A sprint to the finish.

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Normally archaeology is like a marathon; slow and steady progress and lots of repetive tasks which require stamina and time. This season we have a goal to process 828 tomato crates full of pottery (the tomato crate is a standard measure of pottery in this part of the world, see photograph below). Every once in a while, however, you just feel like sprinting…

This morning four of our ceramicists took off in the car for the depot right after our morning tea at 5:30am, with scales, notebooks, and pens in hand to see if they could process all the pottery from two very large deposits in one morning. All before lunch! This is the ceramic equivalent of the 100m dash.

Marie, Raffaella, Azer, and Valentina at the start of a hard morning's work.
Marie, Raffaella, Azer, and Valentina at the start of a hard morning’s work.

Here’s the before picture showing Marie Jensen, Raffaella Pappalardo, Azer Keskin, and Valentina Vezzoli standing in front a pile of pottery, most dating to the Late Assyrian period (9th – 7th centuries BC). Each bag represents the pottery excavated during a single day from a specific locus (a locus is, in effect, a well-defined spatial unit representing perhaps a pit, floor, or oven). The tags tell us which loci are stored in which tomato crate (stored in numerical order in the depot). So all of the pottery in each bag can be placed back to its exact spatial coordinates on the site plans. This pottery was washed when excavated but otherwise needs to be categorized prior to analysis.

Our ceramics team spent the morning separating the sherds into ware types (just like modern pottery which comes in different wares – bone china, earthenware, etc., so ancient potters used different clays for different purposes), counting and weighing the sherds from each locus and recording details of decoration, vessel construction, and use. Likewise, the ceramicists will also record the “form” (our term for shape), since the form of the pottery determines both its function (for cooking, eating, drinking, storage, etc.) and also its date. Just like in the modern world, pottery styles change through time providing experts like Marie, Raffaella, Azer, and Valentina with evidence for when the pots were made.

Just before lunch, four very hot, dusty ceramicists returned from the depot having processed 17 tomato crates in under six hours. It was a great effort and satisifying for them to make such progress. By the way, they were all still smiling.

By matney

Dr. Matney is Professor of Archaeology in the Department of Anthropology and Classical Studies at the University of Akron. He is the Director of the Ziyaret Tepe Archaeological Expedition.

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