An Introduction to Oneota Ceramics
Ceramics are those artifacts that are constructed with clay and a variety of tempers (materials added to the clay to strengthen the pot and prevent it from cracking when fired). Ceramics are made through an additive process, with the clay being either molded from a block of clay, or built up using a series of clay coils. The ceramics are left to harden to what’s called the “leather-hard” stage. A series of decorations can be added. In Wisconsin, this involves drawing various designs into the clay using a stick or finger. Other areas might use various types of slip, or paint, but these are not commonly found in Wisconsin. The pot is then fired to harden into a final product that can be used for cooking or storage.
To identify the location of different features of a pot, parts of a pot are listed as: Rim, Lip, Neck, Shoulder, Handle, Body, and Base.
Oneota pots tend to be large, with capacities upwards of 10 gallons or more. These are significantly larger than the earlier pots made by the Woodland tradition, which might be only a quart or two. Oneota pots use shell as a temper, and this might have made it easier to make these very large vessels. Some pots have handles. Decoration tends to be along the shoulder and on the lip top or lip interior, with the design and placement depending on temporal placement.
The Oneota settlement of the La Crosse, Wisconsin area is divided into 3 chronological phases. The first is the Brice Prairie phase, dating to the 14th century (Boszhardt 1994), with sites located on terraces immediately adjacent to the Mississippi floodplain. Ceramic vessels tend to have decoration on the interior of the lip. The shoulders have a variety of decorative motifs, including trails and zig-zag lines, sometimes with a border of punctates. There are also vertical tool trails, nested festoons, and nested zig-zags that crown tool trails. Handles tend to be attached at the lip top. Ceramic types that have been defined for this phase include Perrot Punctate, variety inner lip; Brice Prairie Trailed, with three varieties-one with no horizontal elements, and two varieties with horizontal motifs above the vertical trails: Brice Prairie Trailed variety zig-zag and variety festoon.
The next phase is Pammel Creek, dating from 1380 to 1520 AD. These sites are located further from the Mississippi River’s edge, closer to the bluff line. Lip decoration during this phase is more commonly found on top of the lip, typically consisting of broad finger or tool notches. Handles may be attached at the lip, but are now also sometimes attached below the lip. Shoulder decorations reflect a transition between this phase and the later Valley View phase. Some vessels still have a punctate border (Perrot Punctate variety bold), but others have punctate-filled zones with alternating trailed lines (Allamakee Trailed variety bold). There are alternating chevrons or angled trails without punctates (Midway Incised variety bold), as well as broad finger trails (Koshkonong Bold variety bold) and Pammel Creek Trailed (similar to Brice Prairie Trailed, but with a different lip top treatment.
The Valley View Phase represents the final Oneota occupation of the La Crosse locality, dating from 1530 to 1625 AD with sites located near the bluff base of the terrace, reflecting the shift over time from occupations along the Mississippi River floodplain to the bluff base. Lip-top decorations continue, but the notches are much finer than with Pammel Creek. Handles are attached below the lip top. Shoulder decorations include punctate-filled zones (Allamakee Trailed variety fine lip), alternating diagonal tool trails (Midway Incised variety fine lip), broad vertical finger trials (Koshkonong Bold variety fine lip) and simple vertical tool trails (Valley View Trailed). Boszhardt also noticed a decrease in tool-trail width among the styles of the Valley View phase pottery.
William Feltz, a University of Wisconsin-La Crosse student in Archaeology, has undertaken a senior thesis to document these ceramic types with 3D models. 3D photogrammetry is the process of creating a manipulatable 3D model using only photos from a digital camera that are then processed through computer software to extract 3D data and create a dense 3D point cloud and wireframe mesh. With the right technology and software, this process can be as accurate as being able to measure a hairline fracture along the surface of prehistoric pottery with 0.1 mm accuracy. The pot shape and contours can be recorded by taking photographs at multiple angles to be processed on a computer to create a digital replica that can be studied by anyone with internet access, with data no longer restricted to a site whose physical artifacts are exclusively stored within the curation facility.
With appropriate software, these replicas can be further analyzed to extract multiple cross-sections from different areas of a pot to reconstruct the complete vessel’s original form. 3D models can also be printed to be used as aids for teaching and studying different methods of analysis, such as typology. This web page presents links to a series of these 3D models.
- Boszhardt, Robert F
1994 Oneota Group Continuity at La Crosse: The Brice Prairie, Pammel Creek, and Valley View Phases. Wisconsin Archaeologist 75(3-4): 173-238.