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Archaeometry 50, 2 (2008) 216–231 doi: 10.1111/j.1475-4754.2008.00391.

CERAMIC PRODUCTION, PROVENANCE AND USE—


Ceramic
M. S. Tite
Oxford,
©
1475-4754
0003-813X
Original
XXX
*Received production,
Archaeometry
ARCH
University
UK
BlackwellArticles
3 August Ltdprovenance
of Oxford,
Publishing2007;2008 and use—a
accepted 4 December review
2007

A REVIEW*

M. S. TITE
Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, Dyson Perrins Building, South Parks Road,
Oxford OX1 3QY, UK

The contribution of the physical sciences to the reconstruction of the production technology
(i.e., processing of raw materials, forming, surface treatments and firing methods) for
earthenwares, stonewares, porcelains and stonepaste bodies are summarized. The organization
of production and the reasons for technological choice are considered. Provenance studies
based on both chemical analysis and thin-section petrography are discussed, with the
investigation of Minoan and Mycenaean pottery being taken as the case study. The
approaches to determining how pottery vessels were used in antiquity are outlined. Finally,
future developments in ceramic studies are briefly considered.

KEYWORDS: EARTHENWARE, STONEWARE, PORCELAIN, STONEPASTE, SLIPS, GLAZES,


PRODUCTION TECHNOLOGY, PROVENANCE, USE
© University of Oxford, 2008

INTRODUCTION

Because, once produced, ceramics are virtually indestructible, they are found in quantity at the
majority of archaeological sites dating from the Neolithic period onwards. Their study in
terms of style has, therefore, always been central to the archaeological interpretation of a site,
region and period, and in consequence, ceramics have been a major focus of archaeometric or
archaeological science studies from their beginnings in the 1950s.
The primary aim of the application of the physical sciences to the study of ancient ceramics
is to contribute to the reconstruction of their life cycle from production through distribution to
use, and then to help in the interpretation of this reconstructed life cycle in terms of the behaviour
of the people involved. The groundbreaking volume by Anna Shepard (1956), entitled Ceramics
for the archaeologist, is generally considered to have provided the starting point for such studies.
The reconstruction of the production technology of ceramics involves determining, first,
what raw materials were used and how they were prepared and, second, how the ceramics
were formed, surface treated and decorated, and fired. Distribution or provenance studies try
to establish, on the basis of their chemical composition and/or thin-section petrography,
whether pottery was locally produced or imported, and if the latter, to identify the production
centre and/or the source of the raw materials used. The scientific investigation of the use to
which ceramic vessels were put involves principally the examination of the resulting surface
wear, soot deposits on the surface and organic residues, both on the surface and absorbed into
the body of the pottery.
The subsequent interpretation of the ceramic life cycle involves the consideration of
questions relating, for example, to the extent of craft specialization and mode of production,
to the possible reasons for the technological choices made in production, and to the pattern

*Received 3 August 2007; accepted 4 December 2007


© University of Oxford, 2008
Ceramic production, provenance and use—a review 217

of exchange and trade. In attempting to answer these questions, it is necessary to take into
account the archaeological context in which the ceramics were produced, distributed and used.
That is, one needs to adopt the ceramic ecology approach, first proposed by Matson (1965),
which attempts to link pottery production to the environment in all its aspects (i.e., physical;
biological, including human biology; and sociocultural). In addition, ceramic ethnoarchaeology,
which involves the direct observation and study by archaeologists of variability in ceramic
production, distribution and use among extant societies, has a potentially valuable contribution
to make (Longacre 1991).
From its first volume onwards, the journal Archaeometry has contained papers reporting on
pottery provenance studies based on the determination of chemical compositions (Emeleus
1958). Technological studies involving the firing of replicate Roman pottery kilns (Mayes
1961) and the determination of the pottery firing temperatures by means of thermal expansion
measurements (Roberts 1963) followed shortly. Further technological themes included the
study of surface coatings on earthenware (Maggetti et al. 1981); the production of glazed
wares, including stonepaste bodies (Allan et al. 1973) and porcelains (Tite et al. 1984), as well
as earthenwares; and more recently, in the context of technological choice, mechanical and
thermal properties (Kilikoglou et al. 1998). Finally, in the context of use, papers on organic
residues in pottery (e.g., Charters et al. 1993) have been published.
The emphasis of Archaeometry has always tended to be on the publication of papers
describing new scientific techniques or new applications that involve the acquisition of quan-
titative, rather than qualitative, data. Thus, the papers on pottery provenance have more often
involved the determination of chemical composition rather than thin-section petrography.
Similarly, those on production technology have tended to involve the determination of firing
temperatures rather than the investigation of forming methods, and those on use, the analysis
of organic residues rather than the study of surface wear.

PRODUCTION TECHNOLOGY

The history of ceramics begins with the production of earthenware vessels at around 10 000 bc
in Japan and around 6000 bc in the Near East. With the introduction of wheel throwing in
the Near East in the fourth millennium bc, the majority of the techniques (i.e., refining
and tempering clays, the full range of forming methods, slip and painted decoration, kiln
firing with controlled temperatures and atmospheres) required for the production of unglazed
earthenware were known. Subsequent technological innovations included the production of
glazed earthenware in the Near East, glazed stoneware and then porcelain in China and Europe,
and stonepaste bodies in the Islamic world.

