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The Mysterious Miniature Pottery of Northwest Florida

The Mysterious Miniature Pottery of Northwest Florida

 

During the Woodland Period the pottery along the Apalachicola River at many village sites was much smaller than the ceramics produced immediately to the east in the Florida Panhandle or to the north along the Chattahoochee River in Alabama and Georgia. Did a race of pygmies once live along the Apalachicola River?  Do these drawings and photographs represent leftover tourist junk from a thousand to two thousand years ago that was tossed into a garbage midden when it didn’t sell?  Did the people of this region intentionally make miniature pottery as containers to hold the ashes of their cremated dead . . . or perhaps these are special grave offerings? 

Beginning in the Middle  and Late Mississippian Cultural Periods (1250 AD – 1600 AD) the ceramics along the Apalachicola became normal in size and similar in design to those of nearby peoples.  Apparently, different people then lived along this river, who were related to the Chatot,  Apalachicola and Florida Apalachee.  The custom of making miniature pottery and the people who made it seems to have moved elsewhere.

We may never be able to solve this mystery.  After the herds of Western Bison were almost exterminated, the favorite past time of rich tycoons in the Northeast and Midwest was to take the train down to Florida in the winter and dig up mounds.  Hundreds, possibly thousands of burial mounds in Florida were destroyed by wealthy grave robbers until the mid-20th century, when a new generation of Floridians began to object to the desecration of their ancient heritage.  Meanwhile, the trophy artifacts taken back up north often ended up in estate sales, flea markets or sadly . . .  far too often in the garbage cans of the tycoons’ heirs.

 

clarencebloomfieldmooreUntil recent years, Clarence Bloomfield Moore (1852-1936) was given sainthood status by many academicians as being the most prolific pioneer archaeologist in the United States.  In truth, he was a grave robber and imperialist.  He completely destroyed several hundred mounds in the Southeast and took the trophy artifacts back to Philadelphia to distribute to his wealthy friends.  Tools, skeletal remains and vegetative remnants were tossed aside or dumped in a nearby river.  Little or no thought was give to the architectural and town planning traditions of Southeastern Indians.

During much of the 1890s and period up to the First World War,  Moore guided his personal steamboat, the Alligator, up the rivers and coastal estuaries of the Southeast.  He would dock at plantations and small towns, put on the manners of royalty, and convince property owners that it was a great honor for them to allow this prince of Northern Capitalism to dig up their Indian mounds and haul the trophy artifacts back North.  Most property owners obliged without realizing that their own cultural heritage would be lost forever, if Moore was allowed to do his thing.   A few property owners did not and thus saved these sites.

That Clarence Bloomfield Moore deserves any memory at all is due to the fact that he did write reports on most of his digs, which gave the names of property owners and approximate locations of mounds.  With this information, one is generally able with satellite imagery to relocate the village and town sites, even though the mounds were destroyed a century ago.  Moore also provided printed descriptions, dimensions, drawings and photos of his trophy artifacts in his published reports.  Most of these artifacts have now disappeared, but at least Moore provides us today an partial understanding of the Southeast’s past.  

The ancient past of Northwest Florida remains quite mysterious.  Most of the trophy artifacts that Moore unearthed from sandy burial mounds along the Apalachicola River were NOT associated with human burials, but planted separately.  Both Moore and contemporary archaeologists did not seem to realize that the reason that these burials were bits of bone or individual bones mixed with charcoal, was that they were the remnants of cremation.  When Moore decried large sections of burial mounds with nothing but charcoal and pebbles, he was actually tossing away cremated human remains. 

alligator-1888

Archaeologist Clarence B. Moore explored the coast and rivers of Florida with the steamboat, Alligator.

Miniature ceramics

Throughout his reports on the expedition up the Apalachicola River, Moore complained about the inferior quality and size of the ceramics he robbed from graves . . .  except in a mound at the confluence of the Apalachicola and Chipola Rivers, where he found far more elegant and larger Hopewell Culture-style pottery .  See our recent article, HOPEWELL IN FLORIDA.

These miniature pieces of pottery vary in size from that of a lime to a large grapefruit.   They are way too small to be used as cookware or serving ware for a family . . .  really would represent tiny servings of food or beverage.  Perhaps they held beverages with psychotropic properties . . . like a tea made from brewing morning glory seeds.   Whatever their use, they are much, much smaller than ceramics found immediately north of the Apalachicola River along the Chattahoochee River.  It was obviously a different culture that created them.  They very well could have been pygmies or at least people of shorter than normal stature.  The question still remains a mystery.

 

Miniature ceramics from the Chipola River Basin

Hopewell style ceramics from the confluence of the Chipola and Apalachicola Rivers

 

Miniature ceramics from the Aspalaga site displayed artistic themes very different from that of the Hopewell Culture.

Miniature ceramics from the Aspalaga site displayed artistic themes very different from that of the Hopewell Culture.

 

Pottery from the Blountstown and Bristol sites displayed similar artistic themes to that found to the north at Kolomoki Mounds, but were exceedingly small.

Pottery from the Blountstown & Bristol sites displayed similar artistic themes to that found at Kolomoki Mounds, but were exceedingly small.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.

6 Comments

  1. adamfreeman1861@gmail.com'

    Could be pottery to hold offerings to the “gods”? Or children sized pottery for children like we have today? After all, “there is nothing new under the sun”. lol

    Reply
  2. The Southeastern Indians really didn’t have a concept of multiple gods. Much of their concern seems to have been being able to continue contact with loved ones after death. The problem with knowing whether or not they were pygmies is that they cremated their dead!

    Reply
  3. iwg42@hotmail.com'

    Hey Richard,
    With the beautiful detail and size my first thought is these are ceremonial. Every day ware tends to be plain even today, how many people have their good China? The top two on the left and several on the bottom have such fine detail, they would have been made by master craftsmen. The idea that these were used in drug ceremonies is a very good one, those type of objects tend to be fancy. To bad the natives practiced cremation, it would be interesting to know if they were smaller in stature.
    Thanks again and have a MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!

    Reply
    • Wayne, I can’t think of any other standard uses other than ceremonial. HOWEVER, several tribes in the Southeast have traditions of “Little People” the size of leprechauns.

      Reply
      • Iwg42@hotmail.com'

        Maybe the leprechauns came with the Duhare. After all there were tall Indians why not small people?

        Reply
  4. Larasanders67@gmail.com'

    I definitely believe that just as there were giants, there were little people! I heard of little people burials in Tennessee, I think. And I heard about a little person mummy in Wyoming..the San Pedro Mummy..there’s pics of it..

    Reply

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