Tchefuncte Pottery and Material Culture
Stop 1 of 2 on the Tchefuncte Pottery and Material Culture tour
The people of the Tchefuncte culture were one of the first Indigenous groups to make pottery in significant quantities. Tchefuncte pottery has sometimes been described as poorly made: it is low-fired, with clay that is little-prepared in advance, often with little to no temper added to strengthen the clay fabric. Often the laminations from pressing the clay are still clearly visible in cross-section, and the vessels made this way tend to fragment very easily. Tchefuncte culture sites can contain massive quantities of pottery, from bowls and jars that have shattered into hundreds of fragments each.
At the same time, Tchefuncte pottery is also made with a great deal of care. It is decorated with a wide range of patterns and techniques, including incising, rocker stamping, punctating, pinching, and stamping. As a technological innovation, it clearly fulfilled a purpose for the people using it. However, the people of the Tchefuncte culture were also actively experimenting with the possibilities for pottery as a medium that was functional but that could also communicate through symbols and decorations.
Thousands of fragments of pottery were recovered during the University of New Orleans’s excavations at Big and Little Oak Island, almost all of it discarded with brackish water Rangia clam shells that provided a food source for the people of the Tchefuncte culture. Many other artifacts were found at the sites as well. As there are few local sources for stone, many of the tools and decorative items from the Oak Island sites were manufactured from bone instead, from fish hooks and awls to beads made from vertebrae and pendants made from bear teeth.
The images below focus on the many varieties of pottery recovered at the Oak Island sites. They also illustrate some of the other Tchefuncte culture artifacts recovered.