Paleoindian and Archaic Period Archaeology

Late Archaic Soapstone Quarries

By the Late Archaic period (3000 - 1200 B.C.E.), Virginians had formed regional trade networks along the major rivers.  One manifestation of these networks are the soapstone bowls that are found throughout Virginia. Chemical analysis has revealed that the bowls were quarried and shaped at several specific outcrop sites in the central Piedmont.  From there they were traded across vast distances to the faraway Coastal Plain, where people did not have access to soapstone naturally.

Soapstone Bowl

Soapstone bowl. 

Soapstone, or steatite, is a soft stone that is easily carved, but it is very heavy, leading many to estimate that the rivers were the primary method of transporting these items.  What their exact purpose was, archaeologists can't be sure.  Most are plain with no decoration, although this fragment shows an incised zig-zag decoration.  Some show black residue from being placed over a fire. This may be evidence that the bowls were used for cooking, although they were relatively scarce compared to the other cooking containers in the Late Archaic (for example, animal skins). 

Incised Soapstone Sherd

Incised soapstone sherd.

Whatever their function, soapstone vessels were undoubtedly important aspects of Late Archaic material culture. They are an interesting example of how Virginia's geological regions effected the social relationships amongst groups of people during this time. 

Soapstone Cup

Soapstone cup.