Popes Creek is a late Early Woodland – early Middle Woodland ware
that is thick, friable and heavily sand-tempered. The exterior
is nearly always net-impressed though rarely it is cord-marked.
Interior surfaces often show distinctive scoring.
Stratigraphic sequences and radiometric dating indicate that Popes
Creek dates from 500 B.C. – ca. A.D. 300.
Popes Creek is found throughout the Coastal Plain and rarely in
the Piedmont and Blue Ridge regions of Maryland, as well as parts
of Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. The core area for Popes
Creek pottery is the Estuarine Potomac River drainage.
The paste has a texture that is extremely sandy and coarse tothe touch, porous, and friable. Temper consists of
medium to coarse
sand comprising 50% – 70% of the paste. Inclusions within the
paste includecoarse water-smoothed quartz pebbles, angular crushed
quartz, or other lithic material. Temper particles range in size
from 1 mm – 14 mm in diameter. The Moh’s hardness for Popes Creek
sherds range between 2.0 and 2.5. The paste color ranges from
an oxidized dark brown and black, to gray, buff, tan, and yellowish-orange
and reds. The distinctive ferruginous color of Popes Creek pottery
is one of its distinctive features when compared to contemporaneous
Exterior surfaces are deeply net-impressed or cord-marked over
the entire surface. The net-impressions are identifiable by the
even patterned indentations from the knots in the netting that
create a bumpy surface. The knotted mesh netting varies from fine
(3 – 5 cords per cm) to coarse (1 cord per cm) with most examples
impressed with a medium mesh of 2 –3 cords per cm.
The interior surface of many Popes Creek sherds is scored or
combed with short, deep, patterned strokes. Diagonal strokes of
3 – 8 cm in length are met by vertical or horizontal strokes,
forming irregular, geometric patterns. On some sherds, the scoring
is done in long, sweeping strokes diagonal to the rim. Basal portions
are not scored. In some rare instances, the net-impressions extend
up over the rim onto the interior surface below the lip.
Popes Creek ware is usually undecorated. Occasionally finger-smoothed
horizontal lines, and rarely, incised horizontal lines or chevrons,
were placed just below the rim.
Pope's Creek vessels are coil-constructed, with coil widths ranging
from 10 mm – 20 mm. Basal sherds often appear to have been modeled
by hand from lumps of clay, with the coils beginning 40 mm – 100
mm above the basal point. Rims are vertical or slightly everted,
and are usually 5 mm – 10 mm in thickness. Lips are rounded, flattened,
or slightly wedge-shaped.
Vessels are typically large and conical in shape, with the upper
portions of the vessel nearly cylindrical, while the lower portions
taper towards the base. Bases are conical or semi-conical, and
basal wall thickness ranges between 15 mm – 28 mm. Vessel size
ranges from diameters of 25 cm – 35 cm and from depths of 30 cm
– 45 cm. Vessel wall thickness, above the base, ranges from 6
mm to 18 mm, with most sherds measuring from 9 mm – 11 mm.
Defined in the Literature
William Henry Holmes described this pottery from
the Popes Creek shell midden site (18CH74) on the Potomac River
(Holmes 1903:153-155). The first formal definition was based on
pottery from the Accokeek Creek site (Stephenson et al. 1963:93-96).
Stephenson presumed that Popes Creek pottery was earlier than
the Accokeek ware due to its more primitive appearance. Excavations
at sites with stratified components and radiocarbon dates indicate
that Accokeek ware pre-dated Popes Creek.
Popes Creek (18PR74)
Maryland sites with Popes Creek
Popes Creek (18CH74)*, Chapel Point (18CH79)*, Otter II (18CV272)*,
Abells Wharf (18ST53)*, Piscataway (18PR7), Accokeek Creek (18PR8),
Loyola Retreat (18CH58)
*collections at the MAC Lab
|2460 + 100;
|2440 + 95;
|2270 + 95;
below Plow zone
|2235 + 100;
Kavanagh 1993: 35
Kavanagh 1993; Egloff
& Potter 1982; Holmes
et al. 1963.