If we study the chart above a list of sites is noted and the map will give you some idea of the relationship of the Mississippi valley, the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, and the Piedmont of the Atlantic Coast. The more noted site in the past for clay balls has been the Poverty Point site, a bit west of the Mississippi River in the State of Louisiana. Here it was estimated that the inhabitants had made and used over four million balls, to be used in their hearths. This site is also the area where many of the artifacts associated with what is termed the "Poverty Point Period" have been recovered and typed. A late archaic time for man, on a par with the last few millenniums of habitation at the Zueberbueler site in West Texas.
To the south east of the Poverty Point site is the Clayborne site. Again a large site, but much smaller than the type site, at Poverty Point. Many of the artifact types of the larger site were also recovered at the Clayborne site. Additionally to the dominance of clay balls there were additional artifacts not as common at the big site. One of these was the presence of stone bowls and micro tools. The small blade tools will, we hope, appear in a subsequent paper.
The stone bowls and use of great amounts of steatite also had a second artifact accompany them. The rare recovery of fiber tempered pottery, man's first vessels of clay. As with Poverty Point, carbon dating an age of approximately 3,100 BP was acquired.
To the east the Alligator Lake site was again home to early man of the same era. The site, in Northwest Florida, located back from the beach of the Gulf of Mexico. Here a small natural spring feeds a lake, just feet from the beach. As with the many small lakes in the area, it is prone to filling and overflowing into the Gulf. That this welling up of fresh water has been an event for many millennium is suggested by the recovery of points at the site dating back to transitional Paleo - Archaic times. At least ten thousand years.
While it's most certainly man's need of water that guided him to the area, as paleo man was far from interested in clay, it was the clay the would bring him back over and over again. The Alligator Lake site, as with several others in the area, does not demonstrate that it was ever used as a permanent habitation site.
Even though there have been great numbers of some artifacts recovered at the site, the basic tools of a long term habitation site were missing, manos and metates. That plus the evidence suggested that each zone of discovery was small and most likely a singular visit or possibly a rest as the season improved for additional travel. The Alligator Lake site as with the other in the area, along the coast, had been what we refer today as a rest area.
Further evidence of this short term use is suggested when we compare the items recovered, to the nearby bay. Map (B) of the above cheart, offers us a view of Choctawhatchee Bay. A very large body of water that sets behind a long peninsula of land. Only at it's western end, does it flow into the Gulf of Mexico. The east west length of the peninsula and bay are little more than three miles long and a mile wide.
The surrounding shores of this bay, had been the home of man for many eras. Scores of habitation sites surround the bay. The majority have been observed near the hard wood hammocks. These areas of water Oaks, offered excellent shelter for man. The common location for one of these oasis, in the vast forest of pine, is around one of the many small bayous. Like the small lakes that flowed into the Gulf the bayous emptied into the bay. Again, like the lakes, their sources were small fresh water springs. With exception of near the source of the river that feeds it, brackish water, the result of the salt water tides flowing into the bay from the Gulf, water not palatable to man.
While the beach site yielded clay balls, micro tools and fiber tempered pottery, these each considered a rare discovery at bay sites. In fact any material recovered around the bay, prior to the pottery or post archaic period was seldom encountered at sites. To every rule there are the exception, and here we find the mysteries of early man.
At one location on the bay, micro blades were encountered. But their style and suggested use suggest either a parallel introduction or at best a slight relationship to the kind to be recovered at either the beach sites or the sites in the Mississippi valley.
Then there were the decorated clay balls recovered at site(2) a hammock a few miles east of the beach between the bay and the gulf. It was here that balls that were all but identical to the samples recovered in Mississippi. Parallel clay balls.
Now to add to the mystery we will add two additional sites. The north east cost of Florida, the St. Johns River area, has yielded vast amounts of fiber tempered pottery. As we get into the Pottery the Parallels will be shown with this site. Then there is the Piedmont of Georgia. An unexpected discovery of clay balls here was most startling, especially when the balls were compared to the Pearl River balls from the lower zone. Clay balls from Georgia.
We now have a fair idea of the distribution of both artifacts and man's knowledge. The sites give us a calender of events. We must now take the total and as with a deck of cards, mesh the total to give us a full deck of understanding.