Earthenwares
The starting point for the technological study of earthenwares is the investigation of the
selection and processing of the raw materials used in their production. Both non-calcareous
and calcareous low-refractory clays, defined as containing less than about 5% and greater
than about 10% lime (CaO), respectively, were used. In order to ensure that the clay was
sufficiently plastic for forming but that its drying shrinkage was not so great as to result in
cracking, the as-received clays were frequently either refined to remove excessive quantities
of non-plastic inclusions or had temper added to them. Typical sources of temper included
sand, grog (i.e., crushed sherd), organic material (e.g., chaff), crushed flint, shell or limestone.

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Forming methods The primary techniques for forming pottery vessels include modelling from
a lump of clay by pinching, drawing or beating using a paddle and anvil; pressing or pounding into
a mould; building up from coils or slabs; and throwing on a wheel. With training and practice,
it is often possible to infer the method of forming used from visual examination of surface markings,
cracks and joins, pore and temper distribution and orientation, and variations in wall thickness.
However, as first shown by Rye (1977), further information on the methods used can be
obtained by investigating void and inclusion orientation using radiography. Radiography can
also provide information on the way in which handles, spouts and rims were attached.

Surface treatments The surface treatments of pottery vessels, which serve both as decoration
and as a means of reducing their permeability to liquids, include burnishing and the application
of mineral pigments, a slip or a glaze. The introduction of scanning electron microscopy (SEM)
with attached analytical facilities to the examination of ancient ceramics during the 1970s
provided a powerful technique for the investigation of these surface treatments. Thus, by
the SEM examination of a polished section through the surface and body of a pottery sherd,
burnishing and the application of a slip, both of which can produce a high-gloss surface finish,
can be readily distinguished from each other (Middleton 1987).
In the context of surface treatments, a series of papers on the examination of the high-gloss
surface finishes on Greek Attic black- and red-figured ware, Campanian black coated ware and
Roman terra sigillata pottery has been published in Archaeometry (Tite et al. 1982; Maniatis
et al. 1993; Gliozzo et al. 2004). Using a combination of SEM, electron microprobe analysis
and X-ray diffraction (XRD), it was confirmed that a three-stage, oxidizing–reducing–oxidiz-
ing firing cycle was used in the production of both the Greek Attic and Campanian wares. In
both cases, the coating was produced by the application of a fine-textured, non-calcareous clay
slip, containing up to about 15% iron oxide, to a coarser-textured clay body. After firing to the
reducing stage, the black coating consisted of fine particles of hercynite and magnetite in an
impermeable, well-vitrified matrix, whereas the body remained porous. Therefore, during the
final oxidizing stage of the firing, the impermeable coating remained black, whereas the
porous body was re-oxidized to a red colour. The high-gloss red coating on Roman terra sig-
illata was also produced by the application of a fine-textured, non-calcareous slip with high
iron oxide content. However, in this case, a single-stage firing, with oxidizing conditions
maintained throughout, was used, and the red coating consisted of fine particles of hematite in
a partially vitrified matrix.

Glaze types The first glazed clay objects were produced in Mesopotamia at around 1500 bc;
that is, at about the same time as glass objects began to be produced in significant quantities.
Hedges and Moorey (1975) and Hedges (1976) published the results of the analysis, using a
combination of optical emission spectroscopy (OES) and X-ray fluorescence analysis (XRF),
of a comprehensive range of glazed pottery from Mesopotamia spanning the period from about
1300 bc to ad 550. These results showed that the glazes were of the alkali–lime–silica type,
with soda contents greater than potash contents, and were, therefore, similar in composition
to contemporary glass. Furthermore, there were no significant changes in glaze composition
during this more or less 2000-year period. Paynter and Tite (2001), by analysis of the glazes
in cross-section in an analytical SEM, subsequently confirmed that Mesopotamian glazes and
glasses were very similar in composition. They, therefore, suggested that glass production
provided the technology required to produce an alkali–lime–silica frit, which was then ground
to a powder and applied to the clay body to produce a glaze.

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Ceramic production, provenance and use—a review 219

The next stage in the development of glaze technology was the appearance in Anatolia
of transparent high-lead glazes, containing 45–60% lead oxide, sometime during the first
century bc. From there, lead glazes spread throughout the Roman world, and then continued
to be used extensively in the Byzantine and Islamic worlds, in medieval Europe and up
to the present day in both Europe and the Near East. Information on the production
technology of high-lead glazes, which involves the application of a suspension of either a
lead compound by itself or a mixture of a lead compound with silica, is provided by
De Benedetto et al. (2004) for the Roman period, and by Waksman et al. (2007) for the
Byzantine period. As discussed in a review paper on the use of lead glazes in antiquity (Tite
et al. 1998), the principal advantages of high lead over alkali–lime glazes are easier prepara-
tion and application of the glaze suspension due to the insolubility of lead oxide, the
reduced risk of crazing due to the lower thermal expansion of a lead glaze and the greater
optical brilliance.
Subsequently, as outlined by Mason and Tite (1997), tin-opacified glazes were introduced
into Abbasid Iraq sometime during the eighth and ninth centuries ad, possibly inspired by the
arrival of, and desire to imitate, Chinese whiteware imports. Tin-opacified glazes were then
produced in Fatimid Egypt in the 10th–11th century ad, where the glazes used were of the
lead–alkali type, containing 25–35% lead oxide and 5–10% alkali (soda plus potash). From
Egypt, the tin-opacification technology spread throughout the Islamic world, including to
Islamic Spain, from where it reached Italy in the 13th century ad, resulting in the beginnings
of Italian maiolica production.

