Central States Archaeological Societies
Central States Archaeological Societies


John Booth

Central States Archaeological Societies 2003 Summer Journal

Norcross, Georgia


This black steatite handled platform pipe was found by Jasper M. Martin near Fitzgerald in south-central Georgia. I believe this pipe represents a unique and rare style (especially for this area), and after a significant amount of research, I offer the following analysis and theory. The first clue is that this pipe was made of a very high quality, polished black steatite. "Steatite or soapstone is found in outcrops over much of the eastern United States, along parts of the West Coast, and in isolated locations in between."(1) Pipe makers used steatite extensively across the United States, but especially in the Southeast beginning in the Early Woodland period. "Throughout the long period of use, steatite seems to have been traded as a raw material (local pipe forms made of out-of-area steatite) or as finished products (exotic pipe forms of steatite in local areas)."(1) "No other stone was so suitable for this purpose. It is not injured by heat, and compact steatite is not easily fractured. It can be carved or drilled without very great labor, and some of the varieties have a surface nearly as brilliant as marble, when polished."(1,2) "Green and black steatite quarried from the Virginia-Carolina region was a favorite raw material of prehistoric pipe makers. As Woodland Culture trade networks expanded westward, quantities of both raw steatite and finished steatite products such as pipe forms were distributed throughout the Ohio and Cumberland River drainages."(1,3)

black steatite handled platform pipe

Regardless of where this high-quality black steatite material originated, I believe it is safe to say it was not from south-central Georgia. This opens up several questions that will be addressed in much detail later in this article, but for now, our second clue is the handled platform style.

Although many different cultures created excellent steatite pipes, mostly platform varieties, the pipes created by the post-Hopewell and Late Woodland culture, known as the Intrusive Mound, represent some of the highest quality. "The Intrusive Mound people modified the 'monitor' style of Hopewell pipe by creating an elbow style with a short frontal projection, thin walled, highly developed spool shaped bowl and flat base stem. Almost exclusively, the 'Intrusive' people preferred the use of blackish-green steatite, a material ignored by the Hopewell."(1,4) "The classic pipes of the Intrusive Mound culture from the east coast are to what is now western Indiana and from North Carolina north into Canada were darker hues of steatite."(1,5) Typical characteristics identified as Intrusive Mound style are (A) straight-based platform style; (B) with a ridge above the drilled stem hole; (C) a spool-shaped bowl; (D) tally marks around both the platform near the base of the bowl and on the rim of the bowl, all of which are present on this pipe.

black steatite handled platform pipe

Based on this, it is my theory that this pipe is representative of the Late Woodland period Intrusive Mound culture. In order to verify my hypothesis, I shared the pipe with several individuals that I consider knowledgeable in the area and asked them for their opinions without injecting mine. I flew out to California (on business) and asked Bill Jackson for his opinion. After looking closely at the pipe, Mr. Jackson, stated, "This is one of the finest artifacts I have seen in a long time." He provided a Certificate of Authenticity, (CoA) identifying it as from the Late Woodland period. I then flew to Oklahoma to share the pipe with Mr. Gregory Perino. He gave his opinion, "This is a dandy...post Hopewell, Late Woodland." He also provided a Certificate of Authenticity (CoA). Later, Chad Childs, President of the Peach State Archaeological Society of Georgia, said, "I think this is from the Intrusive Mound Culture and is a very rare find." Mr. Cliff Jackson from North Carolina stated, "They are sometimes associated with the Intrusive Mound people. These are rare pieces found predominantly in North Carolina and Virginia to my knowledge. There seems to be a range of dates for it. I'll enter my guess that it might be from the Early Woodland period, though it probably came later made by the ancestors of the Creek/Cherokee. By that time, the trade networks were in place and moved raw materials and finished goods, like beads and mica." Gary McDaniel of Alabama said, "This is one of the nicest and most unusual pipes I have ever held." Roy Capps from Oklahoma called the pipe "museum quality." Not that it takes much encouragement, but with this level of support, I was definitely motivated to continue my research.

My next question was, what defines the Intrusive Mound culture? This culture received its name following excavations of the Mica Grave Mound at the Hopewell Culture National Historic Park, Mound City Group in Chillicothe, Ohio. During the excavations of the Mica Grave Mound, it was discovered that a later group used the mounds built by the Hopewellian peoples for their own burials, and, therefore, the name "Intrusive Mound" culture came about.(6)

So we know where the name comes from, but what does a culture from Ohio and the surrounding region have to do with a pipe found in south central Georgia? There are two possibilities to explain how this black steatite handled platform pipe ended up in a field in Georgia during the Late Woodland period. Option one, the Intrusive Mound people from the north could have migrated to south-central Georgia, bringing their favorite possessions. Option two, the trade networks across what is presently the Southeastern United States existed, and this pipe became an object of just such an exchange between the Intrusive Mound people and a local culture. Regardless of which is correct, I felt it necessary at this point to attempt to identify the cultures that existed in south-central Georgia during the Late Woodland period. There are many Mound Builder sites, ranging from the Middle Woodland through the Mississippian periods in Georgia, including the following:

  • Ocmulgee National Monument
  • Kolomoki Mounds Historic Park
  • Etowah Mounds Historic Park
  • Nacoochee Indian Mound
  • Rock Eagle Effigy Mound
  • Roods Creek Mound

I am focusing on the two following sites, both for the proximity to the location where this pipe was found and the Late Woodland cultures who occupied the sites and the surrounding vicinity for this analysis.

