Swift Creek pottery bears impressions created by small carved wooden paddles. The designs can be traced to specific sites with vessels sharing the same impressions. Large data sets of pottery from numerous sites allow archaeologists to understand interregional connections and social networks of the ancient past.
This 1,500-year-old pottery vessel from a Gulf Coast site in Dixie County, Florida, has a remarkable history. It was excavated in the 1950s by UF archaeologist John Goggin who was a pioneer in the archaeology of the state.
We call this type of pottery Swift Creek Complicated Stamped, which preserves the impressions of intricately carved wooden paddles. Wooden paddles were common pottery manufacturing tools for thousands of years. People would smack the surface of vessel walls to force out air pockets and compress the clay during the final stages of shaping.
In the case of complicated stamped designs like the one in front of you, the impressions on pots preserved a whole world of exquisite artwork that would otherwise be unknown to us because it’s made of perishable wood. An added benefit to researchers is that each wooden paddle carving was unique and left recognizable impressions that archaeologists can use like makers marks to identify multiple pots stamped with a particular paddle.
Archaeologists determined that this pot shares the same design, from the same wooden paddle, as other pots found hundreds of miles away at sites in the Florida Panhandle near Tallahassee. At the Florida Museum, we examined the chemistry and mineral inclusions of this vessel and compared it to the matching vessels and locally available clays, and found that the vessel in front of you was carried—likely by canoe—hundreds of miles southeast from its manufacturing place in the Florida Panhandle.
This is one example—among many hundreds—in which we have evidence of people being connected across significant distances, and by using this information we can understand the social networks of thousands of years ago.
Associate Curator, Florida Archaeology
Florida Museum of Natural History
Swift Creek Pottery
From Dixie Co., Florida
Dates to ~AD 500