Excavations at the Pharr Mounds and the Bear Creek Site
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Bear Creek


The plain pottery wares described below have not been assigned to named types for two reasons. First, plainware typology has not evolved sufficiently, at least in northeast Mississippi, to be of much use. Some of the existing types, for example, have extremely wide distribution in space and time. In other cases, types from different areas which appear to be very similar, at least in the literature, have been given different names. The second reason is that in the instances where significant types have been set up, as in the sand tempered wares, samples were not available for comparative purposes.

The proveniences of pottery sherds and vessels in the Bear Creek mound and village are given in tables 1 and 2.

Shell Tempered Wares

Plain, coarse temper (fig. 11)

The vast majority of the pottery is the typical coarse, Middle Mississippi ware. The paste is poorly wedged and abundantly tempered with large particles of crushed shell. The predominant shapes are small to large jars with low, gently outturned rims. Pairs of narrow strap handles are common. A thickened strip of applique had been added to the exterior of one rim to form a notched flange. The only other vessel shape represented is a hemispherical bowl with a straight rim which is notched on the exterior.

TABLE 1.--Provenience of pottery sherds, Bear Creek Site
(click on image for a PDF version)

TABLE 2.--Provenience of pottery vessels, Bear Creek Site

Feature 3 Village
Plain, course (shell)
Moundville Incised (shell)3

Long Branch Fabric Marked (limestone)


Plain, fine temper (fig. 9a-c)

The paste of this ware is fine and compact in texture and the temper is finely ground. It is much harder than the coarse ware and the vessel walls are generally thinner. In color, the sherds tend to be tan or gray. The reds and browns which predominate in the previous type are rare. Only two rim sherds were recovered, both representing jars with low, gently outflaring rims.

The sherds described here are related to the fine shell tempered ware which is widespread in the Southeastern United States (Phillips, Ford, and Griffin, 1951, pp. 125-126). Two nearby analogues are Bell Plain in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley (ibid.) and an unnamed category from the Guntersville Basin (Heimlich, 1952, p. 23).

Moundville Incised (figs. 9d and 11)

References: Heimlich, 1952, p. 24; and DeJarnette and Wimberly, 1941, p. 83.

The sherds exemplifying this type are similar in paste characteristics to the coarse plainware. Medium size to very large jars with outturned rims, which tend to be more nearly straight than the curved rims of the plain vessels, are represented.

The decorative motif, consisting of a series of arches encircling the upper portion of the body, is executed by series of four lines, single lines, or a single line with closely spaced lines at right angles to it. There are four sherds in which troweling of the unhardened clay had produced a ledge which formed the arches. The ledge was flanked by closely spaced lines perpendicular to it or rows of stick punctates.

The arch motif was apparently quite common during Late Mississippian times (Sears, 1964, p. 279). A similar treatment is found on vessels of the Mouse Creek culture of east Tennessee, which is on a protohistoric time level (Kneberg, 1952, p. 198, p1. 110v). Similar vessels were also found at the Bessemer Site, where they were associated with a Moundville ceramic complex (DeJarnette and Wimberly, 1941).

Moundville Filmed-Incised (fig. 10d)

Reference: DeJarnette and Wimberly, 1941, p. 84; and Heimlich, 1952, pp. 28-32 (described under "black filmed shell tempered ware").

Two sherds, probably from the same vessel, belong in this type. The vessel appears to have been a plate. The design was incised on the interior and consists of circles filled with parallel lines. Both interior and exterior are black filmed and polished. The paste of these sherds is very fine and the temper particles are very finely ground.

Barton Incised (fig. 9f)

Reference: Phillips, Ford, and Griffin, 1951, pp. 114-119, figs. 86 and 95.

A single rim sherd with a crudely incised design is of this type.

Barton Incised was identified in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley, where it is found throughout the Mississippi time period. Analogous types are apparently quite rare along the Tennessee River in north Alabama.

Unidentified incised (fig. 9e)

A single sherd with coarse paste has been assigned to this category. The design is a crudely incised zig-zag.

Unidentified red filmed

Only one red filmed sherd was found. The paste is coarse and the exterior is covered with a bright orange wash of micaceous clay.

Clay Tempered Wares


This is a coarse ware tempered with medium to large particles of burned clay. The paste is characteristically lumpy and contorted and has a slick, "soapy" texture. Surface colors range from tan or orange to red and, rarely, gray.

This ware is analogous to Baytown Plain in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley and adjacent territory (Phillips, Ford, and Griffin, 1951, pp 76-82). It also appears to resemble the description of McKelvey Plain from the north Alabama area (Heimlich, 1952, p. 21).

Mulberry Creek Cordmarked (fig. 10e and f)

Reference: Heimlich, 1952, p. 21; and Phillips, Ford, and Griffin, 1951, pp. 82-87).

These sherds with cordmarked exteriors have the same paste characteristics of those described above. The type name has been used to designate wares in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley and in north Alabama.

Sand Tempered Ware

The paste described for the plain pottery below is characteristic of all the sherds of this ware.

Plain (fig. 10a and b)

These sherds are abundantly tempered with very fine sand. The micaceous paste is dense and compact. Surface colors are tan, rusty brown, brick red or, rarely, dark gray. The single rim sherd has a flanged rim with flattened lip.

Comparison with sherds of Baldwin Plain (Jennings, 1941, p. 200) from sites in Lee County, Miss., showed close resemblances in size and abundance of temper, surface color, and presence of mica.

The sand tempered sherds were sent to Moundville, Ala., for possible identification. Mr. John W. Cottier examined them and stated that they did not resemble any of the north Alabama wares.


These sherds are analogous to Furrs Cordmarked (Jennings, 1941, p. 199), the counterpart of the above-mentioned Baldwin Plain.

Cord impressed (fig. 10c)

One sherd was found with a row of elongated punctates flanked by two parallel cord impressions. A second set of cord impressions apparently joins the first at an angle.


Two sand tempered sherds were decorated by engraving. One shows a series of concentric, curving lines. The other has a line filled triangle pendant from the outermost of a series of curving lines.

Limestone Tempered Ware

Long Branch Fabric Marked

Reference: Heimlich, 1952, p. 17.

The fragments of a single vessel represent this type. It had deteriorated so badly that restoration was impossible.

The paste is medium textured and contorted. Leaching has removed all of the temper, leaving angular vesicles in the core and on the surface. Surface colors range from dull brown to gray. The vessel is decorated on the exterior with impressions of basketry or coarse fabric. This has been all but totally obliterated by weathering.


The array of pottery types documents the occupation of the Bear Creek Site through the Woodland period and into Mississippian times. Over a span of many centuries several different groups inhabited the site, for the most part, I assume, briefly and sporadically.

One of these groups is represented by the sand tempered pottery. As the descriptions suggest, this ware seems most closely related to ceramics of the Miller complex. This indicates a probable relationship to peoples in the general Lee County, Miss., area.

A second group tempered their pottery with bits of crushed limestone and decorated the exteriors of their vessels with (probably) basketry impressions. Similar wares were manufactured in the Tennessee Valley of north Alabama, and this may have been their cultural hearth.

Following these two groups, whose temporal relationship is uncertain, came the makers of clay tempered vessels. Because their method of making pottery was common to many groups, the relationship of these people is unknown.

The shell tempered pottery was made by the builders of the temple mound. This combination of shell tempered pottery and temple mounds is diagnostic of the Middle Mississippian pattern, a culture type widespread in the Southeast during late prehistoric times. Some of the pottery types appear to resemble wares of Moundville and other late units, suggesting a late Mississippian (A.D. 1400-1600) time level.

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Last Updated: 15-May-2008