Review by Garry Wheeler Stone
An Archaeological Evolution

Stanley South. An Archaeological Evolution. New York: Springer, 2005. xi + 418 pp.; 141 bw illus., appendix, references, list of figures, index. $169.00 (hardcover).

During the summer of 1968 I had the good fortune to work for Stanley South during his last year as archaeologist for the North Carolina Department of Archives and History. It was an unforgettable experience. In four days he uncovered enough of an 1838 arsenal to force the redesign of I-95.[1] We located the site of an eighteenth-century tavern and tested the ditch and cellar of a French and Indian War fort. Between digs, Stan churned out reports at one hundred words per minute, inked drawings, and edited a newsletter. Then we started our summer’s project: searching for the fine pottery of Rudolph Christ in the yard behind the potter’s house in Winston-Salem. In one of the first test pits, Brad Rauschenberg came down on a drain stuffed with broken tin-glazed earthenware (“faience”) bottles. The bottles, wasters from a 1790s firing, were glazed a beautiful robin’s eggshell blue. Wow.[2] As soon as the sherds came out of the drain, they were washed and spread on a sheet of plywood to dry in the sun. On Friday afternoon, the clean, dry sherds rode back with us to Stan’s farmhouse near Raleigh. Our weekend treat was sorting and gluing. This was archaeology in the fast lane.

The best part of the summer was Stan. He did fast leisurely, taught gracefully, filled long trips in the station wagon with intense discussion and funny stories, treated me as an equal, worked to exhaustion, but always had enough energy to enjoy a beer, dinner, and more conversation. Then on weekends, it was family, friends, and his current hobby.[3]

Stanley South was born February 2, 1928 (Groundhog Day), in Boone, North Carolina. Before he found his calling as a “mountain groundhog,” his life took a few zigzags: the Navy during World War II, photography school, a degree in education, and teaching.[4] In 1950, to prepare himself to teach a science unit on the Indians of North Carolina, Stan began walking plowed fields for artifacts. Three years later, he began graduate studies in anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. There he studied archaeology under Dr. Joffre Coe, a professor noted for his rigorous training in fieldwork and artifact analysis. In 1956, on completing the course work for his master’s degree, Stan became archaeologist at the Town Creek Indian Mound State Historic Site, Mt. Gilead, North Carolina. Two years later, he transferred to the new State Historic Site of Brunswick Town, the archaeological site of a 1725–1776 port town on the Cape Fear River.

With his appointment as archaeologist–site manager for Brunswick Town, Stan charged into the new field of historical archaeology. In his first four years, Stan and a crew of four African-American fishermen developed a historic park, excavated nine ruins, and washed, cataloged, and analyzed tens of thousands of artifacts. Then, while continuing to dig at Brunswick Town, Fort Fisher (1865), and many smaller sites, he excavated the Moravian town of Bethabara (1753–) and a house lot in Winston-Salem (1766–). Moving to the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology in 1969, Stan continued to excavate sensational sites: Charles Towne Landing (1670–1680) and an underlying prehistoric ceremonial complex (ca. 1276– ca. 1387); Fort Johnson (1708–1865); Fort Moultrie (1776–1865); the Revolutionary War fortifications and siege works of the frontier town of Ninety-Six, French Charlesfort (1562); Spanish Santa Elena (1566–1587); and John Bartlam’s creamware pottery at Cain Hoy (1765–1770).[5] As of this writing, Stan is still digging—starting a new season at Santa Elena.

The man from Boone loves his digging, but he equally loves the other elements of archaeology: analysis, theory building, writing, editing, and publishing. Stan had hardly begun digging at Brunswick Town before he began—with help from Ivor Noël Hume—to create detailed artifact typologies for the town. Stan began publishing Brunswick Town artifact studies in 1962, and he has continued to publish a steady stream of articles on artifacts, excavations, excavation techniques, archaeological photography, and site restoration. Beginning in 1959 he has published on ceramic types, buttons, pull tabs, flax hackles, alkaline-glazed pottery, and Native American pottery.[6]

When the Southeastern Archaeological Conference limited the participation of historical archaeologists, Stan started the Conference on Historic Site Archaeology (1960). Stan organized the meetings, typed fifteen volumes of papers, and arranged for their printing and distribution. After the conference ended, Stan started two more publication series: Volumes in Historical Archaeology (42 vols., 1984–2002) and Historical Archaeology in Latin America (16 vols., 1994–1996). Stan’s organizing and editorial goals included more than information sharing. He wanted to nudge historical archaeology away from antiquarianism and into the social sciences. Toward that end, in 1967 Stan started the “Forum,” a section of the conference Papers in which a particularly provocative paper was circulated for comment and criticism.

