Upcoming conference alert: Ceramic Ecology XXXIII at the American Anthropological Association annual meeting, 22nd November 2019

By Charles Kolb (associate editor of archaeological ceramics)

Ceramic Ecology XXXIII: Advances in Ceramic Researchis scheduled for Friday afternoon 22 November 2019 at the American Anthropological Association annual meeting being held in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Organizers: Kostalena Michelaki and Sandra L. Lopez-Varela, Chair: Sandra Lopez-Varela

Ceramic Ecology was first organized during the 1986 AAA meetings at the suggestion of Fredrick R. Matson. Its aim was, and continues to be, to foster interdisciplinary and international interactions among scholars and practicing potters alike to push the boundaries of what can be understood about ceramics, the humans that make and use them, and their many material/ecological/social/aesthetic/cosmological/political interactions. As such, this session welcomes a wider variety of papers that: 
  • Focus on the presentation of new, or improved archaeological, archaeometric, experimental, art historical, or ethnographic methods and techniques for the analysis of ceramic materials.
  • Seek to evaluate data derived from the application of these methods in archaeological, ethnoarchaeological, art historical, ethnographic, and experimental settings from around the world, using diverse theoretical approaches, to answer a wide variety of questions, ranging from exchange and provenance, to the economic organization of production and consumption, communities/constellations of practice, landscape perceptions and utilization, processes of identification, ritual, social and political organization, etc. 
  • Focus on the theory and practice of ceramic analysis and interpretation in collaboration with indigenous communities, as well as in the context of heritage, museum, and/or public archaeology projects.

Central Asian Hellenistic-Seleucid, Greco-Bactrian, and Kushan period red-slipped wares revisited
Charles C. Kolb, Independent Scholar; Retired, National Endowment for the Humanities
Unique buff-colored tableware enhanced with a matte red slip and further decorated with streak burnishing in simple geometric patterns was originally illustrated, but not described, by Sir Aurel Stein (1928,1931).  Initially simply termed red ware, ring ware, céramique rouge lisée, or englobe rouge by Indian and French archaeologists, it was designated Red Streak Pattern Burnished Ware by American archaeologist Louis Dupree (1958). Initially found on sites in Baluchistan and southern Afghanistan, it has since been recovered from numerous excavations in northern Afghanistan (Bactra, Ai Khanoum, and Aq Kupruk) and more recently in southern Uzbekistan (Tchingiz-Tepe, Kampyr Tepe, and Zar Tepe). The only archaeometric analyses prior to the year 2000 were thin-section petrography by Kolb (1973, 1983); a traditional descriptive study of a large corpus of recently excavated sherds from Bactra was reported by Maxwell Jones (2012).  Archaeometric investigations by Spanish archaeologists Esparraguera et al. (2005, 2015), Martinez Ferreras (2009, 2011, 2014, 2016), and Tsantini et al. employed petrography combined with XRF, XRD, and SEM on specimens from sites near Termez, Uzbekistan.  Numerous newly-located sites with this pottery have been recorded in excavations and surveys north and west of Termez since 2010 by Stančo and his Uzbek colleagues.  For the first time, I shall: 1) review comparanda, 2) assess geographic site distributions in Central Asia related to chronological periods, 3) correlate petrographic data with the more recent findings and the archaeometric analyses, and 4) suggest cultural dispersal mechanisms for distribution and domestic and funerary use of this Hellenistic-related tableware.

Fingerprints and the identity of ancient potters: Recent research from the early Bronze Age Levant
Kent D. Fowler, University of Manitoba; Elizabeth Walker, University of Manitoba; Haskel Greenfield, University of Manitoba; Jon Ross, University of Manitoba; Aren Maeir, Bar-Ilan University
The organization of craft production has long been a marker for broader social, economic and political changes that accompanied urbanism. However, the identity of producers who comprised production groups, communities, or workshops is out of reach using conventional archaeological data. Grounded in experimental and forensic research, we have developed an identification framework using a combination of ridge breadth and density of epidermal prints to identify the respective age and sex of past potters. The method presents a means for inferring manufacturing techniques and handling gestures, accounts for the shrinkage of fabrics, uses a modified version of the Kamp et al. (1999) regression equation to estimate age, and correlates ridge breadth to data from populations with the most relevant ancestry to infer sex. Our case study examines fingerprints on pottery from the Early Bronze Age III (c. 2850-2500 BCE) neighbourhood at the city-state of Tell eṣ-Ṣâfi/Gath, Israel. The results indicate that two-thirds of fingerprints were made by adult men and teenage boys and the remainder by adult women and teenage girls. Pottery production was not a gendered craft at early urban centres in the Levant, but there was a division of tasks that incorporated adolescent labor: men exclusively made bowls and cooking vessels, while the multiple prints on storage vessels belong to men, women, and teenagers. This pattern contrasts with the EB in northern Mesopotamia, which suggests women no longer made pottery after cities and states were established in the region.

