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Virginia Department of Historic Resources

Smyth Ware

Smyth Ware
Smyth Ware
Period: Late Woodland
Defining Attributes: Smyth Ware is a Late Woodland soapstone tempered pottery with net, corn cob, plain and scraped surfaces. Punctations, criss-crossing incisions, and gashes are rare decoration.
Chronology: Holland estimated the age at 1200 to 1400 CE based on seriation.
Distribution: Smyth Ware, never abundant, is found mainly in Smyth and Washington County along the Holston River. It is also found on a scattering of sites along the New River and from one site on the upper Roanoke River. The distribution is in a north-south band through the middle of southwest Virginia. The idea of soapstone temper may have moved into the region from western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee.
Description:
Paste/Temper: Smyth Ware is tempered with crushed soapstone. As a general rule the soapstone is finely crushed, but some sherds have temper ranging from 2 to 10 mm in size, the larger penetrating both sides of the pot’s wall. The temper may consist of 50 percent of the paste in some sherds.
Surface Treatment: Surface treatment includes knotted net, normally deeply impressed into the surface of the vessel; plain surfaces but not burnished; and scraped on a leather-hard surface with the same toothed instrument that scraped the interior of the vessels. One sherd exhibiting corn cob impressions over net was noted by Egloff. The majority of the interior surfaces are smooth, but a few areas reveal scrape marks with a serrated tool. Two sherds from 44TZ0001 have curvilinear stamped impressions.
Decoration: Decoration is rare on this not abundant ware. Circular punctates, gashes, and criss-crossing incisions were noted.
Morpholopgy:
Vessel Form: Smyth vessels are coil constructed with paddle malleation. Open-mouthed jars with straight sides or with short rims and slightly constricted necks.
Vessel Diameter: Vessel diameters range from 16 to 30 cm.
Vessel Height: Unknown
Rim Form: Flat or rounded lips. Usually the rims and necks form a straight wall with the body. A few rims sherds are everted.
Base Form: Rounded bottoms.
Vessel Wall Thickness: The walls are uniformly thick on each sherd. They range from 5 to 10 mm; majority 7 to 8 mm
Discussion: Little is known about Smyth Ware since it is not abundant and is very localized. Holland recovered more than 100 sherds from 44SM0004 and 44SM0005, and most of the remaining 100 sherds that he recorded came from a few other sites in Smyth County. Only a few sherds occur in the DHR collection. Very little has been recovered since it was first defined and there has been no further discussion in the archaeological literature. It appears to be a localize expression of a temper material, soapstone, that was used mainly in Smyth County. It may be a tempering variant of the limestonetempered Radford Ware. If that is the case, then it doesn’t necessarily represent a different cultural group, just a localized expression of a change in ceramic temper for that group. Ceramics tempered with soapstone are found in North Carolina in the upper Yadkin, Watauga, Nolichucky, and upper Catawba River valleys. Catawba Valley ceramics exhibit very late soapstonetempered examples, including burnished and complicated stamped types (Mathis and Moore 1984). A couple soapstonetempered curvilinear-complicated-stamped sherds were found at Crab Orchard (44TZ0001).
Defined in the Literature: Holland defined the ware in 1970. The ware has not been discussed further in the literature, since little archaeological research has recovered Smyth Ware in southwest Virginia.
References: Holland 1970:67-69; Mathis and Moore 1984.;
Prepared By: Egloff 2009

Updated February 6, 2020