The fabric of (a potter’s) life


Lovely lovely grog....


Ceramic style varies through space and time and archaeologists often discuss these differences in terms of spatial and temporal trends. Variation in style is also assumed to reflect social boundaries and differentiation. Such narratives of ceramic development however can ignore the role that individuals such as you and I may have played in the maintenance and change of ceramic style. I’m interested in exploring ceramic difference from the bottom-up by investigating the underpinnings of change through the lens of creativity. Through an analysis of the technological signatures left by the potter, I am exploring how creativity played out in these key areas of the crafting process: clay preparation, vessel shape, vessel decoration and surface finish. Within this blog entry, I will share with you my preliminary results of fabric analysis of Bronze Age funerary urns from Surčin.


To determine how the clay was prepared, I am in the process of creating a fabric series for the Surčin assemblage. This is useful for two reasons. The first of these is that a fabric series has not previously been assigned to this material. The second reason is that determining fabric illuminates the clay recipes used by potters. Are the recipes varied or uniform? How does this affect the subsequent stages in the potting process? Does variation in clay preparation reflect technological creativity?


Interestingly, the fabrics for all of the vessels are fairly standardised. All vessels were made from well-prepared clay that was tempered with grog (crushed up pottery). The advantage of using such temper is that it strengthens the clay and increases thermodynamics meaning that the vessels were less likely to explode during firing.

To my mind these standardised methods for preparing the clay show little in the way of technological creativity; for over 70 vessels there are only seven different fabric types, all of which are slight variations of a similar potting practice. These methods of preparation were passed down from generation to generation over the span of 400 years, from 1400-1000BC. There appear to be only slight changes to the clay recipes used over time; fabrics become slightly coarser for some of the later vessels that date to Belegiš II. Yet my preliminary analysis suggests that there is no linear trajectory for these shifts in clay preparation and I am also conscious not to split hairs when it comes to discussing fabrics; can we be certain that the potter saw the difference between grog that measured 1mm and grog that measured 2mm? Once back in Southampton I will make thin sections of each fabric type to verify the fabric series I have created out here.


So what does this standardisation mean for creativity? Belegiš potters it seems did not experiment with how they prepared their clay; over 400 years there was minimal alteration to clay recipes. However, the clay recipes used may have facilitated creativity for subsequent stages of the crafting process. The coarser and therefore stronger fabrics especially would have enabled for more exaggerated vessel forms. This is something that I very much intend to investigate further through the exploration of creativity in vessel shape.


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