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A World Engraved

Archaeology of the Swift Creek Culture

Edited by Mark Williams and Daniel T. Elliott, Rebecca Saunders, Alan Marsh, Bud

Publication Year: 1998

This major summary of the current state of archaeological research on the Swift Creek culture is the first comprehensive collection ever published concerning the Swift Creek people.

The Swift Creek people, centered in Georgia and surrounding states from A.D. 100 to 700, are best known from their pottery, which was decorated before firing with beautiful paddle-stamped designs--some of the most intricate and fascinating in the world.

Comprehensive in scope, this volume details the discovery of this culture, summarizes what is known about it at the present time, and shows how continued improvements in the collection and analysis of archaeological data are advancing our knowledge of this extinct society.

Although they know nothing of Swift Creek language and little about its society, archaeologists have collected valuable information about the
economic strategies of Swift Creek inhabitants. What archaeologists know best, however, is that the Swift Creek people were some of the best wood carvers the world has seen, and their pottery will stand as their lasting legacy for all time. This book presents and preserves their legacy.


Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. v-viii

Figures and Tables

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pp. ix-xiv

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pp. xv-xviii

Perhaps the best carvers of wood in prehistoric North America lived in the southern Appalachian region of the United States between 1400 and 1800 years ago. These Native Americans, certainly represented by many different unknown ethnic groups, have come to be known to archaeologists as the Swift Creek people. Unfortunately, and certainly ironically, ...

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1. Swift Creek Research: History and Observations

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pp. 1-11

The Swift Creek period in Georgia and the surrounding states is recognized almost exclusively by the distinct pottery associated with the period from approximately A.D. 100 to A.D. 750. The earliest recorded illustrations of what we now know as Swift Creek Complicated Stamped pottery were presented almost 70 years before the type was formally recognized, however. ...

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2. Swift Creek Site Excavations: The Works Progress Administration and Black Labor

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pp. 12-18

On March 4, 1933, as Franklin D. Roosevelt took the presidential oath, the country was in the midst of a great depression. The banking system was in collapse, the economy was in shambles, and 25 percent of the labor force was unemployed. The nation turned its eyes to the new president in search of leadership and hope. People anxiously waited to see whether the “New Deal for the American people,” ...

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3. The Northern and Eastern Expression of Swift Creek Culture: Settlement in the Tennessee and Savannah River Valleys

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pp. 19-35

The Swift Creek type site, located on Swift Creek in Bibb County in central Georgia, was excavated in 1936 and 1937 (Kelly and Smith 1975). By 1939 the usual range of the Swift Creek Complicated Stamped ceramic type was listed as “Georgia, northwest Florida, perhaps north into the Tennessee Valley” (Haag 1939b). The pottery was seen as older than Macon Plateau and Lamar and approximately contemporaneous with Stallings ...

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4. Shrines of the Prehistoric South: Patterning in Middle Woodland Mound Distribution

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pp. 36-47

It is often said that archaeological research yields more questions than answers. The 1991 excavations at the Fortson site in Wilkes County, Georgia, provided strong and direct support for this aphorism. The Fortson site (9WS2) is located in the east-central portion of the northern Georgia Piedmont, on a minor drainage some 40 kilometers west of the Savannah River. It had been

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5. Swift Creek: Lineage and Diffusion

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pp. 48-60

Of all the Woodland archaeological complexes in the North American Southeast, few are more intriguing in terms of origin, geographic extent, and ultimate fate than the prehistoric entity that is known now as Swift Creek. The concept became a part of the literature with its first recognition by Arthur R. Kelly (1938) and with a later and more detailed evaluation by Smith and Kelly (1975). ...

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6. Swift Creek Design Investigations: The Hartford Case

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pp. 61-98

Analysis of Swift Creek Complicated Stamped pottery designs might make it possible to understand better than any other prehistoric culture in Georgia the culture of the Swift Creek people of the first millennium A.D. During the past twenty-five years I have attempted to unveil some of their secrets by reconstructing some of these designs and applying this information to archaeological problems. ...

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7. Swift Creek Designs: A Tool for Monitoring Interaction

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pp. 99-111

Unquestionably, the hallmark of Swift Creek material cultural is its elaborately decorated pottery. The highly stylized designs that embellish Swift Creek ceramic ware most certainly served as visual representations of cultural information. As such, this iconography provides archaeologists the opportunity to examine various facets of communication exchange and social interaction. Previous studies of Swift Creek designs ...

