Dr. Perttula is a visiting researcher who spends a good deal of time working with ceramics and other artifacts from TARL’s collections. The following article is part of TARL’s December 2016 newsletter.
In addition to examining ceramic collections at TARL from Caddo sites across East Texas—including the ceramic vessels and sherds from the platform mound at the Hatchel site (41BW3) and sherds from more than 30 sites collected by Gus Arnold during his Works Progress Administration (WPA) survey of East Texas sites—I recently completed analyses of the ceramic sherd assemblage from the Harrell site (41YN1) in the upper Brazos River basin. The Harrell site was excavated by the WPA) in 1938 and 1939.
One of the characteristic material culture remains recovered from the Harrell site in WPA excavations were sherds from a number of plain (or minimally decorated) shell-tempered vessels. Shell-tempered vessels were relatively abundant in archeological deposits of Late Prehistoric age at the site, being associated with Harrell and Washita arrow points. My concern was to determine the stylistic and technological character of the ceramic sherds and other clay artifacts from the Harrell site, based on the recent reanalysis of the rehabilitated WPA collection by sherd type, temper, surface treatment, firing conditions, sherd thickness, rim and lip character, orifice diameter, and decorative elements. This information on the sherd assemblage data was employed to more completely characterize the range of ceramic wares at the site, and then compare them to other southern Plains ceramics in northern Texas and southern Oklahoma.
The assemblage includes 578 ceramic vessel sherds as well as fragments of a figurine and clay bead. The sherds are almost exclusively (96 percent) from shell-tempered vessels. There are shell-tempered, shell-hematite-tempered, thick (14-19 mm) non-tempered or bone-tempered paint cups, and other non-tempered or bone-tempered sherds not from paint cups. Most of these sherds are from plain vessels, but 7.5 percent shell or shell-hematite-tempered sherds have decorations, as do 53.3 percent paint cup sherds. The shell-tempered and shell-hematite-tempered vessel sherds have appliqued, brushed, brushed-incised, incised, punctated, incised-punctated (Figure 1), and red washed decorative elements; the latter are from thin-walled bowls, and not from paint cups. The paint cup sherds from Harrell are not corncob-impressed, the main style of paint cups in Plains Village sites in the southern Plains. The paint cup sherds from the site are the southernmost occurrence of this distinctive vessel in North Central Texas and southern and western Oklahoma, and suggests a close association between the Harrell site aboriginal occupants and Plains Village settlements on the Red River in North Central Texas and Washita phase settlements in southern and western Oklahoma (see Brooks and Drass 2005).
The Harrell site ceramic vessel sherds comprise a distinctive but far from homogenous aboriginal assemblage in the upper Brazos River basin in the Rolling Plains of North Central Texas. The detailed analysis recognized three separate ceramic wares—shell-tempered, shell-hematite-tempered, and non-tempered and bone-tempered paint cups—with their own characteristic ways in which vessels were shaped, tempered, smoothed, decorated, and fired, not just Nocona Plain vessel sherds. The paint cup sherds are the best available clue to the cultural and social relationships of the Harrell site aboriginal occupants and contemporaneous Plains Village settlements on the Red River in North Central Texas and southern and western Oklahoma and settlements in the Washita and Canadian rivers in southern and western Oklahoma.