Kaolin Clay Tobacco Pipe

The kaolin tobacco pipe is one of the most useful artifacts that might be encountered at historical archaeological sites, for their short use-life and easily recognizable stylistic evolution provide valuable dating cues (NoŽl Hume 1969; Oswald 1951). Clay pipes were first developed in the early 17th century and were in use into the late 19th century.
A single pipe-bowl fragment was recovered from excavations at A’asu. It is a small fragment of the upper wall and rim of the bowl mouth. Only about 20% of the rim is captured. The fragment incorporates a design motif consisting of upturned flames (that would have originated lower on the bowl), and a decorative band around the rim. A mold seam is present indicating that this piece comes from the back of the bowl (closest to the stem). The decorative elements are molded, not incised.
Decorative molded pipe bowls like these became common after 1730 and were evolving into more elaborate forms after 1820. Following Oswald (1975), the morphology of this bowl fragment is suggestive of Type 13 (Thin, short bowls, flared mouth…flat spurs which after c. 1800 have the mould line sliced off. c. 1780-1820). Because the fragment is small, there is some ambiguity in the type. Though less likely, the steepness of the rear wall suggests that it might also be of several other types (10-14) that were in use between 1700 and 1840. If the former match is correct, then the presences of a seam makes it likely that the pipe fragment was manufactured between 1780 and 1800. The design motif is also consistent with this period, matching Coleman’s (1999) “typical Napoleonic period designs” (1790-1820).
During that period there were few sources for Samoans to obtain imported kaolin tobacco pipes. They might have been acquired either from the French who landed at A’asu in 1797, or they might have been obtained from itinerant whalers, who were known to frequent the coast prior to extensive contact with European missionaries after 1840. In either case, this artifact is the earliest known physical evidence for European contact in Samoa.


Coleman, H. 1999. The Art and Archaeology of Clay Tobacco Pipes, Release A (CD-ROM). Exeter (U.K.): Dawnmist Studio.

Noel Hume, I. 1970. A Guide to Colonial Artifacts of Colonial America. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Oswald, A. 1975. Clay Pipes for the Archaeologist. British Archaeological Reports #14. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Oswald, A. 1951. English Clay Tobacco Pipes. The Archaeological Newsletter (London), 3(10):154-159.