Firing procedures The estimation of the firing temperature used in the production of pottery,
together with the relationship between firing atmosphere and colour, have been major themes
in ceramic technological studies.
The wide range of methods used in determining the firing temperatures employed in
antiquity all involve establishing a relationship between the firing temperature and changes
in either the mineralogy or the microstructure of the pottery (Heimann and Franklin 1979).
The mineralogical changes can be followed using, for example, XRD (Maggetti 1982) and,
for the iron-bearing phases, Mössbauer spectroscopy (Wagner and Wagner 2004). The micro-
structural changes, which involve the progressive sintering and vitrification of the clay matrix
of the pottery, can be observed either directly by examination in section in a SEM (Maniatis
and Tite 1981), or indirectly through changes in those properties that are dependent on
microstructure. These latter include thermal expansion or shrinkage (i.e., dilatometry), which
was one of the first methods to be developed and reported in Archaeometry (Roberts
1963; Tite 1969). These techniques all provide a measure of heat input that is a combination
of firing temperature and time. Thus, the effect on mineralogy and microstructure of a firing
temperature of 900°C for 1 h is similar to that of a firing temperature of 950°C for a few
minutes.
Having obtained an estimate of the firing temperature, the next question is: What does
this tell you about the method of firing? The two basic regimes for firing earthenware are an
open firing with no permanent structure, such as a bonfire, and firing in a closed and more
permanent structure, such as a kiln (Gosselain 1992). Open firings typically reach their
maximum temperatures in 20–30 min, and this temperature is maintained only for a few minutes.
In contrast, kiln firings, as a result of the much greater thermal mass and the separation of fuel
from the pottery, typically take an hour or more to reach maximum temperature, and in the firing
of earthenware, this temperature is typically maintained for some 30 min. Although the range of

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temperatures reached in open and kiln firings (typically 600–950°C) tend to overlap, the heat
input for kilns will be greater due to the longer firing time and, therefore, the estimated firing
temperatures will tend to be higher.
A consequence of the very fast heating rates for open firings is that normally only coarse-
textured pottery can be open fired; otherwise, steam resulting from loss of absorbed and
chemically combined water cannot escape, and the vessel will crack. In contrast, because of
the much slower heating rates, both fine-textured and coarse-textured pottery can be readily
fired in a kiln.
The firing atmosphere employed is normally apparent from the colour of the pottery. Thus,
red or buff pottery indicates an oxidizing atmosphere, whereas black to grey pottery indicates
either a definite reducing atmosphere, or insufficient firing time for the organic material within
the clay to have been burnt out. Mössbauer spectroscopy, which provides information on
the oxidation states of the iron in the pottery, can help in distinguishing between these two
options for black to grey pottery. In addition, it can sometimes help to establish whether
a firing was oxidizing throughout, or whether it was initially reducing and was then followed
by an oxidizing stage (Wagner and Wagner 2004).

Stonewares and porcelains


As compared to earthenwares, stonewares—which, in the context of China, include green-
wares, or celadons—are made from more refractory clays, are fired to significantly higher
temperatures, and have more vitrified and harder bodies with lower porosity. Porcelains are
similarly made from refractory clays, are fired to even higher temperatures and have vitrified,
hard, low-porosity bodies. As compared to stoneware bodies, which tend to be grey to green
in colour, porcelain bodies are white and, because of greater vitrification, are sometimes
translucent.
Stonewares were first produced in China during the Shang dynasty (c. 1700–1027 bc).
Subsequently, Yue greenwares were produced during the Six Dynasties (ad 265–589), with
the production of greenwares, or celadons, continuing until the Song dynasty (ad 960–1279)
and, in some regions, into the Ming dynasty (ad 1368–1644). Porcelain production began
in north China during the sixth and seventh centuries ad, and in south China during the
10th century ad.
A major theme in the scientific study of Chinese stonewares and porcelains has been
identifying the different types of clays used in different parts of China (Guo Yanyi 1987).
Wood (2000) has suggested that these differences reflect the plate tectonic history of China,
and the original nature of the North China and South China continental blocks that collided
to form the Nanshan and Qinling mountain ranges. Thus, the stoneware and porcelain raw
materials in north China are rich in true clay minerals and, therefore, are plastic for working and
refractory in firing. In contrast, southern raw materials tend to be rich in quartz and secondary
potassium mica. They are therefore less plastic and less refractory than the northern clays.
Among the extensive literature on the scientific examination of Chinese stonewares and
porcelains are three papers published in Archaeometry (Tite et al. 1984; Pollard and Hatcher
1994; Yap and Younan Hua 1994) that indicate the nature of the information that can be
obtained. Thus, Xing and Ding porcelains from north China are both made using a kaolinitic
clay with a high alumina content. In contrast, porcelains produced at Jingdezhen in south
China during the Yuan dynasty (ad 1279–1368) were based on the use of porcelain stone,
which consists of a fine aggregate of quartz, muscovite (potash mica), albite (sodium feldspar)

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Ceramic production, provenance and use—a review 221

and, sometimes, kaolinite. Initially, a kaolinized porcelain stone was used by itself but,
subsequently, a porcelain stone containing a negligible amount of kaolinite was used, and to
this, kaolin was added as a separate component (Tite et al. 1984).
A further early study of Chinese porcelain was the analysis of the cobalt blue pigment
employed for the underglaze decoration on Ming dynasty blue-and-white ware (ad 1368–1644)
(Garner and Young 1956; Banks and Merrick 1967). The results indicated that cobalt low in
manganese was used before ad 1425, whereas after that date cobalt containing significant
amounts of manganese was used. Since cobalt ores occurring in China normally contain a high
proportion of manganese, whereas those occurring in Iran are manganese free, it is suggested
that, at around ad 1425, there was a switch from the use of cobalt ore imported from Iran,
to the use local ore.

