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Ancestral Caddo Ceramic Pipes and Pipe Sherds from the A. C. Saunders site (41AN19).

Updated: Mar 3, 2019

by Timothy K. Perttula


Ceramic pipes and pipe sherds are common artifacts found in upper Neches River basin Caddo sites in East Texas, especially those sites occupied after ca. A.D. 1400 like the A. C. Saunders site (41AN19). An examination of the clay elbow pipes from ca. A.D. 1400-1680 sites in the upper Neches River basin indicates several stylistic and morphological trends.


Caddo archeological sites of the Upper Neches River basin.

Ceramic pipes and pipe sherds are common artifacts found in upper Neches River basin Caddo sites in East Texas, especially those sites occupied after ca. A.D. 1400 like the A. C. Saunders site (41AN19). They are relatively abundant in both domestic and mortuary archeological deposits in ancestral Caddo sites in the region; the ceramic pipes from A. C. Saunders are found in Features 1 and 2, the ash mound and midden mound, respectively. The prevalence of clay pipes in both domestic and mortuary contexts throughout the upper Neches River basin indicate the ritual activities associated with pipe smoking—and the smoking of tobacco—were actually part of daily life and the every-day ceremonies that the Caddo carried out in interacting with the spirits and souls around them. Pipes were probably smoked on a daily basis by adult members of farmsteads and communities—mainly adult males, but not always—and when the pipes broke, they were discarded in nearby middens. Pipes were made locally for daily use, and for use in mortuary rituals.


Figure 1. Var. B. pipe sherd (No. 62) from the A. C. Saunders site.

An examination of the clay elbow pipes from ca. A.D. 1400-1680 sites in the upper Neches River basin indicates the following stylistic and morphological trends: the earliest elbow pipes (Var. A) are plain L-shaped forms; flaring bowl forms are stylistically sequent, with distal stem knobs; these pipes (Var. B) have three engraved or deep incised lines on the stem and short lines on the lower bowl; some examples have pedestal bases; Var. C pipes have engraved/incised lines on the stem, and lines on the pipe that extend along the entirety of the stem and basal portions of the bowl; on Var. D pipes, the parallel engraved or incised lines along the stem and the lower body are replaced by long rows of small punctations; Var. E elbow pipes are the first forms that are completely covered with decoration, in this case curvilinear incised lines; cross-hatched engraved decorations are on Var. F elbow pipes; and Var. G pipes have a variety of incised-punctated decorations. These have been referred to as Neches pipes, usually with rows of punctations on the stem, heel, and bowl, or covering the entire pipe; this is the latest elbow pipe form at the A. C. Saunders site. This variety may also have rows of raised bands of punctations, forming a collar at the stem.


The A. C. Saunders artifact assemblage, collected in 1931 and 1935 by University of Texas archeologists led by A. T. Jackson, at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory has one complete ceramic pipe and 53 stem and bowl sherds. These pipes are from several of the defined pipe varieties in the upper Neches River basin. The pipes were manufactured almost exclusively with grog temper, although 15 percent are tempered with grog and crushed burned bone and another 2 percent are tempered solely with burned bone.


Figure 2. Var. C pipe sherd (no. 14) from the A. C. Saunders site

One of the pipe sherds in the assemblage is part of a circular platform pipe that is at least 55 mm in length. A 24-mm high bowl sits on the platform. The 10-mm wide platform has a series of upper and lower large excised triangles pendant from a single engraved line that encircles the outer platform edge.


The remainder of the ceramic pipes and pipe sherds are from elbow pipes. This includes sherds from Var. A, Var. B, Var. C, Var. D, and Var. G pipes. Another 20 sherds cannot be assigned to a defined Upper Neches River basin elbow pipe variety.


The Var. A elbow pipe sherds (n=7) have plain stems and bowls. They range from at least 64-76.0 mm in length, have smoothed exterior surfaces, and rounded lips; one Var. A pipe has a flat distal knob. Var. B elbow pipe sherds (n=9) all have between two to five horizontal incised or engraved lines on the stem, and several also have horizontal incised lines on the lower bowl and stem or the distal stem knob, or engraved lines on the pipe bowl (Figure 1). These pipes tend to be smoothed or burnished on their exterior surfaces. Thickness and stem orifice diameters suggest the Var. B pipes were made in several sizes, ranging from 3.8-5.9 mm in thickness on the stem and have 18.0-25.0 mm stem diameters.


The Var. C elbow pipe sherds (n=5) are commonly tempered with grog and bone (80 percent), and also are burnished on their exterior surface. Four of the Var. C pipe sherds have two to five horizontal incised lines on the stem as well as vertical incised lines on the lower stem. One pipe sherd has both horizontal and vertical incised lines on the stem as well as a row of tool punctations adjacent to vertical incised lines on the lower stem (Figure 2). The one Var. D elbow pipe sherd is grog-bone-tempered and smoothed on its exterior surface. The stem is decorated with five horizontal incised lines while the lower stem has at least two vertical rows of tool punctations.


Figure 3. Var. G elbow pipe sherd from the A. C. Saunders site with incised-punctated decorative elements (no. 17) on the collared stem.

The Var. G elbow pipes and pipe sherds (n=11) are almost uniformly grog-tempered and have burnished exterior surfaces. They have several different decorative element combinations, including incised or engraved lines on the stem (sometimes collared) between punctated rows beneath the lip (Figure 3) or with rows of circular punctations on the lower stem. Other Var. G pipes have punctated rows on the stem or on the lower stem, while others have tool punctated rows on both the stem and lower stem. The one complete Var. G elbow pipe (Figure 4) is grog-tempered and burnished, and decorated on the bowl, the stem, and the lower stem. There are small circular punctated rows on the bowl lip, five rows of circular punctations at the base of the stem and bowl, and five rows of circular punctations on the stem below the lip. Several of these circular punctations have a kaolin-rich clay pigment rubbed in the punctations (see Figure 4).


Figure 4. Var. G pipe (no. 50) with punctated rows on the collared bowl rim, at the stem, and at the lower stem.

Several of the pipe sherds that cannot be assigned to an elbow pipe variety have horizontal engraved or incised lines on the stem (sometimes collared); horizontal and diagonal engraved lines on the stem; diagonal opposed engraved lines on the stem; or have hatched pendant triangle elements or open pendant triangles. The most unique of the unassigned elbow pipes at the site has horizontal-vertical engraved lines on the lower stem/bowl and different decorative elements on either side of the stem. One side has four engraved concentric circles (Figure 5), and the other side of the stem has four diagonal rows of tool punctations.


The sample of ceramic elbow pipes found in Feature 2 at the A. C. Saunders site provide an intriguing view of the styles and changing preferences of Caddo pipe smokers over at least a 250-year period. These elbow pipes began as plain pipes with long stems relative to bowl height and diameter and eventually were elaborately decorated with incised, engraved, or punctated elements, and had low, large, diameter bowls able to hold larger amounts of tobacco.


Figure 5. Pipe sherd that has horizontal-vertical-and concentric circle engraved elements on the stem and lower stem/bowl (no. 60).


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