Potomac Creek is a Late Woodland ware, characterized
by a crushed quartz or sand temper, cord-marked exteriors, and rim
strips (collars). Defined types include Potomac Creek Plain and
Potomac Creek Cord-Marked.
Stratigraphic sequences and radiometric dating
indicate that Potomac Creek dates from ca. A.D. 1300 – A.D. 1700.
Potomac Creek is found throughout the Maryland
Coastal Plain west of the Chesapeake Bay, as well as in the Coastal
Plain of Northern Virginia. It is occasionally found further to the west, particularly in rock shelters.
The paste has a texture that is fine-to-medium and smooth, with
a slight grittiness to thetouch. Temper consists of angular crushed
quartz with occasional inclusions of other crushed rock or coarse
sand. Temper particles range from 1 mm – 4 mm in diameter, and constitute
20% – 35% of the paste. Stewart (1992:40) notes, however, that sherds
recovered from the Potomac Creek site (44ST2) were tempered
with either "grit" alone or in combination with fine-to-medium
grained sand. Potomac Creek has a Moh’s scale hardness of 3.0 –
4.0. Vessels were fired at a high temperature, usually in a reducing
atmosphere that produced surface smudging or uneven smudge clouds.
Exterior surface colors are usually dark brown to black, but range
through light brown, gray, tan, reddish, buff, and light cream.
Exterior surfaces are cord-marked from base to rim, generally diagonally
to the rim, but some paddle edge impressions are vertical, horizontal,
criss-crossed, or combinations of these. Cords are loosely twisted,
1.0 mm – 1.5 mm in width, and wrapped tightly about the paddle.
The predominant cordage twist is Z-twist. Potomac Creek Plain vessels
have exterior surface treatments that are smoothed or smoothed over
cord-impressions. Interior surfaces are smoothed.
Decorations on Potomac Creek Cord-Marked ceramics are confined to
the neck and rim regions, and consist of vertical, horizontal, criss-crossed,
and geometric marks applied by impressing single or multiple cords.
Pseudo-cord impressions are common, where a cord-wrapped stick is
impressed in the clay to form a decorative pattern. Other decorative
techniques include cord and fingernail impressing and circular punctating
(Schmitt 1952:63). Egloff and Potter (1982:107, 112) suggest that
for both Potomac Creek and Townsend wares, decoration becomes simpler
through time, and that a higher percentage of plain vessels are
present in later assemblages. Stephenson et al. (1963:118) noted
that a small number of sherds from the Accokeek Creek site (18PR8)
were decorated with incised lines or punctations. Potomac Creek
Plain is rarely decorated, with the exception of lip nicking.
Potomac Creek is coil-constructed with paddle malleation. Coils
typically begin at the apex of the base and continue up to the lip.
Vessel shapes are globular, expanding evenly from the base to mid-portion,
and contracting evenly to the rim juncture. Bases are rounded, but
Stephenson et al. (1963) noted that a few vessels from the Accokeek
Creek site (18PR8) had semi-conical or, rarely, almost flat bases.
Rims are everted or straight. Lips are usually rounded, flattened,
or wedge-shaped. Often the rim is thinned toward the lip and an
extra band of clay is applied around it, producing a thickened rim
1 – 3 times the body thickness. Lips are also sometimes notched.
Manson et al. (1943:408) noted that some lips had been notched so
deeply as to appear scalloped. Vessels range from miniature pots
to larger bowls, beakers, and jars. Vessels range from 13 cm – 30
cm in height, but are usually 20 cm – 25 cm tall. Diameters range
from 12 cm – 28 cm, but are usually 2 cm – 4 cm less than maximum
depths. Vessel walls are relatively thin, ranging from 4 mm – 7
mm. Vessels with sandier temper range from 6 mm – 10 mm in thickness.
Defined in the Literature
Potomac Creek ware was first described by William H. Holmes (1903:155-156)
from pottery recovered from the Potomac Creek site (44ST2) in Stafford
County, Virginia. The definition was expanded by James Griffin (Manson
et al. 1944) and Karl Schmitt (1952) from later work. Based on the
numerous sherds of Potomac Creek recovered from the Accokeek Creek
site (18PR8) in Prince George’s County, Maryland, Robert Stephenson
refined the definition of Potomac Creek (Stephenson et al. 1963:113-120).
Two types were defined, Potomac Creek Cord-Marked and Potomac Creek
Plain. A more recent analysis of the Potomac Creek complex (Dent
and Jirikowic 2001) reviews the radiocarbon chronology for Potomac
Potomac Creek (44ST2)
Maryland sites with
Potomac Creek components
Accokeek Creek (18PR8), Duck’s Run (18AN546)*, Loyola Retreat (18CH58),
Cumberland (18CV171)*, Grant (18BA444)*
*collections at the MAC Lab
et al. 1999
|410 + 50; A.D. 1460
et al. 1999
|540 + 60; A.D. 1415
et al. 1999
|670 + 60; A.D. 1300
et al. 1999
Blanton et al.
and Jirikowic 2001; Egloff
and Potter 1982; Holmes
et al. 1944; Schmitt
et al. 1963