel shell that varies from 0.5 to 8 mm in diameter, and makes up 10 to 30% of the paste.
Surface Treatment: Exterior surfaces are cord marked. Most vessels show cord marking applied vertically, but a few have cord impressions that are oblique. Cord marking is predominantly an S-twist, but Z-twist is also well represented in some collections. Manson, MacCord and Griffin (1944) noted that cord impressions were rarely smoothed over on sherds from the Keyser Farm site (44PA0001), but most sherds recovered from the Hughes site (18MO1) and the Moore Village site (18AG43) show signs of partially smoothed-over cord impressions (Jirikowic 1999:2). Sherds from the Cresaptown (18AG119) and Barton (18AG3) sites also show similar smoothed-over cord marking on vessel exteriors (Wall 2001). Smoothed-over impressions normally suggest later ceramics.
Decoration: Keyser is usually undecorated. However, decoration may occur on or below the rim. Decoration consists of notched lips, cord marking, single or double rows of punctations, and X- or V-shaped incised designs. Loop handles have also been reported, but are not common. More commonly found are pseudo-lugs, which are flat attachments to the exterior of the rim that are often impressed vertically with a cord-wrapped paddle.
Vessel Form: Vessels are large, coil constructed with paddle malleation, with wide mouths and globular bodies. Neck areas are very slightly constricted to straight sided
Vessel Diameter: Vessels measure at the rim 15 to 35 cm in diameter.
Vessel Height: Unknown
Rim Form: Rims are vertical and straight or slightly flaring. Lips are straight to slightly everted, and usually have cord-impressions made either parallel or transverse to the lip’s edge.
Base Form: Rounded bases
Vessel Wall Thickness: Vessel walls are thin; their thickness ranges between 4 to 5 mm with an average of 4.5 mm.
Discussion: Stearns (1940) first described a shelltempered pottery similar to Keyser from the Hughes Site (18MO1) in Montgomery County, Maryland, noting its similarities to Monongahela ceramics from the Upper Ohio River Valley. Monongahela shelltempered ceramics, however, are usually cord marked with a final Z-twist cordage, and exhibit other elements that distinguish them from Keyser. Stewart (1982:82) noted that Keyser was identical to Biggs Ford Wares defined by Peck (1979), and similar to New River Ware defined by Evans (1955). Egloff (1989) noted that Keyser is only cord marked while New River Ware is cord, net and plain and lacks lugs, and therefore they should be considered two entirely separate wares. In 1999, Jirikowic further refined the definition of Keyser Ware based on pottery recovered in the early 1990s from the Hughes site (18MO1). Keyser cord-marked ceramics are well represented in the Keyser village component of the Barton Site (18AG3) and from other sites in the area, such as Cresaptown (18AG119), where Keyser ceramics represent a minor element (Wall 2001).
Defined in the Literature: Manson et al. (1944: 402-405) published the first definition of Keyser Cord Marked from sherds recovered at the Keyser Farm site (44PA0001), in Page County, Virginia.
References: Egloff and Hodges 1989; Evans 1955; Jirikowic 1999; Manson et al. 1944; Peck 1979; Stearns 1940; Stewart 1982; Wall 2001;
Prepared By: Egloff 2008

Updated February 6, 2020