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Virginia Department of Historic Resources

Prince George Ware

Prince George Ware
Prince George Ware
Prince George Ware
Prince George Ware
Prince George Ware
Prince George Ware
Period: Middle Woodland
Defining Attributes: Prince George Ware, dating from the first half of the Middle Woodland, is a pottery type characterized by either pebbletempered or sand-and-pebbletempered paste with a fine sandy to (more typically) clayey consistency. Exterior surfaces are marked with cording, net marking, or coarse fabric impressions. Decoration is infrequent but distinctive, typically a type of punctate motif below the rim that is rarely seen on other pottery.
Chronology: Sequence dating and radiometric determinations indicate that Prince George Ware dates from the early to middle years of the Middle Woodland period, roughly 550 BCE to 300 CE. Tentatively, there may be a progression from thicker vessels that are most frequently net-marked at the beginning of the time range, to a slightly greater variety of vessels, including thinner pots that are mainly cord-marked in the more recent end of the range.
Distribution: Prince George Ware is concentrated within the Inner Coastal Plain James and York River drainages. However, it has been reported for the Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck, though in decreasing quantities north of the James/York core area (Egloff and Potter 1982:103). Prince George Ware also occurs in contexts south of the James–for example, as an apparent minority type in the lower Nottoway and Blackwater drainages (Smith 1984)–but again, this pottery appears to decrease in frequency with increasing distance from the core area. Prince George is extremely common on the Chickahominy River, as well as on other major James River tributaries that extend from James City County westward through eastern Hanover and Henrico counties.
Paste/Temper: Overall, this pottery is not particularly friable or soft, and it generally does not have the deteriorated, grainy to “dusty” texture of many earlier wares of the same region. As Evans (1955:61) stated, Prince George ware is, “rather hard to break; not crumbly or friable”. The paste is most often clayey or silty to the touch; however, examples made from sandy clay are known, and these have a correspondingly sandy texture that is not as hard as that of the typical examples. Examples with abundant pebble temper have crackle lines and breaks around the particles and, on sherd breaks, large cavities where pebbles have fallen out are common. Temper is typically a mixture of coarse sand and fine pebbles, or pebbles and granules. Pebbles are typically waterworn and can be variously rounded or subangular. Larger, angular fragments of crushed pebbles also occur, though infrequently. Quartz is the major constituent of the pebble temper, though chert and mineralogically unidentified materials have been noted as well. Evans gave a size range for the pebble temper particles of 3 to 15 mm, with an average of 5 to 6 mm. The Prince George assemblage from the Aignor #3 site exhibited a range of 2 to 15 mm, with most 5 to 6 mm, very consistent with Evans’ range, but including smaller temper that occurred in a few thinned-walled vessels with correspondingly smaller particles of aplastic (McLearen 1987:132). Evans estimated that pebble content of the temper made up about 10 percent of the paste. Although some examples appear to have more temper than that figure probably accounts for, many others do not. In some specimens, this figure is probably too high an estimate, and the pebbles are very sparsely distributed. Evans did not estimate the ratio of sand to pebble temper but did mention that the temper is “a mixture” of the two temper types, and that the fabric-impressed variety contains fewer large temper particles and that “some of the quartz particles of sand are angular” (Evans 1955:62). It should be noted that some Prince George vessels have only rounded pebbles as temper, with no discernible sand content; while other vessels have an admixture of coarse, angular sand grains and small pebbles and granules. The color is generally an oxidized pale tan to light brown, but some reddish brown, medium-to-dark brown, and reduced grayish brown to dark gray examples also occur. Dark streaks and clouding are also not uncommon.
