A discussion of Joseph Caldwell’s Late Archaic Stamp Creek Focus of northwest Georgia

Submitted by Jerald Ledbetter (RJLedbettr@aol.com)

Many of the archeological phase names currently used for northwest Georgia are directly attributable to the work of Joseph Caldwell in Allatoona Reservoir more than fifty years ago (Caldwell 1950, 1957). While terminology has changed over the years, most of the designations used by Caldwell remain in use today. For instance, the old term “Kellogg focus” is now referred to as Kellogg phase and “Cartersville focus” is now referred to as Cartersville phase (Garrow 2002:2). This change to modern terminology has been gradual and there have been relatively recent cases where an author considered it “advisable to retain the older terminological structure to avoid potential confusion” (Cable et al. 1991:80).

It is a little known fact that Caldwell also defined a Late Archaic phase for the Allatoona Reservoir that he called the Stamp Creek focus (Caldwell 1957:279). Based on his description, the Stamp Creek focus would be comparable in many respects to the Late Archaic Mill Branch or Black Shoals phases of eastern Georgia (Elliott et al. 1994:371, Stanyard 2003:62). The most diagnostic artifact type associated with each of these is represented by large stemmed projectile points that may be identified as Savannah River Stemmed (Coe 1959:44) or Appalachian Stemmed (Kneberg 1957). While these two point names appear to be regional variants of the same type, the name Appalachian Stemmed tends to be used for points made from quartzite (Cambron and Hulse 1964:6).

Caldwell devoted substantial space in his Allatoona report to the discussion of the Stamp Creek focus, but it would seem that he did not pursue the subject further after that project. A search of the University of Georgia’s Laboratory of Archaeology Manuscript Files produced a single document on the subject. A manuscript entitled “The Stamp Creek Culture: A Prepottery Occupation in the Etowah Area, Georgia” is not dated, but a notation in the text indicates it was written prior to 1955. In reading Trend and Tradition in the Prehistory of the Eastern United States, the Stamp Creek type site is mentioned, but the Stamp Creek focus is not discussed (Caldwell 1958:80). Because the Allatoona Survey report was never published, relatively few archeologists have been made aware of Caldwell’s Late Archaic phase description.

Caldwell’s Stamp Creek focus was intended to represent the final stage of the Archaic period, but his trait list probably includes some artifacts from earlier and later periods. Artifact drawings include large stemmed projectile points, a variety of smaller stemmed points, notched points and soapstone sherds. Figure 1 shows one of Caldwell’s illustrations of projectile points thought to be part of the Stamp Creek focus (the figure also depicts triangular points of the later Kellogg focus). Using the data available at the time, Caldwell felt the Stamp Creek focus assemblage differed in some respects from the closely related Savannah River focus of eastern Georgia (Fairbanks 1942:223-231) and the Lauderdale focus of northern Alabama (Webb and DeJarnette 1942:19).

With respect to the traits used to define the Stamp Creek focus, Caldwell noted that of the various stemmed points found on the sites, the medium to large ‚“simple tang” (stemmed) points were the most characteristic and also showed the closest resemblance to materials from other Southeastern pre-ceramic foci (Caldwell 1957:279, 1958:13). Such points are usually relatively large and heavy, the stem is square, and the shoulders broad and well defined (Caldwell 1957: Figures 8 and 9). Caldwell also included hemispherical steatite bowls and other groundstone artifacts as traits of the focus. Caldwell recognized that perforated steatite tablets, “the so-called net sinkers,” that are so numerous at Stallings Island and other Savannah River Focus sites, were practically absent in the Allatoona area. The excavated Stamp Creek focus sites produced no axes, atlatl weights, bone or shell artifacts (Caldwell 1957:280).

Caldwell noted that at Allatoona, quartzite was usually employed for large simple tang points, but quartz was little used. Flint (chert) was used to produce smaller points that were highly variable in shape and included slight (expanded) tang, simple (straight) tang, bifurcated tang, corner notched, side notched and stemless (Caldwell 1957:9). As previously noted, some of the points would be recognized today as dating to earlier or later time periods.