Ocmulgee Indian Mounds National Monument

The Ocmulgee Indian Mounds National Monument, located in Macon, Bibb County, Georgia, on the Macon Plateau, "were constructed between 1150-1100 BP. Over the next 300 years the mound-builders inhabited this site, considered to be one of largest village in the Southeast."(7) However, of considerable interest is the Swift Creek site (9B13), located approximately six kilometers southeast of Macon Plateau, which represents the first pre-Mississippian Mound-Builder culture identified in Georgia.(8) This Woodland culture was named for the mound and village site, Swift Creek. The Swift Creek culture occupied the Ocmulgee region as well as several other sites throughout Georgia during the Late Woodland period.

Kolomoki Mounds State Historic Park

Located in Blakely, Early County, Georgia, the Kolomoki Mounds State Historic Park includes Georgia's oldest great temple mound, two burial mounds and four other ceremonial mounds. The Kolomoki Mounds were "built between 1650 and 1250 BP by prehistoric Woodland period Native American cultures identified by archaeologists as Swift Creek (Kolomoki) and Weeden Island Indian cultures."(9)
"The site is in a critical position between the areas of the Swift Creek and Weeden Island complexes, and it is the largest site with a heavy deposit of Swift Creek Complicated Stamped pottery."(10) The Weeden Island culture followed and was associated with Late Swift Creek in some areas of south and central Georgia. "The Weeden Island culture was characterized by the construction of burial mounds containing non-local burial goods, interred with the dead in imitation of the Middle Woodland cultures."(11)

My theory is that this steatite handled platform pipe was an item of trade between the Intrusive Mound people from the north and most likely the Swift Creek (possibly the Weeden Island people) of Georgia during the Late Woodland time period. Regardless of whether or not this theory is believable, one thing is certain: this pipe certainly represents a time and a people who took great pride in creating truly spectacular works of art.

There is a small surface scratch caused by a plow strike, and there are clearly teeth marks visible on the stem from use in Late Woodland times. Both the bowl rim and platform edge exhibit tally marks systematically engraved to form a pattern.

The following provenience on this pipe is provided. Jasper Marion Martin kept this pipe throughout his childhood after finding it in the 1910s on a farm near Fitzgerald in Ben Hill County, Georgia. When he moved to Boaz, Alabama in 1931, he left the pipe with his brother Howard, who remained in the Fitzgerald vicinity. Howard kept the pipe until 1967. When he was offered $400 by a collector for what he called an "Indian Chief's Nose Warmer Pipe," Howard decided he had better give it back to Jasper if it was worth that much money. Jasper put it in his dresser drawer, where it remained until he passed away in 1978. At that point, Dona Martin inherited the pipe from her father. Dona Martin (now Ayers) decided to place it in a safe deposit box, where it stayed until 2003. During a conversation, Aunt Dona (my wife Susan's aunt) mentioned she had an "Indian Chief's Nose Warmer Pipe." Although I had no idea what a nose warmer was, like any true artifact collector, I was interested to see exactly what she had. The next time I visited Dona, she had this pipe lying out on a shelf, at which point she suggested the pipe should be displayed rather than sit in a safe deposit box and asked me to add it to my collection and share it with people who would appreciate such a fine artifact. This family heirloom has now been passed through three generations since it resurfaced 90 years ago, and it sits proudly as the centerpiece of my artifact collection.

I would like to thank the following individuals for their guidance, support, generosity, and encouragement:

Dona Martin Ayers for allowing me to share this pipe.
Bill Jackson, personal communication, CoA provided.
Gregory Perino, personal communication, CoA provided.
Cliff Jackson, personal communication.
Chad Childs, personal communication.
Gary McDaniel, personal communication.
Roy Capps, personal communication.

Hothem, Lar

1999 Collectors Guide to Indian Pipes Identification and Values.

Thurston, Gates P.

1890 The Antiquities of Tennessee, pg. 179.

Shipley, Gregory

1983 Artifacts, Vol.13, No.4, Pg. 89 "The Steatite Platform Pipe Family."

Berner John F.

1988 Prehistoric Artifacts, Vol.22, No.4, Pg.27-28. "The Art of Pipe Collecting and Preservation."

Hart, Gordon L.

1975 The Redskin, Vol.10, No.1, pg.3, "Kenneth O. Palmer Pipe No.1."

Cockrell, Ron

1997 Hopewell Culture National Historic Park Chillicothe Ohio. National Park Service.
Ocmulgee Indian Mounds National Monument. Pamphlet

Hally, J. David

1936-1986, 1994 Ocmulgee Archaeology.

Kolomoki Mounds. Pamphlet
Fairbanks, Charles

1946 American Antiquities, Vol. 4.

Thomas, Campbell, Swanson, Atschul and Weed

1983 An intensive Survey of a 2,200 Acre Tract Within a Proposed Maneuver Area at the Fort Benning Military
Reservation, Chattachoochee County, Georgia. National Park Service.

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