We start with what we know. The earliest use of clay seems to have been at the beach sites of Northwest Florida. Clay hearth were attempted but failed, their use may possibly have been a parallel introduction, or as several stone points recovered at the sites would suggest, the use of slabs to cook on had journeyed into the east, from the West Texas shelters. As the majority of points recovered are related to the Edwards Plateau of Texas, the use of cooking slabs may have been just another of human intellects.
That clay would not offer a suitable hearth as stone may have again demonstrated the human power of man, to use his power of change. A simple improvement, a slab of clay balls to replace one of solid clay. That this idea of clay molded into balls has it's start in Florida is demonstrated in the earliest forms put into general use, the Elliott's Point balls. Recovered at several sites around the bay, they are missing at the beach sites.
Again the balls take a change, the site that yielded the decorated balls, is not to far from the Elliott's Point type site, and most importantly it is very near the out flow of the bay. So we have the opportunity of decorated ball moving out of the bay. But why would inhabitants of the bay carry forth this idea? It would seem it was the travellers of the beach that inherited the new form of decoration with clay. To the east into Georgia the ball's technology travelled, and to the west to the Mississippi site.
While only rare samples of highly tool decorated balls are noted to have been recovered at the Poverty Point site, or other sites in the area of similar period. Why did they reach Mississippi and terminate, and what or how are they related to the molded balls to the north at Poverty Point?
Now remember we have compared balls from east and west, and even some recovered to the north, but what of up and down? Yes upper zones and lower zones. Recall at the large pit reworked by the author, the one left behind by the prior research team? It will be this new pit and it's wall, that tells the story.
As was described, below the zone of habitation left by man using the Poverty Point balls, there were several feet of silt layered sandy clay. In Florida it was common to find the beach sand dunes to build from similar layers or deposits separated by a thin line of ash. Yes along the coast of Florida and in the sandy floored pine forest of Mississippi ash is a common remnant of eons of natural fires. As at the Florida beaches this ash would settle in to bands of discoloration, as the numerous rains filtered down and carried the ash with it.
On placing a test pit in to the area being considered as possibly habitation, the finding of this line every few feet down, was evidence the site had not been previously disturbed. An encounter with mottled or tumbled silt was reason to abandon the pit and start again elsewhere.
Here at the new pit there were several undisturbed lines of ash. The sandy clay had underdone a number of rains between the time man inhabited the upper zone and the time he deposited the lower samples of clay balls. But there are more clues.
At the lower zone, it also was plain to see that the balls, the ash and the grease laden soil had not been deposited there by man. They like the slit above had been carried to the new resting place. All events suggested that this area just north of the gulf coast and less than 30 miles from the City of New Orleans, had seen several powerful storms in the past. That several thousand years in the past such a storms had moved the trash of a habitation site and redeposited it in this new location.
Subsequent storms had carried in new layers of silt, each distinguished by the settling of the ash by the rains. Then the makers of the Poverty Point balls resettled the area. How long had it been between periods of habitation, this remained as a lost bit of information, but that the skill of the upper zone had not changed to any degree than that employed at the lower habitation zone.
How can I state the two zones were basically similar. Our clue is the barrel clay balls. Remember they were a minor type found among the biconical and round balls of the Poverty Point type. So how do we interpret this clue?
Our clue? Recall I describe the balls of the lower zone as having been made using a very clean, or pure clay paste? And those of the upper level made using a very sandy and crumbly paste? It is obvious that the earlier used pure paste was suitable to being decorated with a tool, the latter sandy clay only by molding. So why the change?
Take a visit to view the miniture clay balls from Mississippi.
Now for theory, one based on the facts we have before us. At a time prior to 3100 BP, man, most likely in Florida, attempted to cook upon a pad of clay. Unfamiliar with the possibility that such a pad made of clay would shatter with the heat of the fire, he was dissatisfied and considered other methods.
Knowing that a clay pad would shatter into many parts during use, he ventured to try a pad made of pre formed parts, balls of clay. Possibly having some degree of success cooking on this shattered pad, the early inhabitants of the site proceeded to find ways to retain the heat within the food. Thus an oven was introduced. As seen in the display of Poverty Point balls, such an oven became the norm at the lower Mississippi valley sites.
As demonstrated the clay balls of Florida began to have decoration applied to them, the earlier molding to decorate remained in use in the bay of original source, but the art in clay spread east to at least one site in Georgia, and west to the Poverty Point sites.