Figure 1. Examples of projectile points and bifaces associated with Caldwell’s Stamp Creek focus with comparisons to those of the Kellogg focus. The large quartzite points in the center are typical examples (illustration courtesy of the University of Georgia, Laboratory of Archaeology). Click image for much larger version of the figure.

Caldwell’s excavations on the Stamp Creek site produced a number of features and he concluded that 18 pits could be attributed to the Stamp Creek focus occupation. Most appeared to be used for storage of food, but one contained red ochre and some traces of human bone. Most of the pits were similar in appearance, usually with straight sides and flat bottoms. Dimensions ranged from 2.5 to 5 feet in diameter and 1.5 to 3 feet deep. A few were oval or oblong and in two or three instances, sides were sloping. Based on our current understanding of diagnostic artifact types, some of the features identified by Caldwell are probably associated with later occupations (terminal Late Archaic or Woodland). Still, the evidence remains that 9BR139 was an intensively occupied habitation site of the period.

Caldwell regarded the Stamp Creek Focus as a relatively late pre-ceramic culture but he cautioned that the absence of fiber tempered pottery on these sites did not mean that the ceramic type was not being used in the region (Caldwell 1957:280). Caldwell’s report actually illustrates one fiber tempered sherd from the Stamp Creek site and he describes one additional fiber tempered sherd form another survey site, 9CK101, as “Stallings Island Incised and Punctate” (Caldwell 1957:207). At present, we have no means of determining if the fiber tempered sherds were associated with the Stamp Creek focus or a later occupation.

Subsequent to Caldwell’s work in Allatoona Reservoir, other sites have been identified in northwestern Georgia that contain large Savannah River Stemmed or Appalachian Stemmed types that are made quartzite or other equally hard lithic materials (Beasley 1995, Benson et al. 2007, Crook 1984, Webb 1998). The identified site types include intensively occupied habitation sites, short term camps, and quarry-oriented lithic workshops. One recently investigated site, 9GO231, is of particular interest because Savannah River style projectile points made from quartzite and Ridge and Valley chert occur in nearly equal numbers (Benson et al. 2007). 9GO231 is located within the Ridge and Valley Province, while most of the other sites discovered to date lie at the edge of the Piedmont Province. A few radiocarbon dates have been procured in the past decade from northwest Georgia sites that are in line with those of the Mill Branch and Black Shoals phases of eastern Georgia and western South Carolina (Webb 1998, Steve Webb, personal communication 2007). The suggested range of Mill Branch and Black Shoals phases extends from approximately 4200 to 3450 B.P. (Stanyard 2003:62). It would appear that Caldwell’s Stamp Creek focus should fit comfortably within that time period.

During the 1970s, archeologists began using the term Savannah River phase to cover the entire pre-ceramic Late Archaic period in the northern part of Georgia (DePratter 1975:4) and that phase designation has been used in a few northwestern Georgia reports (Bowen 1989:115, Crook 1984:55). In his recent overview of the Archaic period of northwestern Georgia, Stanyard (2003:58) concluded that a general lack of information impedes our ability to assess the nature of the Late Archaic development in the region and he proposed a provisional category of “undifferentiated phase” for the period of ca 5000 to 3000 B.P. (Stanyard 2003:58). I suggest that Caldwell’s Stamp Creek focus represents a useful tool for the study of a portion of the Late Archaic period. Unfortunately, we cannot simply change the word “focus” to “phase” and was the case for Kellogg and Cartersville. The name Stamp Creek phase was adopted several years ago as a Lamar designation (Hally and Rudolph 1986:64). While Caldwell’s Late Archaic designation has historical precedence, it is unlikely that the Lamar phase name will ever be changed. For the time being, it is perhaps just as well that we continue to use the name “Caldwell’s Stamp Creek focus” in our discussions of the Late Archaic for northwest Georgia.