European porcelains From the 15th century ad onwards, Chinese porcelains were imported
into Europe in increasing amounts, and the potential profits to be gained from a European
porcelain industry were widely appreciated.
The first documented European porcelain was produced in Italy in about ad 1575, under
the patronage of the Medici. Analyses of Medici porcelain bodies indicate that they were
produced from a mixture of about 60% quartz, 25% white firing clay and 15% marzacotta,
which is a sintered mixture of sand and alkali similar to that used in the production of Italian
maiolica glazes (Kingery and Vandiver 1984). Therefore, Medici porcelain differs significantly
from clay-based Chinese porcelain and, instead, bears some similarities to Islamic stonepaste bodies,
discussed below. Production of Medici porcelain involved firing the bodies to about 1100°C,
and because of the short firing range between maturing and melting, there was considerable loss
of pieces, As a result, active production ceased after the death of the Grand Duke Francesco in
ad 1587, and a hundred years or so elapsed before there were any further attempts in Europe
to produce porcelain.
The first successful, and sustained, European porcelain production was established at
St Cloud, near Paris, at the end of the 17th century ad. Like the Medici porcelain, this was
soft-paste porcelain, with the body being produced from a mixture of quartz, alkali and clay,
plus, in this case, limestone. The firing temperature was again around 1100°C, but St Cloud
porcelain was easier to produce than Medici porcelain, both in terms of plasticity during
forming and increased firing range (Kingery 1986). Soon after, in ad 1708, the first successful
European hard-paste porcelain was produced at Meissen, by a research team under the direction
of Johann Friedrich Böttger. The bodies were produced using kaolin and calcined gypsum
with a firing temperature of about 1400°C (Kingery 1986). After Böttger’s death in ad 1719,
the gypsum was replaced by a few per cent of feldspar, which was added as a flux, with a
consequent reduction in firing temperature.
In England, a diverse range of porcelain types, both soft-paste and hard-paste, were
produced during the second half of the 18th century ad (Tite and Bimson 1991). These included
glassy porcelain (early Chelsea and Longton Hall), which was similar in composition to that
produced in France; soapstone porcelains (Worcester and Vauxhall), which employed the
‘soapy rock’ (i.e., talc) from the Lizard peninsular; and bone-ash porcelain (Bow, Lowestoft
and later Chelsea), which was characterized by the presence of calcium phosphate derived
from bone. The first hard-paste porcelain in England was produced at Bristol in ad 1768, from
where production very soon moved to Plymouth. These hard-paste bodies were made from
a mixture of quartz sand, China clay and China stone, both of which contain kaolinite and
feldspar.

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Stonepaste bodies
A major technological innovation introduced by Islamic potters was the development of
stonepaste bodies in which quartz sand or crushed quartz pebbles is the major component
(Allan et al. 1973; Mason and Tite 1994). As described by Abu’l Qasim (Allen et al. 1973) in
the early 14th century ad, stonepaste bodies typically consist of some 10 parts of quartz, one
part of a white firing clay and one part of glass frit. The clay gives plasticity to the quartz
body, thus facilitating forming, and together with the glass frit reacts with the quartz during
firing to produce an interstitial glass that bonds together the quartz particles. The result is
a hard white body, the precursor of which was ultimately faience, produced from the fourth
millennium bc onwards in the Near East and Egypt, from a mixture of quartz and alkali flux
but with no added clay.
The production of true stonepaste bodies, comparable in composition to those described by
Abu’l Qasim, first occurred in Fatimid Egypt during the period ad 1025–75. Subsequently, the
stonepaste technology was introduced into Syria and Iran during the late 11th–12th century
ad. As in the case of tin-opacified glazes, the introduction of stonepaste bodies was probably
again inspired by a desire on the part of Islamic potters to imitate porcelains that were being
imported from south China from the beginning of the 11th century ad.
Subsequently, during the late 15th and early 16th centuries ad, Isnik ware was produced
in Ottoman Turkey, in imitation of imported Chinese blue-and-white porcelain. Although a
comparative latecomer, Isnik ware, with its high purity, its entirely colourless glaze, its very
fine-textured slip, which provided an excellent base for the underglaze decoration, and its
hard, dense, white body, represented the technological and artistic peak of stonepaste ceramic
production in the Islamic world (Tite 1989; Paynter et al. 2004).

