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Ceramic style and the Late Woodland period (1000–400 B.P.) sachemships of Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Frederick James Dunford, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Ethnohistoric accounts and Plymouth Colony court records support the idea that territorially, socially and politically distinct communities existed along the shoreline of Cape Cod during the seventeenth-century. The archaeological record of Cape Cod, Massachusetts supports the concept of the development of conditionally sedentary, territorial communities at the major estuaries after 2000 B.P. Following Bragdon (1996) I suggest that a sachemship was an “on-going and organic social grouping” created both by the agency of households and the strategies of sachems. Because a sachemship consisted of both the sachem's kin and others who actively supported his political ambition, I argue that the relationship between households and sachems was permeated with the expectations and obligations of kinship. Following Blanton (1995) I propose that within each sachemship households acted to achieve and maintain social status by actively emulating the household practices of a sachem and members of his lineage (related households). In effect, emulation was an active strategy of affiliation. The emulation of household practices would have included forming, shaping and decorating ceramic vessels in a manner consistent with the women of the sachem's household and lineage. Therefore, I expect that there should be strong concordance of ceramic style within each sachemship, and considerable variability between sachemships. In this manner then, the creation of ceramic style within the Late Woodland sachemships of Cape Cod was exceptionally localized and historically contingent. To evaluate this proposal I compared the decorative attributes of 161 Late Woodland vessel lots from two historically recorded sachemships on the outer Cape. The results indicate that two kinds of shell-tempered vessels were created in the sachemships of the Cape during the Late Woodland period. Simply decorated and cord-marked vessels were produced for daily household use. In addition, carefully made, elaborately decorated vessels were made for use in the public feasts that deepened the attachment of households and sachems. The latter category of ceramic vessels provides the greatest possibility for examining ceramic design variability as it pertains to the creation of social identity.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Dunford, Frederick James, "Ceramic style and the Late Woodland period (1000–400 B.P.) sachemships of Cape Cod, Massachusetts" (2001). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3027194.