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RE: [ANE-2] Pots (and potties)

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  • Bea Hopkinson
    Dear Trudy and Liz, It is surprising how little archaeologists know about pottery. I had my doubts about proveniance, though I am sure it can be a useful
    Message 1 of 15 , Aug 16, 2006
      Dear Trudy and Liz,
      It is surprising how little archaeologists know about pottery. I had my
      doubts about proveniance, though I am sure it can be a useful analysis,
      but many years ago I questioned this with archaeologists at Keble, Oxford
      who agreed with me. That is, the precise location may require the
      presence of some 'rarely' occurring mineral in a given region. With
      something like kaolin or some rarely occuring clay it would be a valuable
      proof, but clearly clay, which is a very heavy product, was usually
      gathered in antiquity as close-by as possible, given water to work it.
      One easily available source is in the banks of rivers. Of course I
      presume the pottery being discussed is to a greater or lesser degree
      refined. But I experimented in reproducing Briquetage (Bronze/Iron Age
      crude industrial saltmaking ceramics) where earthenware clays were used
      which were very highly tempered and low-fired. As you know ordinary
      pottery is leather dried before firing but I found this was not necessary
      with Briquetage - much to the astonishment of potters who were convinced
      it would explode :(

      The other discovery I made concerns the surface. When you pat the
      surface to smooth and form the pot, it brings fine clay particles to the
      surface which when fired results in a slip-like patina - at the British
      Library they were convincedwhen I first showed them the pots that it WAS
      a slip!

      The briquetage we find insitu also exhibits black carbon markings or
      changes in color. I fired my pots in open bonfires (never used a kiln)
      and as the flame played on various parts of the pot the carbon marks
      would disappear, or reappear! Of course the more iron in the clay the
      redder the pot can be. At UCLA we had 30 students involved in a number
      of different types of firings (reducing and updraught type) with
      different fuels. The students fired ordinary pottery that they had
      made, and I fired my briquetage (we shared a number of different
      firings)- and the results were most interesting.

      It is a most interesting subject - so much work has been done on
      recognizing various cultures from the pots they make, but there is so
      much more to it.

      Beatrice Hopkinson


      >As for the original of the clay used for a pot, the various components
      >can be identified by neutron activiation analysis. These can then be
      >matched to clay beds in the regioin - IF you are lucky. At the least one
      >can identify by appearance & feel, the clay body of a pot and compare it
      >to other ceramics from the same site, region, etc. In this way clearly
      >"foreign" pots can be identified. But because a good potter can vary the
      >color and appearance of his ceramics by manipulating the firing, you can
      >have two pots of different color with the same clay body. You can also
      >manipulate the pot's surface before or after firing to affect its color
      >and texture without affecting the actual composition of the clay.
      >Unfortunately few archaeologists are potters. As a graduate student I
      >took classes with a well-known Aegean specialist who knew nothing about
      >the actual practice of making pots. I took him to meet a potter who was
      >teaching at the same university & when the archaeologist walked into the
      >ceramics dept. he looked at all the shelves of drying student work and
      >exclaimed "Late Helladic IIIC bowls!!" The potter then explained that
      >these bowls were just a basic shape that every student had to learn to
      >throw before they could go on to other forms. The exchange was funny &
      >sad at the same time.
      >Trudy Kawami
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