In 1971 Stan stopped nudging and began shoving. His 1960 paper (published 1962) on Brunswick Town ceramics included a stupendous chart showing the ceramic types and frequencies from eleven dwelling sites. From these and other sites, in 1971 he extrapolated a mathematical formula for establishing the mean occupation date of a site or deposit, circulated it for comment, and published it and its critiques in the “Forum” as “Evolution and Horizon as Revealed in Ceramic Analysis.”[7] At the following conference, Stan fired an entire salvo—five papers on method and theory.[8]

Stan’s missionary efforts reached a peak in 1977 with the publication of Method and Theory in Historical Archaeology and his editing of Research Strategies in Historical Archaeology.[9] Method and Theory is primarily about the distribution of artifacts in time and space, although Stan refers the reader to Ivor Noël Hume and John M. Goggin for artifact class descriptions. Since 1977 Stan’s writings on archaeological theory have diminished, but his writing has never slowed. The bibliography of Stan’s manuscripts, publications, and editorial projects has 222 entries.

An Archaeological Evolution is not a Reader’s Digest Condensed version of Stan’s archaeological reports; it is an autobiography. The digs are presented as detective and adventure stories.[10] The hundreds of photographs and drawings (mostly Stan’s) that generously illustrate An Archaeological Evolution provide context and flavor to the yarn. The reader interested in the archaeological data will have to follow the references and bibliography to Stan’s earlier publications.

As with any good story, the author’s real challenge is more character development than plot. Despite his disclaimer to the contrary, Stan loves people. An Archaeological Evolution has a huge cast: family, teachers, mentors, colleagues, subjects, and crew members, and many will find their portraits among the illustrations. Stan is a gifted raconteur with a good memory. Hardly an archaeological episode passes without one or more stories: Stan being teased by his Brunswick Town crew, Ronald Reagan insisting that aliens may have left archaeological ruins on the moon, and the historical archaeology seminar in the Flowerdew Hundred toilet. (When you are famous, there is no escape.) Not all of the stories are happy. There are moving accounts of the deaths of his sister and his first wife.

Although Stan loves intellectual debate, he does not gladly suffer fools and philistines, whether Navy personnel squandering tax dollars, university presidents afraid of the word evolution, or National Park Service bureaucrats who insist on digging in the wrong location. His greatest, poorly concealed contempt is reserved for those who destroy our cultural heritage. These include developers who demolish historic structures, exhibit designers who abuse archaeological artifacts, and park visitors who pilfer from excavations.[11]

Stan’s writing varies in quality. Some long sections read well, but others are a series of anecdotes. The book is easy to use. There is an introductory career chronology, a text organized into well-labeled chapters by subject, an excellent index, and a huge bibliography.

An Archaeological Evolution is essential reading on the development of historical archaeology. A university with a graduate program in historical archaeology should acquire several copies. At $169 per copy, however, this is an expensive book. Historical archaeologists with only a passing interest in the origins of their profession might be wise to borrow An Archaeological Evolution on interlibrary loan and purchase other of Stan’s publications for their personal library. Those interested in Stan’s groundbreaking ceramics finds should look elsewhere.[12]

Garry Wheeler Stone, Monmouth Battlefield State Park, New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry

Ceramics in America 2006

  • [1]

    The Fayetteville Arsenal, subsequently the subject of a seven-month excavation. The surviving portions are an archaeological park.

  • [2]

    The wares of the potters—principally Gottfried Aust (1755–1788) and Rudolph Christ (1766–1821)—who worked at Bethabara and Salem (now Winston-Salem) included traditional earthenwares in a wide variety of bodies and glazes; tin-glazed redware (“faience”); tortoiseshell creamware; cream-colored ware in the Queen’s, Royal, and feather-edged patterns; and fine stoneware cups, saucers, teapots, bowls, and mugs—the latter with double, intertwined handles secured with floral sprigs. Aust was a cranky genius whose mass-produced milk pans, butter pots, roofing tiles, and tobacco pipes contrasted with his slip-decorated dishes, some of which were masterpieces of German art. He also turned delicate standing salts and eggcups, threw graceful substitutes for pewter tankards, and produced entire sets of yellow and redware tea services modeled after silver and porcelain. In 1773–1774 William Ellis, an unemployed English potter from John Bartlam’s failed Charleston, South Carolina, “China Manufactury,” worked five months at the pottery showing Aust and his apprentice, Rudolph Christ, how to make queensware and fine stonewares. Thereafter, while Aust continued wheel-throwing pots, Christ worked molding English forms. See Stanley South, Historical Archaeology in Wachovia: Excavating Eighteenth-Century Bethabara and Moravian Pottery (New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum, 1999). 