Organization of production
Having reconstructed the various aspects of pottery production, the next question that one
must try to answer is: How was the pottery production organized and what was the extent of
the associated craft specialization? Various typologies for the modes of pottery production
have been proposed, of which that by Peacock (1982), for Roman pottery, is typical and has
been much cited. Peacock defined a sequence involving increasing specialization and size of
work unit that ranges from household production and household industry, through individual
and nucleated workshops, to manufactory and factory.
Except when direct evidence comes from the excavation of a pottery workshop, one has to
infer the mode of production from the surviving pottery itself. Factors that need to be considered
in this latter situation include the degree of standardization, the labour requirements and level
of craft skill, the level of technology and investment in permanent facilities and equipment,
and the pattern of distribution.
Andrews (1997) has reconstructed the production technology employed for three types of
late Iron Age pottery from the Auvergne region in France and then, through consideration of
the raw materials, labour requirements and level of technology, he has attempted to infer the
mode of production. The most sophisticated of the three types was ‘painted’ pottery, decorated
with red, cream, white, grey and black pigments or slips. Its production required a wide range
of raw materials, a complex sequence of procedures for processing, forming and decorating,
together with the associated investment in equipment (e.g., a wheel and kiln). He therefore
argued that its mode of production was a nucleated workshop in which a team of specialist

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Ceramic production, provenance and use—a review 223

artisans was employed. In contrast, the production of the black burnished ware required only
a single clay for both body and slip, with a wheel for forming as the principal investment in
equipment. Because of the use of a wheel, production in an individual workshop, rather than
household production, was proposed. Finally, the white-slipped flagons exhibit evidence for
‘assembly line’ production, suggesting production in a manufactory.

Technological choice
In order to understand the reasons for the technological choices (i.e., choice of clay and
temper, forming method, surface treatment and firing procedure) made in pottery production,
it is essential to appreciate that technology is embedded in the overall situational context
(Sillar and Tite 2000).
Regarding direct influences on technological choice, we start by considering the more
material influences, such as the natural environment, technological knowledge and the economic
system. These influence technological choice, first, via the availability of raw materials, tools,
energy sources and techniques and, second, via the properties and performance characteristics
that they possess in procuring, processing, forming, surface treatment and firing. For example,
the plasticity, and the drying and shrinkage rates, of available clays greatly influence the
choice of processing techniques. Very plastic clay prone to substantial shrinkage may require
the addition of temper, whereas less plastic clay may need to be refined or have wet dung
added to improve its plasticity. However, these choices are co-dependent on the choice of
forming and firing methods. Potters forming their vessels on the wheel usually prefer fine
plastic pastes, a coarse fabric being both irritating to the potter’s hands and less responsive
to the forming technique. But, in addition to drying more slowly and shrinking more, finer
fabrics tend to be less tolerant of sudden changes in the firing temperature and benefit from
the steadier (controlled) firing that a kiln can offer. This is one of the reasons why there is a
frequent (but not universal) relationship between the use of the wheel in pottery forming and
the use of kilns to fire the pottery.
In addition to the material influence, cultural influences must be taken into account,
since the two spheres are so thoroughly interdependent that it is impossible to consider one
without the other. Thus, the availability of raw materials is dependent on the local environment
and the technical ability of the potter to collect and process them, but it also depends on
the potter’s perception of the clay as a suitable material for pottery making and the politics
of who controls the resource. Similarly, choice of both temper and forming method may
have some cultural significance, or may express some aspect of group identity or social
status. For example, Jones (2000) discusses how the choice of clay and temper in the Orkneys
during the Neolithic period could have had ancestral and ideological significance. Similarly, in
ethnoarchaeological studies in southern Cameroon, close links have been established between
the methods of forming used by the potters and their ethnolinguistic groupings (Gosselain
and Livingstone-Smith 1995).
Regarding indirect influences on technological choice, the performance characteristics
required by the pottery when in use are of primary importance. For pottery vessels used for
transport and storage, the necessary performance characteristics are the ability of the vessels to
retain their contents and to survive impact without cracking. Therefore, the relevant physical
properties are strength and toughness. On the basis of strength and toughness measurements
on calcareous clay test bars, fired to 950°C, Kilikoglou et al. (1998) established that the strength
of the test bars decreased progressively with increasing content of quartz temper, and that, for

