In the Middle and Late Woodland periods, ceramic technology diversified to include many styles and types. Techniques for tempering, forming, and decorating the vessel varied by region and by sub-period. At this time people had begun to live fully sedentary lifestyles and were using ceramic vessels to store, cook, and carry many types of food.
Temper refers to the material mixed into the clay before firing in order to add strength and stability to the vessel. Archaeologists identify the temper of a ceramic sherd by looking at its profile, the plane where it broke from the other pieces. Bits of temper can often be seen sticking out of the profile. Virginia Indians used shell, crushed stone of different varieties, sand, or fiber to temper the clay. Once the vessel was finished, they marked the exterior with burnishing, textile impressions, stamped designs, or incised decorations. Archaeologists use these and other characteristics to piece together sequences of occupation at sites and across regions.