Many of our readers may be unaware that prehistoric Indians in
Central Texas made and used pottery, principally as containers to boil food. This should
not be surprising considering how little prehistoric pottery has been found in this part
of Texas, and how few whole or restorable pots have been recovered-much less illustrated
in popular publications. Nevertheless, excavations in the Llano archeological techniques
and documentation are some Uplift region routinely uncover small numbers of potsherds
(commonly called sherds). These are the fragments of broken ceramic vessels,.
One reason for the paucity of prehistoric pottery in our
area has to do with the relatively brief time period pottery was in use, from about 800 to
300 B. P. (Before Present), a mere 500 years out of at least 12,000 years of human
presence in Central Texas.
Another, more important consideration involves the kind of
societies which inhabited the central and southern regions of our state in prehistoric
times; they were composed of small bands of people who subsisted by hunting, fishing, and
gathering invertebrates and edible wild plants. This way of life required frequent
relocations of the camp site since local resources could be rapidly depleted, even by
small numbers of people, in all but the most favorable environments. Long-term storage of
seasonally abundant wild foods such as acorns would permit a group to establish permanent
camps, but this strategy is not believed to have been practiced in the Central Texas Late
The use of pottery by hunter-gathers is unusual but not
unique among such societies worldwide. The Andaman Islanders, the Ainu of Japan, and
certain Eskimo groups all used pottery to boil food, but their relatively productive
environments coupled with an adequate subsistence technology allowed for a more sedentary
way of life. In general, the more sedentary the group, the more likely they are to use
pottery. Ceramic vessels do offer an efficient way to boil food but are not well suited
for hunter-gatherers with a mobile way of life. Why the late prehistoric people of Central
Texas even bothered to use this technology--their predecessors did quite nicely for
thousands of years without it--remains a mystery.
Artifact collectors who dig ancient campsites without
sound archeological techniques and documentation are sometimes referred to as "pot
hunters" regardless of the kind of artifacts sought. Recently, pot hunters digging
for projectile points on a site on the Llano River near Kingsland actually uncovered about
a dozen fragments, or sherds, of a prehistoric ceramic pot. These sherds were passed on to
members of the Llano Uplift Archeological Society (LUAS). One of the sherds is now on
display at the Kingsland Archeological Center.
Although the sherds represent only a very small
portion of the original pot, their curvature and surface characteristics allow the
tentative reconstruction shown here. Before it was broken and discarded some five to seven
centuries ago, it had been a relatively large (four to five liter capacity), red dish
vessel, with large gray discolorations or "fire clouds," which are a consequence
of the firing process.
The pot was probably globular in shape and had a
constricted mouth. This latter characteristic, along with the carefully smoothed and
polished exterior surface, suggests the pot was used for carrying or storing liquids or
loose solids such as seeds.
Most of the pottery of the Central Texas hunter-gathers
was, however, used for cooking and was not as carefully made as the Llano River vessel
described here. Our pot does share one very distinguishing trait with other locally made
prehistoric pottery: the paste contains abundant particles of crushed bone. Why
prehistoric potters would prepare their clay in such a manner will be discussed in the
next installment, along with other aspects of the ceramic technology.
Archeologists have known for over sixty years that
prehistoric pottery could be found in Central Texas. J. E. Pearce, an early University of
Texas anthropologist, was the first to systematically excavate burned rock middens, mostly
in the Austin area. In a 1932 article on Central Texas archeology, Pearce included
pottery, as well as the bow and arrow, as defining traits of his "Upper Mound
Culture." He suggested that this culture represented the influx of agricultural
tribes from East Texas who displaced the indigenous Central Texas people. It was popular
at the time to explain culture change in terms of migration, and Pearce's theory regarding
the origin of the Late Prehistoric in Central Texas is no longer accepted.
On the edge of the Llano Uplift at Fall Creek Falls, WPA
excavations in the 1930s led by A. T. Jackson uncovered over one hundred pottery sherds,
and confirmed their late appearance in the archeological record (as well as their
association with arrow points). Jackson was certain that Central Texas Indians did not
make pottery themselves but acquired it from pottery-producing peoples in eastern and
coastal regions of Texas. Further analysis of Central Texas archeological collections soon
made it clear that, contrary to what Jackson believed, pottery was being made locally.
