Potomac Creek (44ST2)
The Potomac Creek site (44ST2) is situated on a relatively high, defensible bluff above the creek of
the same name. Located in Stafford County, Virginia, on the south shore of the Potomac River,
"Potowomeke" was an important ceremonial place for centuries. The site was likely first occupied
by Owasco immigrants ca. 1300 AD and was abandoned ca. 1550 AD, prior to European contact. The
site has been a focus of archaeological interest since the 1930s.
The site derives particular significance from the presence of multiple palisade lines erected at
different times during the site's approximately 250 year occupation. Such repeated fortification
suggests that the village would have been the chief residence of the werowance, or leader, during
its period of occupation. The site and the people who built and lived there are considered by some
archaeologists as intrusive, migrants from the Piedmont who were pushed into the inner Coastal Plain
by still more migrants from further west. The Potomac Creek site offers an important opportunity to
examine Native life in the Potomac valley on the eve of European contact.
The material included in the database was generated in 1996 and 1997 by the William and Mary Center
for Archaeological Research (WMCAR). The purpose of the excavations, driven in part by septic field
construction, focused on determining the function of the site, assigning relative dates and functions
to features around the perimeter of the site (including palisade lines, trenches, and a ditch),
documenting diet and subsistence patterns, and analyzing changes in material culture (Blanton et al. 1999).
The Potomac Creek site was first identified in 1934 by two avocational archaeologists, Hugh Stabler
and Richard G. Slattery. Their survey was continued in the following year, when Judge William J. Graham,
also an avocational archaeologist, assumed intellectual leadership of the project alongside archaeologist
T. Dale Stewart of the Smithsonian Institution. The next few years of excavation resulted in the recovery
of a collection of artifacts, which were delivered to Smithsonian Institution upon Judge Graham's death
in 1937. Stewart then conducted formal excavations on the site between 1938 and 1940 (Blanton et al. 1999).
Excavations were resumed in 1957 by Carl Manson and again in 1983 by Howard MacCord (Manson and MacCord 1985).
Plans to construct a 34-by-18.5-meter septic drain field in the site's northwestern quadrant prompted the
Virginia Department of Historic Resources to sponsor further archaeological research at Potomac Creek.
In May of 1996, the CRM firm Cultural Resources, Inc (CRI) performed a preliminary survey of the area,
parts of which had previously been excavated by Graham and Stewart (Stewart 1992). During this season,
CRI stripped the plow zone and mapped all features uncovered, including "five palisade lines, eight
narrow trenches, a midden-filled ditch, two possible hearths, numerous scattered posts, and other
unidentified anomalies" (Blanton et al. 1999). The lack of evidence for distinct house patterns has
lead archaeologists to conclude that this portion of the site was used primarily for ceremonial purposes.
In November and December of 1996, WMCAR under the direction of Dennis Blanton mapped and excavated features
and conducted artifact analysis. Exposed features were re-troweled, mapped and prioritized based on information
potential. At least 50 percent of the exposed features were excavated through a program of systematic sampling.
Feature fill was screened through ¼-inch hardware cloth (reported as 0.64 cm hardware cloth) and soil samples were
collected for flotation. Palisade features were generally excavated in 2-by-2-meter units. Stratigraphy was recorded
with scale drawings and photographs. Samples for radiocarbon dating and paleobotanical analyses were also
collected. From this work, a final plan of the site was produced.
The WMCAR team continued research in 1997 with additional analysis of lithic artifacts and paleobotanical
remains (Blanton et al. 1999). Radiocarbon dating placed the majority of the site's features within the
date range of 1260-1655 AD.
Twenty-four cultural features were identified in 1996.
Eleven of these were palisade features, which included trenches (Features 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, and 11),
palisade post lines (Features 2 and 8), and a ditch with two extensions (Feature 1; Features 15 and 24).
From these features, a total of 18,743 artifacts were recovered. Features 1 (ditch) and 15 (borrow pit)
yielded the largest numbers of artifacts at 14,891 and 1,492, respectively. An additional palisade trench,
Feature 27, was noted but not excavated. The outermost palisade lines (Features 11 and possibly 9) are those
associated with the earliest period of occupation, ca. 1300-1400 AD. Feature 15 is interpreted as a soil
borrow pit, likely also constructed during this time period. Palisade Features 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 are
all attributed to 1400-1500 AD, a period the archaeologists interpret as one of economic and social stability.
Five refuse pits were also excavated yielding a total of 2,962 artifacts recovered.
Three structural features were also excavated, including two trenches (Features 21 and 23) and a building
pattern (Structure 1). A total of 85 artifacts were recovered from Feature 23, which comprised a portion
of a wall trench intersecting Features 3 and 4. Feature 21, which yielded 38 artifacts and ran perpendicular
to (but did not intersect) the Feature 11 palisade trench, may have been part of a defensive bastion.
Located in the site's southeastern quadrant, the rectilinear outline of Structure 1 was drawn by connecting
postholes on the north and west walls. Structure 1 was measured at 4 by 6 meters, and its construction has also
been dated to the second stage of occupation, ca. 1400-1500 AD.
Four likely non-cultural features were identified, including Features 13, 16, 20 and 22. The first three
were interpreted as tree disturbances while the last feature was irregular in shape and contained only
A total of 22,137 artifacts were recovered from the Potomac Creek site during WMCAR's 1996 field season.
This includes "6,946 ceramic sherds, 99 other ceramic artifacts, 2,497 flaked stone artifacts, 797 other
stone artifacts, 23 ground stone artifacts, and 11,701 faunal/floral remains (most of which [n=9,872]
is animal bone)" (Blanton et al. 1999).