At the Clayborne site this system of cooking in a clay ball built hearth, gained acceptance. The introduction of decorated balls had found a home. But even the best plans of men and mice goes astray, nature stepped in, a great storm came in out of the Gulf of Mexico and pushed the inhabitants of the Clayborne site off their dry and secure camps. It not only covered the habitation sites, it additionally covered the source of pure clay. As the new test pit shows, several feet of silt now covered the area.
The river remained, the abundance of fishing and ease of gathering shell fish had not been distorted, so man would return, may be a year and then maybe a hundred years. But there are signs that the skills used make cooking hearth of clay balls had remained in use. But the change, the soft clay balls, the round form now to be used? We need a new clue.
Not a new clue, but a little noted fact that has been before us from the start. The barrel shaped balls, they held the secret of what happened when man returned to the Pearl River.
I guess the best way to tell the story of the change is "Have not, want not". In addition to the barrel shape that the two zones shared there is one feature that the two zones did not share, at least not in the balls. The lower zone balls were of pure clay while the upper a sandy clay paste. So how do we combine these to facts and offer a story of man and his clay balls?
It is no problem visualizing man in Florida making his first clay pads, his new cook top. It would also be understood that the clay used would be a quality sufficient to permit a relatively large pad to be formed. It is doubtful the very start of using clay for any project would have been undertaken with had the only supply of clay been the sandy variety.
The recovered early pad, original use of balls, the early Elliott's point balls and eventually the tool decorated ball of both Florida and the lower zone of the Mississippi pit, were made using the pure clay paste. Additionally there are those miniatures recovered in the upper zone, amidst the sandy common balls, these also are made of pure clay.
What happened? Why had man charged from a superior pure paste to the sandy clay? The several layers of silt in the pit is our clue. The storm that compelled man to abandon the habitation site, had also covered their supply of clay. Today the sandy clay is easily recovered in the area of the Mississippi site, and pure paste is available in Florida.
So we have man returning to the Pearl River site, the system of using clay balls still the preferred method of cooking, a new source of clay needed. So began the Poverty Point method of making clay balls. But how do we demonstrate the new habitants to the original residents? The barrels, they hold the key.
Please recall that the barrel shape was recovered from both the upper and lower zones at the Mississippi site. A comparison of the recovered artifacts shows that there being only one feature that changed, the paste. Additionally we can see that the method and form of decoration had also undergone a change.
The pure paste balls from the lower zone had been decorated, often elaborately, with a tool. Even punctuating with tool or fingernail had been employed. An additional feature noted was holes made in the balls. Not uncommon with both zones were holes pressed through the decorated balls, and some only pressed partially through the balls. An additional mystery to address. But not one to difficult to solve.
Here it was reasoned the pure paste used in decorated balls would, when placed upon a pad to dry, become imprinted with the irregular surface. This was noted on a small number of balls recovered. The maker and decorator solved this problem by inserting a length of cane to stand the balls upon as they dried. Several balls had holes that did not protrude their total diameter, and the result here would be a ball with a single hole on one side. But our artisan solved the unbalance of the art, a fake hole was placed a short distant into the ball on the reverse. Again we were fortunate, one of the balls that had a semi hole made into it, left the clear impression of the cane at the base, in one the holes.
We had seen this shape in a unrelated artifact recovered nearby at the site. Several stone beads had been made using cane, to drill the hole through them. One bead had been the work of a misguided drill. Bored from both ends, the two pits had missed being aligned. Being untrue they had only met on their edge at the center of the beads length, As a result, the bottom of one pit retained the imprint of the tools used, here a length of cane. The resulting nipple formed by the hollow boring end of the cane was identical and clear in the soft clay of the ball, as in the bead.
As for our theory on the history of the balls, the appearance of barrels in the upper zone was evidence that the craftsman making the balls had been familiar with the shapes used in the lower zone, but no longer having the pure paste in large quantities as before, was compelled to make use of the readily available sandy clay. The problem this offered was in decoration. No longer could the tool be used to incise, or the finger nail to punctuate. The result being a return to molding the balls into decorative forms. Only now the basic form would be round and not the potato form of Florida.
The trend setting barrels,
The barrels? This was the only shape and decoration from the lower zone that could and would be retained in the new style of balls. The only question remaining being that of the miniatures. Here it would seem that small quantities of pure paste would be recovered, the uses being the maker demonstrated his art of old, but in a rationed size. And as was the custom earlier to dry on a bit of cane.
The story of the clay balls has been offered, but a new story was emerging with the balls. Pottery had found a beginning. A rare artifact at the site, it also had a story of travel and influence.