Virginia State Seal

Virginia Department of Historic Resources

Roanoke

Roanoke
Roanoke
Roanoke
Roanoke
Period: European Contact
Defining Attributes: The ware is characterized by crushed shell temper in a clayey paste. There is just one surface treatment: simple stamped. It dates from the late preEuropean Contact into the European Contact contact period. The ware is rarely decorated with incised lines.
Chronology: Based on its recovery from early contactperiod contexts at Fort Raleigh in North Carolina (Harrington 1948) and the Kicotan (Kecoughtan) site in Hampton, Virginia (Blaker 1952), Roanoke ceramics have long been suspected to date from the late preEuropean Contact into the European Contact contact period. The earliest radiometric date on Roanoke ceramics in Virginia, CE 1330+80, derives from the Great Neck site (44VB0007) in Virginia Beach (Hodges 1993). The frequency of Roanoke sherds (relative to Townsend or Gaston wares, for example) in ceramic assemblages increases in both Virginia and North Carolina into the 17th century (Hodges and Hodges, editors, 1994). It has been dated to CE 1478+60 and CE 1657+70 at the Paspahegh site (44JC0308) in James City County, where again it is the predominant ceramic.
Distribution: Both the geographical and temporal distribution of Roanoke ceramics is less extensive than Townsend Ware in Virginia. Roanoke is most common in the Outer Coastal Plain of southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina (in the latter state, similar ceramics are subsumed under Phelps’ Colington series). The ceramic appears to have increased in popularity and distribution through time. The range of Roanoke ceramics expanded up the James River to as far west as the fall line by or during the late 16th century. It is the predominant ceramic at the Tree Hill Farm Site , 44HE0301, in Henrico County (McLearen and Binns 1992), and is found at Flowerdew Hundred in Prince George County. The ware is seen at a Paspahegh settlement (also on Smith’s map) at the confluence of the James and Chickahominy rivers in James City County where Gaston simple-stamped sherds are not present in contrast to Roanoke simple-stamped which represent nearly 90 percent of all identified sherds at the site followed by a related plain variety at 5 percent. At Jamestown Island thousands of Native American sherds have been recovered in English features dating to the first years of the Jamestown settlement. Here, approximately 75 percent of all identifiable Native American sherds are Roanoke simple-stamped or a related plain variety (32 percent), with Gaston simple-stamped sherds not exceeding 1 percent of the assemblage. The furthest north that the ware has been found along the Outer Coastal Plain is the Newington Site, 44KQ0006, along the Mattaponi River in King and Queen County.
Description:
Paste/Temper: The ware is tempered with crushed shell (ribbed mussel and oyster are commonly used) in a clayey paste.
Surface Treatment: Most commonly the exterior surface treatment appears to have been executed by beating the vessel with a paddle wrapped with material similar to a leather thong (no twists are evident on the fiber). Other impressions suggest a wooden padded with linear incisions carved into it was used to beat the vessel surface.
Decoration: Incised decoration consisting of bands of incising oriented parallel to the rim and incised chevrons is found on Roanoke ware, but decoration is not particularly common (on average less than 3 percent of sherds in an assemblage).
Morpholopgy:
Vessel Form: Vessels are commonly small to large jars.
Vessel Diameter: Vessels range from 12 to 26 cm in diameter
Vessel Height: Unknown
Rim Form: Rims may be either straight or slightly out flaring. They may be marked with tamping of the top of the lip with the paddle.
Base Form: Rounded or sub-conical in shape.
Vessel Wall Thickness: Sherd thickness varies from 5 to 8 mm with the mean thickness at 7.8 mm.
Discussion: Roanoke ceramics are very similar to Townsend Ware, except they are simple stamped while Townsend is fabric impressed. Often the two wares are found together. In fact, In North Carolina, David Phelps’ has defined Collington Ware which exhibits two surface treatments: fabric and simple stamped. Here in Virginia, Townsend Ware occurs throughout the Outer Coastal Plain and into the Interior Coastal Plain. Roanoke, on the other hand, is more restricted in its distribution in Virginia, occurring mainly in the Virginia Beach area but also as far north as Tree Hill Farm in Henrico County and Newington in King and Queen County.
Defined in the Literature: Roanoke Ware was defined by Blaker (1952) from sherds uncovered by Harrington (1948:252) near the bottom of the ditch around the original Fort Raleigh. Evan (1955:47) described a shelltempered simple-stamped ceramic as a component of his Chickahominy Series, a series that is no longer being used by archaeologists. Recently M.E.N. Hodges described the ware in detail at the Paspahegh Site in James City County, and the Great Neck Site in Virginia Beach.
References: Blaker 1952; Evans 1955; Harrington 1948; Hodges 1998; Hodges and Hodges 1994; McLearen and Binns 1992;
Prepared By: M.E.N. Hodges 2000; Egloff 2009

Updated February 6, 2020