  • [3]

    In August 1968 Stan became a vintner. A large picking of blackberries started to ferment, so Stan decided to preserve them as wine. His farmhouse has no cellar, only a crawl space. Army-surplus entrenching tools in hand, we crawled under and dug a wine cellar. Those moldy blackberries launched Stan on a multiyear trajectory through watermelon wine, tomato wine, Christmas wine. . . . Stan was never one to do anything by halves. See Evolution, p. 225.

  • [4]

    Although it is difficult to comprehend, Stan has squeezed more into his life than archaeology. B.A. (before archaeology), he studied voice, acted, and worked as a photographer. A.A., his hobbies have included winemaking, rebuilding antique cars with his son David, creating a backyard quail habitat, and firing black-on-black pottery. As a young archaeologist at Brunswick Town, he almost was lured away by the bohemian art world, especially after discovering that his sculptures sold. Writing prose and poetry remain enduring interests.

  • [5]

    Instead of John Bartlam’s Cain Hoy kilns or waster dumps, Stan and colleagues located worker housing, where potters were using imperfect pottery almost as we use paper plates. In all, the archaeologists excavated 7,450 sherds from vessels made or possibly made by John Bartlam’s pottery. While the archaeologists disagree about some of the small sherd groups (some may be from “seconds” imported from England), unfinished pieces and obvious wasters show that Bartlam was making a wide range of up-to-date Staffordshire-style ceramics. Bartlam’s Cain Hoy operation was well staffed (potters included William Ellis, who had trained Aust and Christ at Wachovia in making English-type queensware and stoneware) and well equipped. They had plaster molds for cauliflower and pineapple tea services, pierced-edge “fruit and basket” dishes, and plates, platters, and teawares in barleycorn and dot, diaper, and basket patterns. They also had molds for a variety of floral sprigs, dies for surface impressing “partridge eye” and floral decoration, and freehand jiggers for turning vessels to standard shapes. By varying clay bodies, underglazes, and glazes, Bartlam was producing a wide variety of wares: “Carolina creamware” (darker than English), slipware, tortoiseshell ware, redware, green-glazed ware, and “china.” (Bartlam’s “china” was a refined but not translucent body containing a mixture of kaolin and ground lead glass, decorated under a lead glaze with cobalt blue. This ware appears to represent what the potters termed “china glaze,” which contemporary usage terms “pearlware.”) Painted decoration varied in quality from good to excellent. Bartlam’s men also transfer-printed with glue bats. All of this remarkable production was accomplished before 1771 (when Bartlam moved to Charleston), and perhaps as early as 1768—eleven years before Wedgwood announced his “Pearl White” china. No wonder Wedgwood considered Bartlam a serious rival.

  • [6]

    For a listing of Stanley South’s publications and manuscripts, see Evolution, pp. 375–86.

  • [7]

    His goals in developing a formula for finding the median date of a ceramic assemblage were modest. Inspired by J. C. Harrington and Lewis Binford’s work with dating groups of tobacco pipe fragments, Stan wanted to find out if ceramic groups could be dated in a comparable way, and to see if a tool for dating ceramic assemblages would help prove the existence of ceramic “horizons” (assemblages of similar ages) throughout the Carolinas in the eighteenth century.

    Stan’s formula was published in Method and Theory in Historical Archeology (New York: Academic Press, 1977; r reprint, Clinton Corners, N.Y.: Percheron Press, 2002) is straightforward. Ceramic sherds are sorted by manufacturing type, counted, and weighted by the median date of manufacture. The weighted means of all the sherd lots from the site are averaged to determine the median manufacturing date for the assemblage. The results for ceramic assemblages from four sites from Brunswick Town, North Carolina, were within one or two years of the mean dates provided by the Binford pipe stem formula, and the formula agreed equally well with site documentation and other datable artifacts from other Anglo-American sites. However, the formula did not work with German-American sites (p. 232). The formula showed that steady change in English ceramic manufactures coupled with a rapid distribution system created similar ceramic assemblages in Anglo-American supplied households of the same date. The ceramic types from these households can be used to date sites for which no documentation has been located (p. 229).

    Stan has been criticized widely for providing archaeologists with a mechanical means of describing and dating ceramic assemblages without thoughtful analysis of the entire assemblage. In particular, critics have argued that fragments of ceramics or glass should be analyzed and reported not as sherds but as vessels. The critics reason that fragments of a tin-glazed teapot and those of a tin-glazed chamber pot are providing different information and should not be lumped together. Relying on the formula alone for ceramic description and analysis constitutes misuse. Stan was very explicit in defining the uses and limitations of the formula. It was only for determining the median manufacturing date of a ceramic assemblage. Studies of status and function would require analysis of vessel form and decoration. Method and Theory, pp. 230–31.