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a particular quartz content, strength also decreased with increasing size of the quartz particles.
The reason proposed for the decrease in strength was the increased probability of crack
initiation due to the network of microcracks resulting from the differential shrinkage/
expansion of the clay and quartz inclusions during drying and firing. Conversely, fracture
toughness increased significantly when the volume fraction of quartz temper was increased
from 10% to 20%. In this case, the microcrack network results in an increase in the dissipation of
energy through crack deflection and bifurcation and, therefore, a decrease in the probability of
crack propagation. However, there is no evidence that the opposing requirements for maximum
strength and toughness were either a problem in producing effective transport and storage
vessels, or a significant factor in influencing technological choice (Tite et al. 2001, 318).
For the storage of water in regions where the climate is hot, the vessel walls additionally
need to be permeable in order to achieve effective evaporative cooling. Therefore, the bodies
need to be coarse tempered, and the surfaces unsealed. Conversely, for cooking pots, low per-
meability through the vessel walls is essential; otherwise, heat is wasted in evaporation of
water from the surface. Ethnographic and ethnoarchaeological accounts indicate that potters
achieved this low permeability by the application of a resin to the interior surface, or by pro-
gressively sealing the surface with food residues during use (Schiffer 1990).
A further important performance characteristic of cooking pots is their ability to survive
rapid changes in temperature without cracking. Steponaitis (1984) showed that, in the region
around Moundville, Alabama, during the period from 1000 bc to ad 1500, the temper type
used in cooking pots changed sequentially from plant fibre to coarse quartz sand, then to fine
quartz sand, then to grog and, finally, to coarse shell during the Mississipian period. He then
argued that coarsely ground shell provides the most appropriate temper for cooking pots, and
that the use of shell temper can be seen as the final stage in a technological development
aimed at achieving the ‘ideal’ cooking pot. The first advantage of shell temper was that the
platy shell particles were more effective at stopping crack propagation than rounded or angular
quartz sand or grog particles, and thus resulted in a higher thermal shock resistance. The
second advantage was that because the thermal expansion of shell temper was significantly
lower than that of quartz, the bulk thermal expansion for a shell-tempered body was lower
than that of a quartz-tempered body and, therefore, the stresses driving crack initiation during
thermal shock were less.
Tite et al. (2001), in a critical survey of published data, have argued that thermal shock
resistance has played a definite role in the technological choices made in the production of
cooking pots. Thus, in order to maximize the energy dissipation during crack propagation and
minimize the risk of catastrophic failure, cooking pots routinely contain high concentrations
of temper and were normally fired at comparatively low temperatures. However, the extent
to which shell or limestone temper was deliberately chosen, specifically because of either
the resulting reduced bulk thermal expansion of the body or, for shell temper, the increased
effectiveness in stopping crack propagation, is less clear.
In summary, it is apparent that there are many alternative clays, tempers and firing temper-
atures that can be used in production such that the resulting pottery adequately satisfies the
strength, toughness, thermal shock resistance and permeability requirements in use. Thus, it is
generally inappropriate to view ancient potters as struggling to cope with the various negative
effects of their environment and, thus, needing to undertake a series of systematic experiments
to establish the technological choices appropriate to achieving the performance characteristics
required in use. Instead, the technological choices made will depend on the overall environ-
mental, technological, economic, social, political and ideological context of production.

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Ceramic production, provenance and use—a review 225

PROVENANCE STUDIES

In its first volume, following on from the work of Sayre and Dodson (1957), Archaeometry
contained a paper on the provenance study of pottery by means of minor and trace element
analysis using neutron activation analysis (NAA) (Emeleus 1958). Subsequently, reports on
pottery provenance studies have continued to be a significant component of most volumes of
Archaeometry. Thin-section petrography is less well represented in Archaeometry, although
some important methodological papers (e.g., Whitbread 1986) have been published.

Chemical analysis
Initially, OES, NAA and XRF were the primary techniques used, with the last two continuing
in use until the present day. OES was first superseded by atomic absorption spectrometry
(AAS) (Hughes et al. 1976), and more recently by inductively coupled plasma spectrometry
with either OES (ICP–OES) (Hatcher et al. 1995) or mass spectrometry (ICP–MS). The latter
(ICP–MS) provides a sensitivity and range of elements analysed that competes with NAA.
However, NAA retains significant advantages in terms of easy inter-laboratory comparisons
and rapid sample preparation (Speakman and Glascock 2007). Thus, NAA uses a powder sample,
whereas ICP–MS requires full acid dissolution of silicate-based pottery. Even so, because of the
reduced availability of nuclear reactors required to activate samples, ICP–MS is now tending
replace NAA, and the future of NAA is becoming uncertain.
Chemical analysis for major, minor and trace elements provides a compositional ‘finger-
print’ for grouping together pottery made from the same raw materials and for distinguishing
between groups of pottery made from different raw materials. Because of the variability in
chemical compositions within an individual clay or temper source and the possible similarity in
composition of different sources, provenance studies based on compositional ‘finger-
printing’ involve the analysis of a large number of samples, which are then grouped together
using statistical methods. Principal components analysis and cluster analysis provide the two
primary statistical techniques for defining different compositional groups (Baxter 1994).
In addition, Beier and Mommsen (1994) have developed statistical methods to bring together
into a single group samples whose chemical compositions differ only because of the dilution
effects of the presence of different amounts of chemically pure temper inclusions, such as
quartz.
In attempting to match these compositional pottery groups to possible clay sources, in order
to establish whether they were locally produced or imported, one needs to consider both the
prior treatment of the clay and the potential changes in composition during burial. Thus, in
preparing the clay, the potters could refine it to remove non-plastic inclusions, they could
add further non-plastic inclusions as temper or they could mix together more than one clay.
In terms of changes in composition during burial, Freeth (1967) showed that major/minor
elements such as sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium can be readily leached from or
deposited within pottery during burial in a range of environmental conditions. More recently,
there have been several papers published in Archaeometry that have both confirmed and
extended these results to include alteration of all alkali metal contents (i.e., Na, K, Rb and Cs).
Buxeda i Garrigós et al. (2002) further established that, due to the formation of sodic zeolite,
analcime, there is less leaching of Na for high-fired pottery, whereas, due to the increase in the
amount of glass phase, there is more leaching of K and Rb. Although Bishop et al. (1982, 296)
argued that transition and rare earth elements, which are of particular importance in defining

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226 M. S. Tite

compositional groups, tend to be immobile, Schwedt et al. (2004) have recently shown that
some alteration in the rare earth element content can occur during burial.

