More on the R.E. Taylor Student Poster Award at the 84th Society for American Archaeology Annual Meeting, 10th - 14th April 2019, Albuquerque, USA

And the winner goes to...

Regional Production and Trade of Glazed Ceramics in Medieval Central Asia along the Silk Road
Catherine Klesner, Brandi L. MacDonald, Pamela B. Vandiver
The Silk Road, the dynamic trade route connecting East Asia to the Mediterranean, transported not only material goods, but also facilitated the transmission of artistic styles, languages, religions, and technologies. The trade route, often referred to as the plural Silk Roads due to the continually shifting and complex character of the exchange networks encompassed in the term (Fig. 1), crossed the mountains, desert, and steppes of Central Asia. Beginning in the 6th c. CE, as trade intensified over the northern branch of the Silk Road, there was accelerated growth of urban centers along the northern edge of the Tien Shen mountains. Archaeological sites from this time provide valuable insights into this trade as well as the economies and technologies of the supporting communities. By examining the material remains, we can reconstruct ancient trade and knowledge networks. Glazed ceramics, while only a small proportion of ceramic assemblages (10%) from urban Central Asian sites in the Medieval Period, relay important information about trade and ceramic production technologies in these Silk Road cities (Henshaw 2010).
Figure 1. Location of the seven medieval cities whose ceramics are sampled in this study in relation to the sites in the NAA databases produced at MURR and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory of Nuclear Archaeology (LBL). The chemical compositions of the pastes were compared to the Kazakh ceramics to place them within a wider Asian context. The combined datasets were composed of samples from China (n=161), Iran (n=928), Iraq (n=198), Kazakhstan (n=61), and Uzbekistan (n=8).

Glazed ceramic production was an important and dynamic technology in the Islamic world (Mason 1995) with many innovations occurring in ceramic technologies during the Islamic period. Ceramic technological innovation was a significant element for economic competition in the long-distance trade networks of the Silk Road (Mason 1995). In Central Asia local traditions and technologies continued to develop as a result of increased contact with nonlocal goods, peoples, and technologies.  For instance, Islamic potters responded to imported ceramics by not only making imitations of the non-local wares for local consumption, but also by innovating several glazing techniques, including lustre decoration and polychrome underglaze painting, which in turn influenced the decoration employed by Chinese potters (Tite 1988; Mason et al. 2001). The rise of lead-glazed ceramics in Southwest Asia can be linked to attempts to replicate imported Chinese wares traded along the Silk Road (Tite 1988; Hill et al. 2004; Wood et al. 2007; Henshaw 2010). 
This research characterizes the provenience of finely decorated glazed pottery and specialty ceramics from Central Asia to determine the scale of local production and technological innovations and attempts to understand the stylistic models for local development provided by long distance trade of ceramics from the 9-15th c. CE. The ceramic sherds in this study, including both glazed (n=39) and unglazed ceramics (n=67), were excavated from seven medieval sites (Fig. 1), Aktobe, Aspara, Bektobe, Kastek, Kulan, Lower Barskhan, and Tamdy. The ceramic bodies and glazes on the 106 samples were analyzed by two analytical techniques: laser-ablation inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) and neutron activation analysis (NAA)..LA-ICP-MS was used to characterize trace elements both the pastes (n=106) and glazes (n=40), and NAA characterized the pastes (n=103). 
Figure 2. Ceramics in Paste Groups 2, 3, 6 and 8.
Number of samples
Ceramic Type
Geographical Distribution 
Taraz region 
All 11-12th century sites
Eastern Sites 
Tamdy, Bektobe, and Kastek
Kulan and Aktobe
Western Sites 
Table 1. Results of NAA compositional analysis and geographical distribution.193% of samples in Group 5 come from Aktobe, with one sample each coming from Bektobe and Kastek.

Compositional analysis of the ceramic pastes by NAA indicates that there are three distinct compositional groups for the lead-glazed ceramics, and five compositional groups of unglazed ceramics (Table 1). These groups were then compared to NAA data of more 1300 previously analyzed ceramics from Southwest Asia, Central Asia, and China, as seen in Figure 1 (Klesner et al. 2019). Groups 3 and 6, were likely made in Southwest Asia (Iran) and imported into the region through Silk Road Trade. Additionally, Group 8, which is composed of high-fired spheroconical stoneware vessels were also likely made in Southwest Asia. Group 2, which was only found at the site of Aktobe, was likely locally produced. This compositional study indicates that there was local production of lead glazed ceramics in the style of ceramics typical throughout the Islamic world in Central Asia as early as the 9 - 10th c. CE. However, while there was a local production of glazed vessels, there was still active long-distance trade in glazed finewares and specialty ceramics (spheroconical vessels) throughout the Medieval Period. 
Henshaw, C. M., 2010. Early Islamic Ceramics and Glazes of Akhsiket, Uzbekistan. PhD Dissertation, Department of Archaeology, University of College London, London, UK. 
Hill, D. V., R. J. Speakman, and M. D. Glascock, 2004. Chemical and Mineralogical Characterization of Sasanian and Early Islamic Glazed Ceramics from the Deh Luran Plain, Southwestern Iran, Archaeometry4:585-605. 
Klesner, C., and B. L. MacDonald, L. Dussubieux, Y. Akymbek, P. Vandiver, 2019. Compositional Analyses of Early Islamic Glazed Ceramics from Southern Kazakhstan by NAA and LA-ICP-MS accepted article, JAS: Reports.
Mason, R. B., 1995. New Looks at Old Pots. Muqarnas 12, 1-10.
Mason, R. B., M. S. Tite, S. Paynter, and C. Salter, 2001. Advanced in Polychrome Ceramics in the Islamic World of the 12th Century AD, Archaeometry 43, 191-209. 
Tite, M. S.,  1988. Inter-Relationship Between Chinese and Islamic Ceramics from 9th to 16th Century AD. In: Proceedings of the 26th International Archaeometry Symposium Held at University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada, Edited by R. M. Farquhar, R. G. V. Hancock and L. A. Pavlish, Toronto, pp. 30-34. 
Wood, N., M.S. Tite, C. Doherty, and B. Gilmore 2007 A Technological Examination of Ninth-tenth century AD Abbasid Blue-and-White Ware from Iraq, and its Comparison with Eighth Century AD Chinese Blue-and-White Sancai Ware. Archaeometry 49(4), 665-684.