Noded fire-carrier vessels and a bank project

A few years ago I had thumbed through a recently donated collection from the Nolichucky when a particular sherd caught my eye.  The sherd was so bizarre looking that I had initially mistaken it for a probable historic sherd from early European settlers.



Above Images: “Canoe Pipe” fragment from Plum Grove

Recently, I realized this sherd, which comes from donated surface collections via the Plum Grove site (1960s), was that of a sacred fire holding vessel. Upon closer inspection, one can still see traces of the red paint in the cracks of the craved clay squares which adorn the exterior of the pipe.  I can add little to what’s already in the published literature (see link here, and rely on the link above from Brett Riggs in which he describes such vessels/pipes as:

“Both “gravy boat” pots and “canoe” pipes can be interpreted as elements of a widespread ritual complex involving fire ceremonialism. The extensive distribution of both artifact forms across a number of archaeological cultures suggests that highly specific and detailed symbolic information was shared across social, ethnic, and political boundaries. ”

Riggs goes on to mention the relatively scarcity of such vessels which are undoubtedly linked to fire ceremonialism.  He uses a really neat reference from John Howard Payne:

“John Howard Payne, who collected information on Cherokee traditions during the 1830s, provides an explicit description of “gravy boat” type ceramic vessels used to transport sacred fire (Payne Manuscript Vol 4:104-105, 225; emphasis added):

The priest made new fire…to be their guide and helper in the war….This fire he put in the sacred ark for the war. This…was about a foot long, shaped somewhat like a canoe, having a lid fitted to the upper side. All was made of clay, burnt in the same manner as Indian earthenware. No one must touch this, but the priest for the war, or his right hand man….”

UNC-Chapel Hill also provides a nice detailed image of what this sherd would have looked like whole:


Image From:

The Plum Grove site of the Middle Nolichucky Valley has long been noted for its importance to southeast archaeology, however, much remains unknown about the site despite large scale archaeological excavations conducted at the site.  Plum Grove is probably the largest and most robust Nolichucky contact-era site but it’s one of a great many that are clustered together in the Middle Nolichucky Valley, perhaps totaling 20-25 contact-era sites in a narrow corridor.

Another interesting project that we recently concluded involved a bank project at site 40wg143, the cane notch site, which is also located in the Middle Nolichucky Valley.  This project involved cutting a window profile into an already eroded bank area of the site in hopes of learning something of the geological and cultural processes that encompass the first terrace here.  We recovered numerous partial vessels, glass beads, and what we suspect is charred peach pit core.  We also got a quick and dirty glimpse at how many archaeological cultures may have inhabited the site, with occupations likely dating as far back as 9000 B.C. through the protohistoric times period.


Above: Tricky stratigraphy, note the slumped black band in the lower left hand corner.13823410_712828230846_2066763551_n

Above Image: Straight ahead view of the profile

In essence, this 13 foot wall, allowed us to better understand one of the key deposits which first drew us to the site.  Pictured below are a few of the partial vessels from the excavation:


Image Above: Grit tempered Jug with strap handles (note the residue coating the fill line)

Image Below: Sand tempered burnished jar with notched applique rim strip





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