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The Face Pot: The distinctive pottery of the Susquehannock Indians

March 15, 2016

Filed under Archaeology Collections, Exhibits, Native Americans of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Icons, Pennsylvania Treasures

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Susquehannock Face Pot

This Susquehannock Face Pot was most likely used during meal times and as container to store items such as needles, fish hooks, spoons and other materials.

The first chronicled contact between Europeans and the Susquehannock Indians occurred in 1607 when Captain John Smith encountered 60 Susquehannocks near the head of Chesapeake Bay. Captain Smith’s account states that . . . “Those are the strangest people of all those countries, both in language and attire” . . . and that . . . “they inhabit upon the chiefe Spring of these foure branches of the Bayes head two days Journey higher than our barge could pass for rocks.” His detailed, though somewhat exaggerated account, describes a people who clothed themselves in . . . “the skinnes of Beares and Woolves, some have Cassacks made of Beares heads and skinnes that a mans head goes through the skinnes neck” . . .That the Susquehannocks were a populous group in perpetual conflict with others is evident in Smith’s writings . . . “They can make near 600 able men, and are palisaded in their Towns to defend them from the Massawomenkes, their mortal enemies.” The major settlements of the Susquehannocks were centered in the lower Susquehanna Valley between Harrisburg and Washington Boro, Pennsylvania.

The Washington Boro village site (36LA8) was most likely the principal settlement of “Susquesahanough” on Smith’s 1608 draft map as it is situated roughly two days journey above the Fall Line at Havre de Grace, Maryland. The hallmark pottery type of the Washington Boro Stage (1600-1630) is the distinctive, high-collared pottery with human faces. This week’s Pennsylvania Treasure depicts one of these vessels from the collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania. Pottery of this form and size were used by the Susquehannocks as common food vessels at meal time and as containers to store small personal items such as needles, fish hooks, spoons and other items made of antler, bone and wood.

This vessel, from the Gerald Fenstermaker collection, is on display in Pennsylvania Icons at The State Museum. Visitors may view additional Susquehannock vessels in the Hall of Anthropology & Archaeology, situated on the second floor of the museum.

Standing at an approximate height of 6 inches tall, this buff-colored clay vessel is tempered with crushed fresh-water mussel shells that the Susquehannock Indians harvested from a river. Cord markings embellish the body, adding grace to the bold panel of broad lines that, in turn, are stamped with a series of wide vertically spaced lines that encircle the collar. Cresting at two points on the rim of the vessel are stylized effigies depicting the characteristic human faces of Washington Boro Stage Susquehannock pottery. Above each of the faces is a pattern of deep notches that may represent a stylized version of headdress of the form known to have been used by the Susquehannocks at the Washington Boro settlement.


About Pennsylvania Icons:
Featuring a diverse array of artifacts from the collections of the State Museum of Pennsylvania and other Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission historic sites and museums, Pennsylvania Icons tells the story of our commonwealth, its people and the role they played in shaping the nation. The exhibit features historic artifacts ranging from a 1654 map of the Philadelphia region to pieces of the Walnut Street bridge in Harrisburg. Pennsylvania Icons opens to the public on Sunday, November 8, 2015.


About Pennsylvania Treasures:
In early 2012, The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission launched the Collections Advancement Project (CAP), a program to inventory and catalog our vast and significant holdings of art and artifacts. These efforts are resulting in better stewardship of our collections which represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. As a component of the project, CAP curators have researched rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.