  • [8]

    For those of us who have trouble following scientific logic, Stan provided the comic book version—delightful full-page (or fold-out) cartoons: the Dolphin Chart, or “The Hypothetico-Deductive-Inductive Scientific Cycle,” the Chicken and Egg Chart, the archaeological “Data [piggy] Bank,” and “Milking the Archaeological Cow.” The cow has each teat neatly labeled. Since real-world bovines do not provide enough faucets, the archaeological version has five. Evolution, p. 282; Conference on Historic Site Archaeology Papers 7 (1972), pp. 131, 150, 158.

  • [9]

    Research Strategies in Historical Archaeology, edited by Stanley South (New York: Academic Press, 1977). For the archaeologist, perhaps the most important of Stan’s publications is his 1977 Method and Theory in Historical Archaeology, in which he demonstrates that rigorous fieldwork and analysis can lead to the recognition of patterns that help us understand “past lifeways, culture history, and culture process” (p. xiii). Ceramics—as sherd counts by type—play an important role in defining an eighteenth-century Carolina artifact pattern and a contrasting frontier artifact pattern.

  • [10]

    For how to defuse live Civil War artillery shells, see pp. 168–70.

  • [11]

    Stan’s prize philistines were the members of the South Carolina Tricentennial Commission, who, confronted with the complexity of developing the 1670 archaeological site of Charles Towne Landing, decided to jazz it up with a fake Elizabethan village and an enormous, glass-walled exhibit pavilion. The construction of this Tricentennial Pavilion destroyed a fourteenth-century Native American ceremonial complex. Fortunately, the engineering of the twentieth-century ceremonial pavilion was faulty. It has been razed, and archaeology has resumed at Charles Towne Landing. The politics and archaeology of Charles Towne Landing and the Tricentennial Commission are described in Stanley South, Archaeological Pathways to Historic Site Development (New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 2002).

  • [12]

    The two works of most interest to the readers of this journal are Stanley South, Historical Archaeology in Wachovia, and South with contributions by Lisa Hudgins and Carl Steen, John Bartlam: Staffordshire in Carolina, South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, Research Series 231 (Columbia: University of South Carolina, 2004).

    Historical Archaeology in Wachovia is extensively illustrated with Stan’s excellent photographs (not well reproduced) and George Demmy’s drawings. The text is occasionally awkward, but it is thorough, and it contains many relevant quotations from the extensive Moravian archives. This is an impressive product of three seasons of fieldwork (1964, 1966, 1968). Part 1 is about Stan’s excavations of this 1753 piedmont village. In part 2, Stan describes the potters’ wares (see note 2 above).

    One result of Stan’s discoveries in Winston-Salem was increased interest in South Carolina’s early ceramic industries. Cain Hoy was an eighteenth-century brick-making center nine miles north of Charleston. In 1972, while surface collecting at Cain Hoy in the vicinity of Staffordshire potter John Bartlam’s first American pottery (1765–1770), George Terry, a dean at the University of South Carolina, found fragments of unfinished creamware and “china.” When Terry and Stan revisited the site in 1990 and found that it was about to be developed, they raised funds so that Stan and Carl Steen could extensively test-excavate the site in March 1992. Stan was writing the report (Stanley South, The Search for John Bartlam at Cain Hoy: America’s First Creamware Potter, South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, Research Manuscript Series 219 [Columbia: University of South Carolina, 1993]) when Brad Rauschenberg of the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in Winston-Salem obtained funding for Stan and James Legg to excavate more of this extremely important pottery in the autumn of 1992. For more on Cain Hoy, see South with contributions by Hudgins and Steen, John Bartlam: Staffordshire in Carolina. Also see Bradford L. Rauschenberg, “John Bartlam, Who Established ‘new Pottworks in South Carolina’ and Became the First Successful Creamware Potter in America,” Journal of Early Southern Decorative Arts 17, no. 2 (1991): 1–66; “‘A Clay White as Lime...of Which There is a Design Formed by some Gentlemen to Make China’: The American and English Search for Cherokee Clay in South Carolina, 1745–75,” ibid., pp. 67–79; “Escape from Bartlam: The History of William Ellis of Hanley,” ibid., pp. 80–102; “Brick and Tile Manufacturing in the South Carolina Low Country, 1750–1800,” ibid., pp. 103–13.

    Staffordshire in Carolina is a two-part archaeological report with the findings of the fall 1992 excavations added to the 1993 report on the March 1992 project. It is designed to be user-friendly to both archaeologist and ceramic historian. The Bartlam and non-Bartlam ceramics are discussed in separate chapters, and all artifact illustrations are in color. Of these, forty-one plates illustrate Bartlam or possible Bartlam ceramics. This 283-page, softcover report has detailed lists of contents and illustrations, lengthy appendixes and bibliographies, and a good index.