Texas archeology began to follow national trends in the
late 1940's when J. Charles Kelly and others analyzed and categorized previously excavated
collections, including one from the Lehmann Rockshelter, located fifteen miles west of
Enchanted Rock. This interesting site yielded, in addition to a burial and numerous stone
artifacts, a number of pottery sherds with what appeared to be a red coating or slip.
Kelly grouped these sherds under the same type name, "Doss Red Ware" in
accordance with a classification system developed earlier by Southwestern archeologists.
The first part of the type name refers to a nearby geographic feature, in this case the
town of Doss, and the second part an important physical characteristic of the pottery.
Kelly used the term, "Red Ware" to mean the presumed red slip which covered one
side of the sherds.
The Doss Red Ware type name quickly fell out of favor
among most archeologists, and all bone tempered pottery from Central Texas is now usually
typed as "Leon Plain," as described in An Introductory Handbook of Texas
Archeology, by Dee Ann Suhm, Alex Krieger, and Edward Jelks. The "plain"
designation indicates that this kind of pottery is undecorated, but in fact, a very small
percentage of Leon Plain sherds exhibits some kind of decoration, as the next discussed
site reveals. Also, bone-tempered sherds, excavated from a Choke Canyon site were recently
reported to have traces of a fugitive, or easily worn, red slip.
Excavations in the 1950's, particularly of rockshelters,
by Suhm and Jelks, revealed that Leon Plain pottery was confined to the latter half of the
Late Prehistoric (that period of time when arrow points were in general use). This period
is now known as the Toyah Phase, and is identifiable by the appearance of the Perdiz arrow
point. [Ed. note: Perdiz arrow points, as illustrated below, are available for viewing at
the Kingsland Archeological Center.]
The Spencer site, which lies on a terrace above Sandy
Creek near the base of Enchanted Rock, has yielded over 250 sherds, two of which appear to
be from a non local (i.e. non-Central Texas) pot. These two sherds closely resemble
certain Caddoan types in that their exterior surfaces have been roughened by brushing
while the vessel was still soft, and their paste has grog (crushed sherd) temper instead
of bone. The rest of the sherds appear to come from locally-made pottery in that their
paste contains, in addition to crushed bone, minerals common to the Llano Uplift but rarer
elsewhere in Central Texas. Many of these local sherds show decoration in the form of
incised lines and punctuation's (done while the vessel was soft), techniques common on
prehistoric pottery from east and coastal Texas.
The Slab Site on the Llano River near Kingsland, located
about one mile below where pot hunters recovered the sherds discussed at the 'opening of
this article, was excavated by the Texas Highway Department in the early 1980's. While the
site attracted attention for the possible remains of prehistoric dwellings, fifty-two
sherds were also recovered, all but one conforming to the Leon Plain type. As at the
Spencer Site, these sherds contained a mineral unique to this part of Central Texas and is
further evidence of local manufacture. The one non local sherd is from a sand-tempered
(not bone-tempered) pot, the origin of which is unknown. Sand-tempered sherds occur
sporadically across Central Texas and may represent trade pottery from the coast or even
Mogollon region of the Southwest where such temper is more common.
Last year LUAS vice-president Roger Gibson discovered a
large sherd on a heavily disturbed site on the shore of Lake LBJ. Rarely is such a large
piece of pottery found in Central Texas, and even more rare is the incised and punctuated
decoration and "stirrup" handle. The source of this pot can be pinpointed with
certainty to Late Prehistoric Caddo villages on the upper Nueches and Angelina Rivers in
East Texas. The people who lived in these villages were the immediate ancestors of the
Tejas Indians of the Historic Period.
Archeological excavations in the Llano Uplift region have
clearly demonstrated that pottery was made and used by the late prehistoric people who
resided in this part of Central Texas. A small amount of pottery did enter the Llano
Uplift and other parts of Central Texas, primarily from the Caddo people of east Texas and
perhaps from regions farther afield.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Charles Hixson of Sunrise Beach is the Archeological
Steward in for LUAS in Llano County, as part of a network of volunteers sponsored by the
Texas Historical Commission.