Ceramic Exchange and Clay Characterization


Benjamin Diebold

Advisor: Frank Hole


This project will integrate remote sensing, GIS, and archaeological data to inform models of ceramic production and exchange.

In the late neolithic of southwestern Asia (ca. 6000-4500 BC) two large archaeological cultures spanning the region are commonly recognized: the Halaf and the Ubaid. Regional variants and other archaeological cultures are discernible in the record, but in the main the Halaf and the Ubaid are both the largest and the best understood. Some researchers have suggested that intensive and extensive ceramic exchange played a critical role in social change during this period.

Until relatively recently, archaeologists could best make inferences about exchange simply on the basis of stylistic comparisons, if a given potsherd simply looks out of place in an assemblage of pottery. Increasingly, however, there are material science techniques that give archaeologists the ability to characterize the chemical profiles of pottery, obsidian or other archaeological materials. Naturally, being able to recognize chemical groups and outliers allows archaeologists to speak with greater confidence about which samples are similar to others.

For ceramics, the constituent material is clay. Each clay bed should have a unique chemical signature. Consquently, a study of the bulk chemistry of pottery gives insights into the nature and location of the clays that produced them. This project has 350 samples of archaeological clays and potsherds from the Amuq region of southeastern Turkey and northwestern Syria. By building a model of drainages where clays are used for ceramic production and characterizing those clays based on remotely sensed data, geological and tectonic maps, I hope to understand better where pottery was being produced, and where it ended up after distribution. For each drainage, or parts of drainages, I will model some expectations of the chemical profile of a clay or non-plastic inclusions used to modify the clay produced in that area, which can then be compared to the pottery. The topographic information developed along the way can also be used to understand trade routes through which pottery might have been transported.

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2 February 2005