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8. Neutron Activation Analysis of Ceramics from Mandeville and Swift Creek

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pp. 112-129

One of the most useful classes of artifacts recovered from prehistoric sites is pottery. Attributes of construction, vessel form, and decoration are used as chronological markers, as defining characteristics of regional or local traditions, and as a means of gauging both intraregional and interregional contact and interaction. The study of pottery begins with the definition of types; in the southeastern United States ...

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9. Cultural Interaction within Swift Creek Society: People, Pots, and Paddles

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pp. 130-153

Swift Creek Complicated Stamped ceramics are special (Anonymous 1939). Not only are the designs that were impressed into their surfaces from elaborately carved wooden paddles aesthetically pleasing to almost anyone’s eyes, but the designs are unusually varied and complex as well (see Figure 9-1). While the former feature allows one to enjoy studying them today, it is the latter characteristic that renders them a potentially rich reservoir of information about the social behavior of their makers (Broyles 1968). ...

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10. Swift Creek Phase Design Assemblages from Two Sites on the Georgia Coast

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pp. 154-180

Perhaps because I received my first training in archaeological analysis techniques in the mid-1970s, when social archaeology and particularly the works of Hill (1968), Longacre (1964), Hardin (1977), Washburn (1978), and others were in vogue, I have long been fascinated with the potential of design analysis to illuminate social relationships in the past. These early “social archaeologists” relied on the idea of varying degrees ...

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11. Kolomoki and the Development of Sociopolitical Organization on the Gulf Coastal Plain

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pp. 181-196

The Woodland in the Southeast was a period when societies were experimenting with the kinds of economies and social systems that provided the foundation for the establishment of Mississippian period chiefdoms. This experimentation took on different forms across the Southeast with the various manifestations of Swift Creek culture being perhaps both the most spectacular and most perplexing. ...

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12. Swift Creek Traits in Northeastern Florida: Ceramics, Mounds, and Middens

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pp. 197-221

This chapter reviews the occurrence of Swift Creek manifestations as revealed in northeastern Florida. After a brief discussion on local Woodland chronologies, past research and new ideas concerning nontechnological aspects of Middle Woodland ceramics are considered to suggest Early and Late Swift Creek pottery types and possible cultural manifestations. This is followed by a presentation of data gathered from known burial mounds and midden deposits that have yielded Swift Creek wares. ...

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13. 1973 and 1994 Excavations at the Block-Sterns Site, Leon County, Florida

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pp. 222-246

From the primarily ceramic manifestation defined by Arthur R. Kelly in 1938, the concept of Swift Creek has grown to a progressively well-defined archaeological culture through the work of Willey (1949), Sears (1962, 1966), Phelps (1969), and others. Its linkages with other Hopewellian manifestations to the north and with Marksville–Santa Rosa to the west have long been recognized. ...

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14. Santa Rosa–Swift Creek in Northwestern Florida

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pp. 247-273

Santa Rosa–Swift Creek is a Middle Woodland culture located on the northern Gulf Coast in northwestern Florida. The primary purpose of this chapter is to provide an overview of the available information on Santa Rosa– Swift Creek as of 1994. This overview will include a description of the Santa Rosa–Swift Creek culture area, the general artifact assemblage, chronology, site types, and settlement patterns. Next, within this larger cultural context, ...

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15. Swift Creek in a Regional Perspective

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pp. 274-300

During the few centuries around and immediately after the time of Christ, as suggested by evidence in the form of shared artifacts and iconography, a diverse range of societies across eastern North America were tied together in some way: this behavior has come to be subsumed under the rubric of Middle Woodland period Hopewellian interaction. The existence of a broadly shared ideology is inferred by the presence of similar decorative motifs ...

References Cited

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pp. 301-338


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pp. 339-342


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pp. 343-356

E-ISBN-13: 9780817383190
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817309121

Page Count: 374
Publication Year: 1998

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Indian pottery -- Southern States.
  • Excavations (Archaeology) -- Southern States.
  • Swift Creek Site (Ga.).
  • Indians of North America -- Georgia -- Antiquities.
  • Indians of North America -- Southern States -- Antiquities.
  • Southern States -- Antiquities.
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