Thin-section petrography
Although, in the context of papers published in Archaeometry, pottery provenance studies
based on chemical analysis predominate over those based on thin-section petrography, this latter
technique has played a crucial role.
First, when the non-plastic inclusions derive from distinctive igneous and metamorphic
rocks, thin-section petrography of coarse-textured pottery provides a predictive method for
identifying the source of the raw materials used in the production of pottery. Very occasion-
ally, a particular ‘key’ inclusion allows one to identify the precise source of the raw materials.
This was the situation for a type of Neolithic pottery, known as Hembury ware, which is found
within an area in south-west England, some 300 km across and stretching from Cornwall to
Wiltshire. This pottery contains fragments of a metamorphized igneous rock known as gabbro,
which, within the distribution zone of the pottery, is only found on the Lizard peninsula in
Cornwall (Peacock 1969; Harrad 2004). It is, however, extremely rare to be able to identify
a clay or temper source on the basis of a particular ‘key’ inclusion. Instead, as undertaken
for the Tonto Basin in Arizona (Heidke and Miksa 2000), more complete petrographic
descriptions of the inclusions present in pottery under investigation, and their comparison
with the petrography of sands collected in the potential source area, are normally essential.
Within a more homogeneous geological region, dominated by sedimentary rocks, it is much
more difficult to suggest source areas for the non-plastic inclusions, since the quartz sand,
limestone, flint and shell, which are typically present, are widely available. However, with
knowledge of the local geology, the presence or absence of even these common inclusions
does help to establish whether or not local production was a possibility. Furthermore, thin-
section petrography forms a crucial component of an integrated methodology for pottery
provenance studies, which is outlined below in the context of the study of Minoan and
Mycenaean pottery. This project has been chosen for more detailed discussion because it
illustrates both the development in approach from the 1960s through to the present day and
the depth of information that can be obtained through long-term commitment to the study of
pottery from a particular geographical region.

Minoan and Mycenaean pottery


The chemical analysis, using OES, of Minoan and Mycenaean painted pottery, current in the
Aegean and beyond between about 1500 bc and 1200 bc, was one of the earliest large-scale
pottery provenance studies to be undertaken. More than 1000 sherds from over 50 sites on
Crete, the Greek mainland and throughout the eastern Mediterranean were analysed, and on
the basis of the pattern of concentrations for nine elements, it was possible to characterize
some 18 compositional groups (Catling et al. 1963; Catling and Millett 1965a). By com-
parison of the concentration patterns for pottery from the two major production centres
(i.e., Minoan Knossos and Mycenaean Peloponnese) with that from other sites, it was possible
to distinguish locally produced pottery from that imported from these two centres. The results
showed that, during the period from 1400 bc to 1200 bc, the Mycenaeans were the dominant
mercantile power in the eastern Mediterranean, exporting pottery to Melos, Chios, Cyprus,
Rhodes, Syria (Tell Atchana) and Egypt (Amarna). However, as discussed further below,

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Ceramic production, provenance and use—a review 227

chemical analysis was less successful in establishing the origin of stirrup jars, which are found
at various locations on Crete and the Greek mainland, including a large number at Thebes, and
which frequently bear inscriptions in linear B script (Catling and Millett 1965b; Catling et al.
1980).
Chemical analysis, with a change from the use of OES to AAS, continued to dominate
Minoan and Mycenaean pottery studies through into the 1980s (Jones 1986), but then, in the
mid-1980s, Ian Whitbread and Peter Day started to supplement chemical analysis with thin-
section petrography. Subsequently, a fully integrated methodology involving provenance, tech-
nological and use studies was introduced (e.g., Day et al. 1997, 1999). The first step in such
an approach is to divide the pottery assemblage under investigation according to chronology,
shape, size and surface decoration. These groups are then examined with a hand lens or low-
power binocular microscope, in order to assess, and further subdivide, on the basis of surface
markings, surface treatment and types of non-plastic inclusions/temper. Thin-section petrography,
chemical analysis and firing temperature determinations, from the microstructures seen in SEM,
were then undertaken on selected sherds. Geological surveys of the area for clay and temper
sources, together with ethnoarchaeological studies of present-day traditional potters were also
undertaken.
One outcome of the use of thin-section petrography was the resolution of the uncertainties
regarding the origin of stirrup jars found at Thebes (Day and Haskell 1995). Petrography
confirmed that, as predicted by chemical analysis, a high proportion were imported from
western Crete, and were most probably the product of one workshop, or a group of nucleated
workshops. Petrography also established that, of the remainder, some were produced in
Thebes itself and some were imported from two separate locations in central Crete, whereas,
on the basis of chemical compositions alone, the origin of these jars was unresolved, Thebes
itself, the Argolid or central Crete each being possible.
Second, this integrated approach helped in resolving questions relating to the movements
of potters and the transmission of technology. Thus, it was established that the production
technology of the ‘Minoan’-style pottery of EMIIB–MMIA date found on the island of Kythera
matched the contemporary technology in use in areas of central Crete (Broodbank and Kiriatzi
2007). Calcareous clays were used in both cases and the firing practices were similar, but the
clay and temper used in the ‘Minoan’-style pottery found on Kythera matched those available
on the island. It was therefore argued that Cretan social groups settled on the island, bringing
with them their own potters. Similarly, ‘Mycenaean’-style pottery found on the Plain of Sybaris
in southern Italy used calcareous clays, and was wheel thrown and kiln fired to consistently
high temperatures, but the clays had chemical signatures consistent with local production
(Buxeda i Garrigós et al. 2003). Again, therefore, it seems probable that potters working in the
Mycenaean tradition were permanently based in southern Italy. In contrast, in central Macedonia,
calcareous clays were not always used in the production of the ‘Mycenaean’-style pottery, and
the firing temperatures were much more variable. Thus, the Mycenaean influence tended to
be restricted more to style than to technology, suggesting production by local potters.
Further, the integrated approach has also been used to reassess the evidence for specializa-
tion of pottery production in Crete during the Prepalatial period (Day et al. 1997). On the
basis of the use of specific raw materials in the production of different types of pottery (e.g.,
cooking vessels, dark-on-white painted wares and storage jars), the large-scale and wide-ranging
distribution over the island of pottery from identified production centres, and the technological
skill employed in firing different types of pottery, it was concluded that pottery, as a specialized
craft activity, was already well established by the Prepalatial period. This contrasted with the

