This chlorite schist pipe is from the Uwharrie Phase of the Late Woodland period, North Carolina. The Uwaharrie Phase dates from 800-1200 BP. The pipe was recovered from the Lowder’s Ferry Site (31St7) in Stanly County, North Carolina.
The exceptionally well-made pipe in this model was made from green-tinted chlorite schist, a type of metamorphosed rock. It is an elbow pipe with an obliquely-angled bowl, a style which was widespread during the Late Woodland period. The top and underside of the stem are engraved with geometric designs.
The artefact is curated in the North Carolina Archaeological Collection, Research Laboratories of Archaeology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, catalog no. 2101a260.
Tobacco is a North American plant that was domesticated by ca. 3400 BP in Mexico. First Nations people were the first to smoke the plant and the practice was taken to Europe by returning Spanish invaders. The term either derived by the Taíno word ‘tabago’, referring to the tobacco pipe (the leaves were called ‘cohiba’), or the Arabic word for herbs, ‘ṭubbāq’. A bone pipe excavated from Mummy Cave in Wyoming dated to ca. 4420 BP and stone pipes are known from the Western Idaho Archaic Burial Complex dating to about the same period. The earliest documented tobacco pipe in eastern North America was excavated from the famous Eva site in Tennessee (now submerged under Kentucky Lake). This tubular pipe dates to the Late Archaic period, ca. 4000 BP. Tubular pipes were drilled-out cylinders of stone, wider at one end for inserting the tobacco, and narrower at the other end which served as the mouthpiece. Tubular pipes have been found with a small stone wedged in them, presumably to block the burning tobacco leaves from entering the mouth. Tubular pipes proliferated in the Late Archaic through the Early Woodland and Middle Woodland periods, ca. 1800-3000 BP. They were made of stones of various types, or pottery.
Pipes became more elaborated in the Middle Woodland period, ca. 1500-2200 BP. ’Platform’ pipes emerged at this time, composed of a flat or curved base supporting a cylindrical bowl in the centre. The pipes were often plain but were sometimes decorated with an animal effigy. Birds were particularly common, but 27 different general of animals were represented on 80 effigy pipes from the Tremper Mound in Ohio. Platform pipes, and the stone for making them, was traded extensively as part of the Hopewell Interaction Sphere. Elbow pipes became more popular during the Late Woodland period. The earliest elbow pipes were made with an obliquely angled blow, with right-angled elbow pipes gaining in popularity later in the period. The shapes of the bowls changed in style through time. By the Mississippian period, large figurines and effigies doubled as smoking pipes, and many were carved with Southeastern Ceremonial Complex motifs.
Pipes are of particular interest to archaeologists because they are not utilitarian objects, unlike most stone tools. As such, they lend themselves for researching a host of issues about past symbolism and religious practice. In modern First Nations cultures, tobacco continues to be culturally important. Tobacco figures prominently in origin stories, and the pipe ceremony is a participatory ritual that references some of these shared stories and beliefs.