Technical studies of archaeological ceramics: the shaping processes


October 11, 2021


Salle « petit physique », place du XX-août

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The day will take place in person but also online. Registration is mandatory

While the reconstruction of the first stage of the manufacturing process - selection and preparation of raw materials - is prevalent in ceramic studies, particularly via provenance analyses, shaping - the second stage of the process - is only rarely studied in archaeology. A number of studies still limit their assessment to the simplistic opposition between modelled, or "handmade" and or wheel-thrown ceramics. These two processes are still too often seen in opposition, the first being considered as rudimentary, resulting from domestic production with little technical control, the second being sometimes considered as the reflection of a higher technological development, sign of a specialization or even an increased industrialization of the craft industry.

The low interest in shaping techniques is due in particular to the complexity of recognizing them from archaeological material. This complexity has also been increased by the results of anthropological, ethno-archaeological and experimental research in recent decades, which has highlighted the immense diversity of possible techniques and variants.

For example, the identification, both in the so-called "ethnographic" context and within certain archaeological corpuses, of mixed techniques involving the use of the wheel or slow wheel used only for the secondary shaping of a rough-out, now provides a new perspective on the development and propagation of this tool, for example, in the Mediterranean. However, the polysemy of certain traces visible on pottery and the difficulty of establishing a recurrent link between archaeological material and experimental and ethnographic repositories are problematic. Many questions remain: is it possible to establish a valid protocol for the study of pottery roughing-out and shaping techniques on archaeological material? Using which methods? Can we make the difference between the use of a fast wheel and a slow wheel or tournette? Is this distinction itself generally relevant? Can we make a link between shaping techniques and production organization?  How can the study of shaping techniques inform us about the transmission of knowledge and contacts between craftsmen? At the regional (or broader) level, what can we learn from the geographical distribution of the different techniques?

By way of introduction to this workshop, we will be pleased to welcome Georges Mouamar, researcher at the National Museum of Denmark and Guillaume Florent, archaeologist-ceramologist (Archéopole- Université de Lille 3, Halma- UMR 8164). The current work of Georges involves the study of the ‘chaîne opératoire’ of Bronze Age ceramic assemblages from the North Levant. Guillaume will present a work in progress aiming at a methodological renewal in our studies of the ceramic chaine opératoire.

The conclusions to this workshop will be led by Valentine Roux, Senior Researcher at the CNRS, who kindly accepted our invitation. Her numerous studies address the processes of ceramic change through a technological analysis of pottery assemblages, including the forming techniques of ceramics produced in the South and North Levant between the 5th and the 2nd millennium BC.

  • Roux V. (coll. M.-A. Courty), 2019. Ceramics and Society. A technological Approach to Archaeological Assemblages. Springer Nature.
  • Roux V. (coll. M.-A. Courty), 2016 (2017, 2nd édition). Des Céramiques et des Hommes. Décoder les assemblages archéologiques. Presses Universitaires de Paris Ouest, Nanterre.

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