Ceramic finds were initially sorted by size to enable partial analysis, with all fragments greater than 2.5 cm
in size grouped by temper and surface treatment. This form of sampling yielded 214 rim sherds, 1,490
body sherds, 243 basal sherds, three vessels, and one appendage. Blanton et al. (1999) report that "cord
marking was the prominent surface treatment; smoothed or plain surfaces were also common. Grit or sand
and grit were the most ubiquitous tempers recorded." Two ceramic fragments were designated as Middle
Woodland types, while the vast majority (n=1,884) were classified as Late Woodland types. This included
1,807 Potomac Creek ware sherds (of which 1,285 were cord-marked and 413 were plain/smoothed), 60
sand-tempered/Moyaone sherds, 19 Townsend sherds, 11 Kaiser Cord-Marked sherds, 19 Page Cord-Marked
sherds, one Gaston sherd, 14 unidentified Late Woodland Micaceous Sand-Tempered sherds, and 49 fragments
that could not be typed. The majority of the vessels (82.6%) were recorded as jugs, 7.8% were miniature
vessels, 6.7% were bowls, and 2.8% were beakers. The majority of these vessels were Potomac Creek wares.
Fifty-one tobacco pipe fragments were also recovered. Thirty-two percent of these fragments were decorated,
while the remainder did not include visible decorations. Pipes were generally recorded as belonging to one
of two categories. The first of these categories was defined by tapered stems, small bore diameters, and
few decorations, while the second was defined by untapered stems, a large bore diameter, and frequent
decorations. Only nine pipe fragments were assigned to the untapered group.
Three clay beads, one clay ladle fragment, and 44 pieces of unidentifiable ceramic were also recovered.
The clay beads were likely produced locally, as their clay and texture closely resemble that of Potomac
Creek ceramics. The same may be said for the clay ladle.
Of the 3,270 lithic artifacts recovered, 2,568 consisted of flaked stone, 23 groundstone, and 679
fire-cracked rock. The majority of these artifacts were likely procured locally, with quartz (95%)
representing the most common material. Seventy-eight percent of the hafted bifaces in the collection
were recovered from Features 1 and 15, both of which were associated with the palisade line. Ninety-three
lithic artifacts were recorded as staged bifaces or preforms. The four remaining types of formal tools
represented in this assemblage were unifacial, steep-angled endscrapers (81.3%, n=26), two flaked drill
bits, one sidescraper, an axe or hoe fragment, and two discoidal scrapers. Twenty-four informal tools
were also recovered, as were 84 lithic cores and 2,285 fragments of lithic debitage.
One percent (n=97) of all faunal remains recovered were "recognized as having been modified for or by
use." The faunal remains recovered included 67 identified bone tools (including awls), two bone beads,
15 cut bones, 3 polished bone fragments, and 26 modified deer antler fragments. The remainder of the
analyzed faunal remains included 4,587 bone fragments recovered from six features. These were
concentrated in the palisade ditch of Feature 1, with 66 percent of the analyzed bone recovered
from that feature. Of these, most were medium or large mammals, with whitetail deer (24%) the most
common species represented. According to Blanton et al. (1999), "the [faunal] assemblage overall is
reflective of year-round, permanent occupation."
Ethnobotanical data were recovered from flotation samples of 16 features, and samples of unprocessed
soil from five features were submitted for phytolith analysis. According to phytolith analysis,
"phytoliths specifically diagnostic of maize were not abundant (5-10%), but other phytolith types
are believed to represent maize."
Blanton, Dennis B, et al. 1999. The
Potomac Creek Site (44ST2) Revisited.
Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
MacCord, Howard A., Sr. 1991. The Indian Point Site, Stafford County, Virginia.
Archeological Society of Virginia Quarterly Bulletin 46(3):117–140.
MacCord, Howard A., Sr. 1992. The Potomac Indians: A Brief Culture History.
Archeological Society of Virginia Quarterly Bulletin 47(2): 71–84.
Potter, Stephen R. 1993. Commoners, Tributes, and Chiefs: The Development
of the Algonquian Culture in the Potomac Valley. University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville.
Schmitt, Karl. 1965. Patawomeke: An Historic Algonkian Site. Archeological Society
of Virginia Quarterly Bulletin 20:1–36.
Stewart, T. Dale. 1939. Excavating the Indian Village of Patawomeke (Potomac).
In Explorations and Field-Work of the Smithsonian Institution in 1938, pp. 87–90. Smithsonian
Institution, Washington, D.C.
Stewart, T. Dale. 1940. Further Excavations of the Indian Village Site of
Patowomeke (Potomac). In Explorations and Fieldwork of the Smithsonian Institution in 1939,
pp. 79–82. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
Stewart, T. Dale. 1941. An Ossuary at the Indian Village Site of Patawomeke
(Potomac). In Explorations and Field-Work of the Smithsonian Institution in 1940, pp. 67–70.
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
Stewart, T. Dale. 1992. Archaeological Exploration of Patawomeke:
The Indian Town (44ST2) Ancestral to the One (44ST1) Visited in 1608 by Captain John
Smith. Contributions to Anthropology 36. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.
Further Information on the Collection
The Potomac Creek archaeological collection is owned by the State of Virginia and curated
by the Department of Historic Resources in Richmond. For more information about the collection
and collection access, contact Dee DeRoche at 804-367-2323, ext 134 or by email at
The original artifact inventory is listed in Appendix A
of Blanton et al. 1999.
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