STEATITE-TEMPERED EARLY WOODLAND PERIOD (1200 – 500 BCE) CERAMICS OF VIRGINIA: A QUESTION OF STEATITE IDENTITY AND NOMENCLATURE
The archaeological literature uses the term steatite to describe a talc-dominated rock fragment found in Early Woodland pottery (e.g., Marcey Creek, Selden Island, and Accokeek wares) that resembles the carved steatite pots in shape, but it is poorly defined. The distribution of steatite-tempered ceramics seems to be more closely related to the Piedmont sources of soapstone rather than the distribution of carved steatite vessels of the Late Archaic. A steatite vessel fragment (CXE4781-2470) from the site was used for comparison purposes for the aplastic inclusions found in proposed steatite-tempered ceramics.
Cross-disciplinary investigations often hinge on the nuances of terminology and nomenclature. The terms steatite and soapstone are used interchangeably, but the term steatite is used when the mineral composition is dominated by talc and soapstone when the mineral composition is talc + chlorite + mica ± opaque minerals. These rock fragments often represent the metamorphism of an ultramafic igneous source rock (i.e., peridotite, etc.). The variability of the rock fragment temper, including pyroxene- or olivine-bearing rock fragments found in these ceramics, probably represents a range of ultramafic rock protoliths. This may either suggest different source locations or represent the continuum of mineral assemblages (and relict protolith assemblages) found in a zoned metamorphosed ultramafic rock. However it also indicates that determining the geographic constraints on these sherds may be difficult. Thus the only way to confidently identify the specific lithology of the aplastic components is by thin-section petrography