One of the most important characteristics of the Woodland people was the development of pottery.
Pottery was first developed in South Carolina and Georgia along the coast during Archaic times. It eventually spread to Tennessee. The Woodland Indians took this tradition of pottery making and refined it.
They used pottery vessels with which to cook, store, and serve their food. They made them in all shapes and sizes with intricate designs. They might have also been used in ceremonies or rituals.
Woodland Indians made their pottery using several steps. First, they rolled wet clay with another ingredient that would “temper” the clay. Temper means to make it stronger or a better quality. Ingredients used to temper the clay differed from place to place. Some used sand. Others used pebbles or even broken shells.
Once the clay and tempering ingredient was mixed together, the clay would be rolled into long coils. These coils would then be stacked on top of each other to make a vessel shape. The stacked coils would then be pressed and shaped together to make smooth sides on the insides and outsides of the container.
Once they had the shape the way they wanted, the Woodland Indians then placed it next to an open fire. The fire dried the clay and hardened it. The last step would be to place the piece of pottery directly in the fire to finish hardening it. At the end of this process, the pot or jar would be ready for use.
Woodland Art in Pottery
The Woodland Indians did not make pottery just for practical use. Much of their pottery shows artistic expression. They decorated their pottery with artistic designs.
To do this, they used hand paddles that either had carved designs or were wrapped with fabric or twine. When the clay was still wet, Woodland pottery makers would stamp pots or jars with the paddle. This made the designs on the pottery. Pottery with a surface decorated like this is called “stamped pottery.”
These unique patterns help archaeologists identify what type of Woodland culture made the pottery and even when they made it. The patterns that are seen on Woodland pottery in West Tennessee might be different than the patterns on Woodland pottery in East Tennessee.
- Painting depicting pottery making. This painting was made by Martin Pate. It shows several people squatting and holding clay jars. Southeast Archaeological Center, National Park Service
- Painting depicting Woodland pottery making. This painting was created by Greg Harlin. It depicts several women making pottery around 300 A.D. Frank H. McClung Museum, The University of Tennessee
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