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228 M. S. Tite

previously held view that craft specialization in pottery production did not start in Crete until
the advent of palaces. Subsequently, Tomkins and Day (2001) showed that Early Neolithic
pottery found at Knossos was produced at a number of locations up to distances of about 70 km
from Knossos, which suggests production by specialists, rather than household production,
even at this early date.

USE OF POTTERY VESSELS

The uses to which pottery vessels were put range from utilitarian—for example, for storage, food
preparation (e.g., soaking, grinding), cooking (e.g., boiling, roasting), serving and individual
eating or drinking—through to sociopolitical and ritual. The latter non-utilitarian functions
include presentation as a gift, and use as a prestige object to display success or power.
The first step in investigating the use to which particular pottery vessels were put is a
careful assessment of the archaeological contexts (i.e., houses, graves, religious contexts
such as temples and altars) in which the vessels were found. One then needs to consider the
dimensions and shape of vessels, which provide an indication of their capacity, stability and
the ease of manipulation and removal of contents in use. Similarly, the nature of the surface
decoration provides an indication of their potential role in sociopolitical and ritual contexts.
Finally, one investigates the surface traces resulting from vessel usage such as surface wear,
soot deposits on the exterior of the pottery, and organic residues either adhering to the interior
surface or absorbed into the porous body of the pottery. Surface wear or attrition, in the form
of scratches, pits and chips resulting from contact with a hearth, carrying, stirring, serving and
washing, can provide evidence for the ways in which pottery was used (Skibo 1992). Perhaps
more important is the presence of a carbon or soot deposit, which is the primary criterion for
identifying a cooking pot.
The analysis of the organic residues resulting from the original food contents of pottery
vessels have been extensively studied during the past two decades (Heron and Evershed 1993).
Although this aspect of pottery studies is more relevant to the investigation of past human diet,
there is one study that has specifically provided information on how the cooking pots were actually
used. Charters et al. (1993) investigated the distribution of the bulk quantities of lipids over the
interior, from rim to base, of different types of reconstructed late Saxon vessels from England.
They showed that shallow bowls have accumulated only low concentrations of lipids, suggest-
ing that they were not used for cooking. In contrast, jars have high concentrations of lipids
surviving on the upper inner surfaces, whereas ‘top hat’ vessels have lipids distributed fairly
uniformly over the inner surfaces. On the basis of these distributions, it was suggested that jars
were used for boiling food, with lipids rising to the surface of the liquid, and that ‘top-hat’ vessels
were used for roasting meat, fat from the meat coating the entire inner surface of the vessel.

FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS

A primary requirement for the future is for an increasing proportion of ceramic studies to
adopt the holistic approach, illustrated above for Minoan and Mycenaean pottery, in which
production, from the procurement and processing of the raw materials through to firing the
pottery, is considered together with provenance and use. In addition to the physical examination
of the ceramics, such studies will need to include fieldwork to collect samples of potential raw
materials. Also crucial to the success of such studies is the examination, at least in visually in
hand specimen, of complete pottery assemblages from archaeological sites under investigation.

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Ceramic production, provenance and use—a review 229

A further important development for the future will be to extend the comparison of the
raw materials used in ceramic production with those used in the production of other types of
artefact, and thus build up a picture of the interrelationship and transfer between different
technologies. Possible topics in this context include comparison of the alkali fluxes (i.e.,
plant ash and natron) used in pottery glazes, glass, faience and Egyptian blue; the source of
the cobalt pigment used in ceramics, glass, faience and paintings; and the source of the lead
used in lead glazes (Wolf et al. 2003), leaded bronzes and lead metal artefacts.
In addition, ceramic production, provenance and use studies will need to make full use of
new developments in instrumentation. Of particular importance will be new techniques that
can reduce the detection limits for a wide range of elements, achieve a high throughput of
analyses and minimize artefact damage. In this context, the high X-ray flux generated by
a synchrotron radiation source will facilitate both XRF with low detection limits and high
sample throughput, and high-resolution XRD, again with high sample throughput. Although
their inhomogeneity, resulting from the presence of non-plastic inclusions, will limit its use for
the analysis of ceramic bodies, laser ablation ICP–MS for both elemental and isotopic analysis
also has the potential to make a valuable contribution in the analysis of glazes and colorants.

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