Surface Treatment: Evans defined the following varieties by surface treatment: net-impressed; cord-marked; fabric-impressed; plain; scraped; and simple stamped. Egloff and Potter discuss the net-, cord-, and fabric-marked varieties only. At present, and until demonstrated otherwise, it is believed that the scraped and simple stamped varieties were inclusions of separate “types” now known to belong to later periods. Net- and cord-marking are the most common surface treatments on Prince George Ware, and two types of net impressions have been noted. On some net-impressed examples, the exteriors are deeply impressed with an open mesh that varies from fine to coarse, though far more frequently the latter. Impressions appear to have been made when the clay was fairly plastic and are distinct and generally not overlapping. The other variation involves “roughening” with a knotted net wrapped around a paddle or wadded up in the hand, with a resulting pattern of overlaps and superpositions of the knot and mesh impressions. Cord-marked examples vary in terms of the thickness and spacing of cords wrapped on a paddle. Some are very thin, but most are about 1 mm or larger, and either spaced wide apart or place side by side on the paddle. Most impressions are deep and well defined, as if the clay was still wet and plastic when applied. Both overlapping and non-overlapping cording patterns can be present. Cords running precisely vertical or perpendicular to the rim are rare; most are diagonal and run either parallel or overlapped, or they appear in haphazard, criss-crossing patterns. Fabric impressions are distinct from those of later Woodland ceramics such as those of Townsend Ware, and it would be difficult to confuse the two types of fabrics. The fabric used on Prince George Ware is a coarse wicker type, with a heavy, wide warp. The impressions run horizontal to the rim, with some examples also having vertical impressions that run down the interior for a short distance below the rim. On some examples, the fabric impressions are very clear and deep as if applied when the clay was in a very plastic state. On other examples, however, the impressions have been smoothed over and nearly masked . Interiors of all type varieties are usually smoothed/plain and, on the most well executed examples, they appear nearly floated. However, the surfaces are typically uneven over a large area, as exposed temper particles, as well as bulges in the clay from coarse particles just beneath, are common.
Decoration: Most Prince George vessels are undecorated, regardless of variety. However, the type of decoration that does occur is nearly always a variation of the same technique and basic motif: a single horizontal row, or two parallel rows, of puncates located shortly below the rim. This particular punctate method is distinctive in that it consists of evenly spaced finger or (less frequently) stick or reed punctations that have been pushed through to the interior so that the inside of the vessel contains a series of corresponding rounded bulges or negative bosses (but is rarely perforated). This pattern of systematically spaced, interior negative punctates thus mirrors that of the exterior, and it is this interior-exterior relationship that characterizes the technique and sets it apart from other punctate decorations, many of which cross pottery types and span Middle and Late Woodland periods. By contrast, the technique described above is rare (though not without exceptions) on any pottery type except Prince George.
Vessel Form: Prince George vessels are deep, open jars.
Vessel Diameter: Vessels are generally large, ranging from 26 to 42 cm in diameter.
Vessel Height: Unknown
Rim Form: The vast majority of Prince George vessels have very simple rims. Rims are usually slightly insloping or straight, with insloping rims being more common. Minority forms include rare examples with a short, straight “neck”, as described by Evans (1955). In addition, an unusual flanged rim with a nicked lip has been found on one exceptional example from Henrico County (McLearen 1987). Lips are often crudely fashioned and uneven. Their profiles include forms that are flattened, rounded, and tapered or beveled.
Base Form: They generally have either rounded or subconical bases. Some vessels are almost globular with a wide, rounded to almost flattened base.
Vessel Wall Thickness: Vessels are medium-to-thick-walled, though some thin examples of this type have been found. Generally, bases are much thicker than body walls. Body sherd thickness, based on Evans’ (1955) original metrics, combined with those from a key site in the greater James drainage of Henrico County (the “Aignor #3 Site”, McLearen 1987), are from 5 to 13 mm.
Discussion: Prince George Ware is found mainly in the Interior Coastal Plain and seems to overlap spatially with the shelltempered Mockley ware, which is prevalent in the Outer Coastal Plain, and overlaps temporally with the slightly earlier Varian Ware.
Defined in the Literature: This pottery was first defined by Clifford Evans (1955) in A Ceramic Study of Virginia Archaeology. The ware was later refined slightly by Egloff and Potter (1982:103) who contended, correctly, that Prince George was a Middle Woodland pottery type and that three of the six varieties defined for the ware should probably be excluded. Overall, with Egloff and Potter’s update, Prince George is one Coastal Plain pottery types that has held up well as a useful typological marker.
References: Egloff and Potter 1982; Evans 1955; McLearen 1987; Mouer 1986; Smith 1984;
Prepared By: McLearen 2001; Egloff 2009

Updated February 6, 2020