References Cited

Beasley, Robert K.
1995 Artifacts from the Basin of Pumpkinvine Creek, Georgia. Central States Archaeological Journal 42(3):146-147.

Benson Robert W., Scott Jones, and Andrew Ivester
2007 Phase III Excavations of 9GO231 on Lick and Salacoa Creeks, Gordon County, Georgia. Draft report submitted to the Georgia Department of Transportation by Southeastern Archeological Services, Inc., Athens.

Bowen, William Rowe
1989 An Examination of Subsistence, Settlement, and Chronology During the Early Woodland Kellogg Phase in the Piedmont Physiographic Province of the Eastern United States. Unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Cable, John S., Leslie E. Raymer, J.H. Raymer, and Charles E. Cantley
1991 Archaeological Test Excavations at The Lake Ackworth Site (9CO45) and the Butler Creek Site (9CO46) Allatoona Lake, Cobb County, Georgia. Report submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District by New South Associates, Stone Mountain, Georgia.

Caldwell, Joseph R.
1950 A Preliminary Report on Excavations in the Allatoona Reservoir. Early Georgia 1(1):5-21.
1957 Survey and Excavations in the Allatoona Reservoir, Northern Georgia. University of Georgia Laboratory of Archaeology Manuscript No. 151, Athens.
1958 Trend and Tradition in the Prehistory of the Eastern United States. Memoir No. 88, American Anthropological Association and the Illinois State Museum Scientific Papers, vol. X, Springfield Illinois.

Cambron, James W. and David C. Hulse
1964 Handbook of Alabama Archaeology: Part 1, Point Types. Alabama Archaeological Society, Huntsville.

Coe, Joffre
1964 The Formative Cultures of the Carolina Piedmont. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 54(5), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Crook, Morgan R., Jr.
1984 Cagle Site Report, Archaic and Early Woodland Period Manifestations in the North Georgia Piedmont. West Georgia College Occasional Papers in Cultural Resource Management, no. 2. Prepared for Georgia Department of Transportation, Atlanta.

DePratter, Chester B.
1975 The Archaic in Georgia. Early Georgia 3(1):1-16.

Elliott, Daniel T., Jerald Ledbetter and Elizabeth Gordon
1994 Data Recovery at Lovers Lane, Phinizy Swamp and the Old Dike Sites Bobby Jones Expressway Extension Corridor, Augusta, Georgia. Occasional Papers in Cultural Resource Management, no. 7. Georgia Department of Transportation, Atlanta.

Fairbanks, Charles H.
1942 The Taxonomic Position of Stallings Island, Georgia. American Antiquity 7(3):223-231.

Garrow, Patrick H.
2002 The Woodland North of the Fall Line. Paper presented Southeastern Archeological Conference, Macon, Georgia.

Hally, David J. and Teresa Rudolph
1986 Mississippian Period Archaeology of the Georgia Piedmont. Laboratory of Archaeology Series Report, no. 2. University of Georgia, Athens.

Kneberg, Madeline
1957 Chipped Stone Artifacts of the Tennessee Valley Area. Tennessee Archaeologist XIII(1). Tennessee Archaeological Society, Knoxville.

Stanyard, William F.
2003 Archaic Period Archaeology of Northern Georgia. Georgia Archaeological Research Design Paper, no. 13. University of Georgia, Laboratory of Archaeology Report No. 38.

Webb, Robert S.
1998 Archeological Investigations at Three Prehistoric Sites (9DW64, 9DW77 and 9CK713) Cherokee and Dawson Counties, Georgia, Cherokee County Raw Water Supply Reservoir. Prepared for Cherokee County Water and Sewerage Authority, Canton, Georgia by R.S. Webb and Associates, Holly Springs, Georgia.

Webb, William S. And David L. DeJarnette
1942 An Archaeological Survey of the Pickwick Basin in Adjacent Portions of the States of Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin, no. 129, Washington.