Microscopic Studies of an Unusual Painted Sherd from the Hatchel Mound, 41BW3, Northeast Texas by David Glen Robinson

David Glen Robinson is an Affiliated Researcher with the Texas Archeological Research Lab. This article is part of the December 2017 issue of the TARL Newsletter. 

An unusual painted potsherd was unearthed in the 1938-1939 WPA excavations of the Hatchel Mound in Bowie County, Northeast Texas (Perttula 2014). The sherd was part of a large lot of ceramics and only recently came to the notice of analysts. Painted ceramics of any type are rare in the Caddo region, and so detailed studies of the sherd were conducted to learn, if possible, about its origins, technology and functions. The zone in the mound from which the sherd came is estimated to date to the early 16th century A.D.

Figure 1. Plan and profile view of the
Hatchel Mound bichrome sherd.

The small specimen measures 24 X 23 mm, making typological assessment very difficult. A wide literature search was conducted to find similar or matching stylistic types. The closest approach to a similar type was Nodena Red and White, widely but not abundantly distributed from parts of northeast Texas through Louisiana and parts of Mississippi. That type is tempered with shell, while the Hatchel Mound sherd has quartz temper, so some uncertainty remains with the typological assessment. Avenue Polychrome was also mentioned, but that type has even more tenuous connections to the Hatchel sherd.

The sherd has a layered look in megascopic view, its interior layer a gray tempered paste gradually transitioning to a red-brown paste color on the exterior surface. The difference in colors and the gradual transition from dark to light on the same kind of paste suggest skilled control of firing atmospheres to produce the differences. A white or pinkish white paint layer sits conformably on the reddish exterior paste. The paint is made of either finely ground shell or a slurry of refined clay with admixed crushed shell. Microphotographs of the paint layer in thin section reveal an arcuate bit of shell and circular, silt-sized masses within the paint layer. All these bodies have calcitic traits that indicate shell material (non-fossilized).

Microphotograph of the paste in thin section. Note the gradual transition from dark at the bottom to lighter at the upper left.
Paint masses on outer layer. Note circular calcitic masses in the gray green bodies. These are
shell structures incompletely ground. Paint is pinkish white in normal light, gray-green in plane-polarized light, as here.
Paint mass with arcuate shell fragment. Note other dim calcitic particles in the paint. Fine black particles are hematite pulled up from the underlying paste.
Medium sand-sized particle of magnetite in the paste, in reflected light view.

Altogether, this ceramic piece retains some mystery even after microscopic analysis. It certainly reveals, however, the fact that it was an exceptionally well-made pottery piece in the Caddo tradition, and when whole it was a prized and attractive ceramic vessel.

Dr. Timothy K. Perttula was the principal investigator of the Hatchel Mound studies that produced the unusual bichrome sherd from lot #1296. His facilitation of the project is greatly appreciated. Dr. George Sabo conducted some of the typological survey that homed in on Nodena Red and White. The microscopic work was conducted at Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, The University of Texas at Austin. The staff is thanked very much for their assistance.

References Cited

Perttula, T. K.

2014 Archaeological Studies of the Hatchel Site (41BW3) on the Red River in Bowie County, Texas. Special Publication No. 23. Friends of
Northeast Texas Archaeology, Austin and Pittsburg.

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