Late Classic Maya house belongings as seen from an elite compound at El Pilar
Sally Li and Anabelle Ford, MesoAmerican Research Center

El Pilar is an ancient Maya city located along the present Belize-Guatemala border. Collections from this site have been classified by form, which is a critical component in the analysis of their possible functions. A general understanding of vessel diversity for Late and Terminal Classic Maya residential units has been defined. This paper considers how those vessels are distributed in an elite compound with five major stone and typical perishable structures that surround a plaza. Questions we consider are how bowls, jars, plates, and vases can help us understand the variation in activities in the house compound. 

The tale of Protohistoric Maya ceramic urns from Lake Petha, Chiapas, Mexico: Context, iconography, data, surprises
Joel Palka, ASU

About fifty years ago, explorers discovered a few modeled and painted Maya ceramic urns in ritual caves and rockshelters at Lake Petha in the Lacandon rainforest of Chiapas, Mexico. Even though they resemble the famous Palenque incense burner stands, little has been done with the Petha urns, probably because they do not date to Classic or Preclassic times. My work has led to some surprising results regarding Maya use of the Petha urns, their archaeological and cultural-historical contexts, and the artists that made them. In this presentation, I cover the function of these intriguing urns, their iconography, and the results of compositional analysis of the ceramics. The results have interesting implications for the concept, creation, and use of so-called idols and incense burners in Mesoamerica and the people who made them.

Using a multi-method ceramic analysis to investigate Huron-Wendat ties to ethnicity and territory
Amy St. John, Greg Braun, Joe Petrus, Louis Lesage and Alicia Hawkins
This project, initiated by the Huron-Wendat Nation (HWN), explores how archaeological ceramic data can be analysed and interpreted in light of HWN knowledge systems. To investigate the oral tradition that remembers both the connection between the HW ancestors and the St. Lawrence Valley and that the HWN people have long played a role as diplomats, we need to examine how this changes our understanding of the archaeological record. The nature of the relationship between HWN ethnicity and territory can be explored through the study of ceramic technological practices as the product of a community of potters. Our research area encompasses the north shore of Lake Ontario and Huronia, the St. Lawrence Valley, and the Canadian Shield. In the initial stages of this project we focused on archaeological materials from the 16thand 17thcenturies. In contrast to most previous studies in this area, we used a multi-technique, technological approach to the analysis of ceramics. We employed the well-established method of ceramic petrography, the bourgeoning technique of non-invasive micro CT scanning, and minimally-destructive Laser Ablation ICP-MS on pre-existing archaeological collections to explore how pots were produced. Results indicate that methods of ceramic production and manufacture may align more closely with HWN perceptions of ethnicity and ancestral relationships than traditional archaeological “cultures” based on ceramic decoration.

Form and process: Combining typological and chaîne opératoire approaches to understand Neolithic Calabrian pots and potters
Kostalena Michelaki, ASU; Gregory Braun, University of Toronto, Mississauga; Ronald Hancock, McMaster University
This paper will focus on ceramic materials from two Early-Middle Neolithic sites in SW Calabria, Italy (Umbro Neolithic and Penitenzeria), which had previously been divided into four types, based on the nature, or absence of decoration on their surface, and/or their fabric. By examining the complete production sequence, from the acquisition of raw materials, to the final firing of these ceramics, we will show that there were only two major ‘ways of doing’ that separated the production of the majority of ceramics -divided typologically into StentinelloImpressed, and Undecorated- from that of a small percentage of ceramics -known as Buff, or figulina. We will demonstrate that, although all these different kinds of ceramics were locally made, their ‘ways of doing’ required different movements in the local landscape, different rhythms of production, different knowledge of material affordances, different tools, and different firing conditions. We will then juxtapose the formal (typological) and process-focused (chaîne opératoire) approaches to the same ceramic material to reflect on how they impact our understanding of ancient potters and their pots.

Discussant: Carla Sinopoli, University of New Mexico, Director, Maxwell Museum of Anthropology