Ripley Engraved Bowl Motifs and Titus Phase Communities (Fields)

This post is a preview of part of a paper I’ll be giving at the upcoming 2014 Caddo Conference and East Texas Archeological Conference, in which I’ll talk about ways in which we tried to address the issue of Titus phase communities based on excavations we did in 2010 at sites on the U.S. Highway 271 Mount Pleasant relief route project. One part of that study, done by my colleague Eloise Gadus, involved looking at the distributions of motifs on Ripley Engraved bowls to assess whether they might be informative about local community extent, not just for our immediate project area (the Tankersley Creek valley) but for the broader Titus phase area as well.

The study included 599 vessels from 17 sites: the cemeteries at the Thomas B. Caldwell, A. P. Williams, and Duncan Anderson sites in the middle Tankersley Creek valley; three other excavated cemeteries close to the project area at the Mockingbird, Alex Justiss, and Pilgrim’s Pride sites; the Tuck Carpenter and Johns cemeteries farther south in the Big Cypress basin; several cemeteries in the middle part of the basin at the Lone Star Lake, Rumsey, and Keeling sites; and four cemeteries at the Henry Williams, Enis Smith, Henry Spencer, and Frank Smith sites in the Little Cypress Creek basin. Also added were two points of comparison in the Sabine River drainage. These are the two family cemeteries at the Pine Tree Mound site and graves from several sites on Caney Creek southwest of our project area.


This map shows the locations of Titus phase cemeteries used in Ripley Engraved bowl variety comparisons.

We recognized 18 varieties of Ripley Engraved bowls in our study based on structural differences in the engraved motifs. Nine of the varieties were newly defined, and the others had been defined by Tim Perttula and colleagues based on motifs originally illustrated in Pete Thurmond’s 1981 M.A. thesis.

Analysis of the distributions of these varieties found a great deal of overlap spatially, providing little support for the idea that variation in Ripley bowl motifs is a productive way to consistently see group identity and local community boundaries, at least not variation as captured by this analytical scheme. While it is true that that some of the ceramic vessels in the Tankersley Creek mortuary assemblages do look different than those from the Alex Justiss and Pilgrim’s Pride sites not far to the east and south, and this could be seen as evidence of boundaries between local communities, the Tankersley Creek ceramics are decidedly similar to those from the Tuck Carpenter and Johns sites even farther south, as well as those from the Mockingbird site to the north, and they are consistent with assemblages across a large area covering much of the upper part of the Big Cypress basin.

Even if potters and groups of potters chose motifs and variable expressions of those motifs in part to reflect social identify, they did that within the context of a common widespread ideology. Further, Caddo potters could and did innovate in motif construction, while still using a set number of basic structures and elements, and these motifs were understood and accepted by communities across and beyond the Titus heartland. Thus, vessel trade, shifting community boundaries and centers of political power through time, and group coalescence and splitting could make it extremely difficult to see community associations in the ceramics.

The one pattern we noted in our study relates to Titus phase communities viewed broadly, but not to communities narrowly defined, and probably is part of the same pattern that led Tim Perttula to see upstream and downstream ceramic subtraditions in the Titus phase heartland and to relate them to what he calls core communities. In our data, this pattern can be seen in the following: (1) we could place 12 of the 15 collections into two groups, albeit ones that are not very homogeneous; and (2) most members of these groups have distinct spatial distributions (see map above).

One group consists of collections from the following seven sites: Thomas B. Caldwell, A. P. Williams, Duncan Anderson, Mockingbird, Tuck Carpenter, Johns, and Henry Spencer. In all seven, Carpenter is the predominant Ripley Engraved variety, with variety Spencer being equally dominant at the Henry Spencer site alone. Beyond this, no two assemblages look exactly alike.



These are drawings of motifs representing the Carpenter (top) and Spencer (bottom) varieties of Ripley Engraved bowls. Variety Carpenter is especially common at cemeteries in the upstream part of the Cypress Creek basin.

The second group consists of the following five collections: Frank Smith, Enis Smith, Henry Williams, the Middle Cypress sites, and Alex Justiss. What unites them is that each is dominated by variety McKinney and/or variety McKinney-Enis Smith and that variety Gandy ranks second or third.


These are drawings of motifs representing the McKinney (top), McKinney-Enis Smith (middle), and Gandy (bottom) varieties of Ripley Engraved bowls. All three varieties are relatively common at cemeteries in the downstream part of the Cypress Creek basin.

Three collections do not fit into either group and also are unlike each other. Each of these three outliers—Pilgrim’s Pride, Pine Tree Mound, and the Caney Creek sites—has its own constellation of predominant varieties.

All of the sites in the first group but one, Henry Spencer, are in the northwestern part of the basin, and all of those in the second group, except Alex Justiss, are in the central part. Not surprisingly, two of the outliers, Pine Tree Mound and the Caney Creek sites, are geographically separated from the other sites. The third, Pilgrim’s Pride, is not.

These distributions suggest five main conclusions. First, they support the contention that different but related core communities with distinct ceramic subtraditions occupied the two parts of the Titus phase heartland. Second, they suggest that there were ties between the southeastern heartland core community and whatever was going on in the Little Cypress basin to the south. Third, with one site in each group being out of place spatially, they suggest that there was movement of potters and people between core communities. Fourth, parts of the Titus phase area outside the Cypress Creek basin supported their own core communities. And fifth, sites like Pilgrim’s Pride, which is an outlier ceramically but not spatially, imply that at certain times and places within the heartland there were small local communities that chose to decorate their pottery differently than their neighbors, presumably reflecting different ideas about connections between engraved motifs and a widely held Caddo belief system.

About the Author

Mr. Ross C. Fields is the President of Prewitt and Associates, Inc.(

**Next week we’ll discuss some preliminary findings from a number of East Texas Cemeteries (including a pet cemetery) that the CRHR is investigating with our new GPR**


Written by zselden

Selden (PhD, Texas A&M University, 2013) is a US Marine Corps veteran, cyclist, kayaker, backpacker, hiker, climber, fisherman and general all-around outdoor enthusiast. His research is focused at the confluence of archaeological methods and digital technology, and he is particularly interested in the application of 3D technologies to archaeological problems, geometric morphometrics, network analyses, predictive modeling, archaeological theory, and archaeological science.


  1. Ross, Eloise, et al., this is a very interesting bit of research; while it may not have yielded the fine resolution hoped for, that it did not is itself significant. You are indeed correct that several factors probably interceded in defining better patterns, not he least of which is temporal within the Titus phase, but another is vessel exchange. A series of fall-off contours corrected to sample size might show possible patterns of vessel/potteres movement. Anyway, I applaud any effort to factor out social patterns. Darrell and Jeff Speakman are coming up with some amazing stuff in the Mimbres using NAA and vessel designs that is causing us to rethink a lot of old ideas regarding who they were and how pots and people moved about. The Caddo obviously present a different challenge, but its worth the effort.

    Harry Shafer


  2. I would sure like to see drawings or images of the newly identified varieties of Ripley discussed by Fields.


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