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Virginia Department of Historic Resources

New River Ware

New River Ware
New River Ware
Period: Late Woodland
Defining Attributes: New River Ware is a Late Woodland shelltempered ware with cord, net and plain surface treatments, finger pinching and gashes along the rim, and occasional strap handles.
Chronology: Holland obtained radiocarbon dates of 1330 +/-120 CE (SI 130) from 44PU0009 and 1600 +/-200 CE (SI-129) from 44PU0003. In all cases New River Ware was found at the top of Holland’s seriation diagrams for southwest Virginia. Egloff obtained two late radiometric dates of 1570 +/- 120 CE and 1610 +/- 55 CE from 44TZ0001, where mussel-shell temper with plain surfaces increased in popularity in the analysis of three overlapping storage pits. However, recent interpretation assigns these sherds more correctly to the Bluestone Phase of the Fort Ancient Aspect from West Virginia (David Fuerst, personal communication). Recently, Klatka obtained two dates of 1230 +/- 60 CE (Beta-176097 and 176098) from the Herons Nest Site (44PU0133).
Distribution: New River Ware is found in southwest Virginia, mainly along the New River but also along the upper Roanoke River drainage, upper Dan River drainage, and upper Clinch and Holston River drainages.
Description:
Paste/Temper: New River Ware is tempered with crushed mussel shell and occasionally gastropod shell with particles ranging from fine flakes to large chunks 6 to 8 mm in length. Occasionally some of the gastropod shell tempered pottery will also have crushed limestone included as temper.
Surface Treatment: New River Ware as originally defined had net, cord, fabric and plain surface treatments. Except for temper this ware was said to be quite comparable to Radford Ware. Fabric-impressed ceramics should not be considered a type within New River Ware. Evans tabulated three sherds and Holland only two sherds from southwest Virginia that were shell tempered and fabric impressed. A related shelltempered type, Keyser Cord Marked, found in the Shenandoah Valley was included in the original ware description. Keyser Ware is cord marked only, probably related to cultures located further to the north in western Pennsylvania, and should not be considered part of New River Ware. Recently, corn cob marked sherds were recognized as occurring very late in time from small jars. On larger jars and storage vessels, corn cob impression may occur on their recurved necks, normally over either cord or net surface treatment.
Decoration: New River Ware has finger pinching, gashes or nicks along the lip. Rounded loop handles or flat strap handles from the lip, or just below the lip, to the shoulder on a large percentage of sherds.
Morpholopgy:
Vessel Form: New River Ware vessels are coil constructed with paddle malleation. Round jar with globular body are common.
Vessel Diameter: Orifice smaller than the body diameter which ranged from 24 to 36 cm
Vessel Height: Unknown
Rim Form: Rounded or flat top with round edges; recurved or vertical; occasionally a slight external thickening
Base Form: Rounded, usually slightly thickened
Vessel Wall Thickness: Range from 5 to 10 mm. Majority 7 to 8 mm.
Discussion: New River Ware as first defined included everything that was shell tempered in southwest Virginia. Shelltempered ceramics in southwest Virginia are difficult to explain. There appears to be two cultural influences from outside the region as well as indigenous development within the region for shelltempered ceramics. Holland and Egloff recognized that shelltempered ceramics included two entirely different outside influences: one from the Fort Ancient culture coming down the New River and the second from the Mississippian culture (Dallas Ware) coming up the Tennessee River. Both outside influences highlight solely cord marked and plain surface treatments. David Fuerst’s ceramic illustrations of the Bluestone Phase of the Ft. Ancient culture in West Virginia, are nearly identical to the plain ceramics (small percentage) at 44TZ0001 (Crab Orchard) and Richland’s Hospital Site (44TZ0051). This distribution suggests Bluestone Phase influence of Ft. Ancient entered a little ways into southwest Virginia. Likewise, the shelltempered ceramics from the Robertson Mound (44LE0010) in Lee County are Dallas. Also, the indigenous people of southwest Virginia may have, independently of the two outside influences, developed a shelltempered pottery almost identical to the limestonetempered Radford Ware and the sandtempered Wythe Ware. This would in part explain the combination of limestone and gastropod shell tempered ceramics noted by Egloff with net and cord-marked surface treatment. In general, during the latter stages of the Late Woodland Period the same cultural group was tempering its vessels with either crushed limestone and/or gastropod shell, and that the preference for gastropod shell increased through time. On many sites plain surface vessels occur in greater than anticipated frequency, particularly later in time, and are commonly tempered with mussel shell rather than gastropod shell. This suggests an arrival and/or influence of shell tempering in southwest Virginia later in time, as suggested by Holland. Benthall in1969 noted the ceramic similarity and mixing between New River Ware, Radford Ware, and Clarksville Ware (Wythe/Dan River) at numerous sites in southwest Virginia. This suggests that temper may not be the paramount attribute for separating and identifying indigenous cultural groups in southwest Virginia.
Defined in the Literature: New River Ware was first defined by Evans in 1955. Later Holland (1970) refined the definition. Egloff (1987) documented the variety of shell tempering (mussel, gastropod, gastropod and limestone) found in southwest Virginia.
References: Benthall 1969; Egloff 1987; Evans 1955:57-59; Fuerst, personal communication; Holland 1970:61-64; DHR radiocarbon files.;
Prepared By: Egloff 2008

Updated February 6, 2020