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F1Archaeology is anthropology to the extent that it is not simply history -- not merely the chronicling of events. Nevertheless, without control over the temporal sequencing of events, archaeology is in a poor condition to contribute to the mainstream of sociocultural anthropology (Michels 1973:3).

F2Richard Paige, with free quotations from the late Paul W. Lapp's article "The Importance of Dating" (Lapp 1977) appearing in the Biblical Archaeology Review, commented about relative and absolute dating: "Relative dating is imprecise, -- the only thing that can be said about two objects is that one is older than the other by an unknown amount of time. For example, in one of the buildings of Herod the Great's palace complex at Masada is an oven built across a corner of a mosaic floor. It is clear that the mosaic floor is older than the oven. This is an example of relative dating. It is because of other data that we can turn that sequence into a fairly accurate absolute date. We know from other records when the fortress of Masada was built which gives us an absolute date within a few years for the mosaic floor. We also know that the Zealots occupied the building between C.E. 70 and 73. If we conclude that the Zealots built the oven, we can also give it an absolute date."

F3H. Beebe states that, with the exception of public buildings (i.e. palaces, temples, gates, and the like) rarely there is sufficient material available to provide a full account of architectural details of Palestinian dwellings (Beebe  1968:39). However, as archaeological research has been improved in the last decades, we now dispose of written records and archaeological finds that give a quite reliable idea of the architecture in Syro-Palestine throughout the millennia. Finally possible are books like The Architecture of Ancient Israel (Israel Exploration Society 1992).

F4Numismatics can only take us up to the fifth century BCE. when coins began to be used. Moreover, this system presents real difficulties when the coins are found in the context of the so-called disturbances (the anachronistic finding of objects at an excavation site).

F5Radiocarbon dating is based on the fact that cosmic radiation produces neutrons that enter the earth's atmosphere and react with nitrogen. They produce carbon 14, a carbon isotope with eight neutrons in the nucleus instead of the usual six. With these additional neutrons, the nucleus is unstable and is subject to gradual radioactive decay of a half-life of 5730 years. Living organisms will absorb carbon 14 since this enters into the atmosphere along carbon dioxide. When an organism dies, no further carbon 14 will be incorporated to it and the radiocarbon present will slowly begin to disintegrate. The radiocarbon method can be used to date between 40000 and 500 years ago. The great shortcoming with this dating method is that it needs to be calibrated with some other method (usually dendrochronology) in order to show sufficient accuracy. Moreover, all dates are given with a 180 years deviation which means that there is a two out of three chance that the correct date is between the span of one standard deviation. In other words, radiocarbon dating is nothing else other than a statistical approximation (Fagan 1991:120-124).

F6Its shortcoming is the clear absence of wooden remains in Palestine with the exception of Jericho and En-Gedi.

F7Other systems are palynology (the analysis of stratified pollen), archaeo-parasitology (the study of human parasites found in human remains), thermoluminescence (measuring the visible light rays emitted by heated sherds), archaeo-magnetic dating (measuring the direction and intensity of the earth's magnetic field at a certain time stored in sherd), and the like.

F8Deaver writes: "Despite a growing number of scientific advances in methods of chronological determination, ceramic analysis continues to provide the only reliable backbone for historical reconstruction in a wide sphere" (Dever 1978:108). Anthony Frendo, in "H.J. Franken's Method of Ceramic Typology: An Appreciation" recognizes that following Petrie's' innovation, Palestinian archaeologists viewed pottery as the alphabet of their field (Frendo 1988:114).

F9Scholars once identified Tell el-Hsi with Lachish but now they connect it with the Canaanite city of Eglon (Negev 1990:123, 174).

F10While working at Tell el-Hsi, Petrie came to recognize the chronological value of potsherds in stratigraphic excavations. Accordingly, he established a basic scale of dated sherds. Since then fieldwork and desk-work has contributed to continuing progress in the study of pottery and other aspects of archaeology (Amiran 1970:13). Petrie's own words reflect the importance of his innovation: "Once settle the pottery of a country and the key is in our hands for all future explorations. A single glance at a mound of ruins will show as much to anyone who knows the styles of pottery as weeks of work may reveal to a beginner" (Wright 1937:1). Probably, the archaeologist who contributed the most to the ceramic dating system was William F. Albright during his 1920s and 1930s excavations at Tell Beit Mirsim (located 25 km southwest of the city of Hebron in southern Judea).

F11One of the most shared opinions regarding the origin of any civilization is its inherent connection to the development of pottery (Walters 1905:3).

F12Of itself clay has no characteristic form. It occurs naturally as a dry and powdery solid, as a sticky but plastic lump, and as a lumpy liquid. All three states are useful to the potter. Particles of clay are flat and plate-like. The addition of water enables them to slide over each other without breaking apart. In other words, the same qualities that make it instantaneously attractive to children most likely were those which attracted its earliest users (Copper 1972:11).

F13According to Owen Rye, in Pottery Technology, there are three kinds of pottery sampling: site surveys (to indicate the existence of an archaeological site), surface collections (obtaining a representative sample of the sherds found at a site], and stratified collections (which involves excavation). In a stratified collection, according to Rye, the sample sherds should represent:

1. The range of mineralogy; freshly broken cross sections should be examined using a 10x hand lens to see the variations.
2. The range of forming techniques; all sherds with marks on either surface should be kept. 
3. The range of decorative techniques; a full range of surface coatings, painted and plastic decoration, should be represented.
4. The range of vessel forms; rim and base sherds, plus any restorable vessels, should be saved.  5. The range of firing techniques; obtain examples of all variations in the color of the surface and structure of the cross section.  (Rye 1981:6-7.)

F14According to Warwick Bray and David Trump, in The Penguin Dictionary of Archaeology, pottery is one of the commonest finds at any site (Bray and Trump 1970:188). For evidence of mass production (i.e., villages whose main function was to produce and export pottery) see Bryant Wood's The Sociology of Pottery in Ancient Palestine (Wood 1990:15ff).

F15Notice that I did not say "unbreakable"! Pottery is indestructible only in the sense, that, once fired, its component (i.e. clay) will retain its properties for an undetermined period of time (Gibson and Woods 1990:5). Ceramics consist of silicates and oxides that are stable in a wide variety of contexts. This accounts for the survival of ceramics where other kinds of materials simply decomposed (Rye 1981:9).

F16Clay occurs over most of the earth's surface. Some people would travel quite far to acquire clay of high quality. Although some of it is more plastic and of a different color nevertheless the basic qualities are the same (Cooper 1972:15).

F17According to Rye "Pottery making, like metallurgy and the manufacture of glass, plaster, and cement, involves applying heat to manipulate and modify a class of inorganic materials. These activities have been collectively labeled "pyro-technology" because they make use of reactions taking place at elevated temperatures and require control of temperature, the rates of change in temperature, and the gaseous atmosphere surrounding the reacting materials" (Rye 1981:1).

F18In some early cultures basketry existed without pottery and in others pottery existed without basketry (Copper 1972:14-15).

F19Based on visual examination of characteristic sherds and whole pieces it is generally understood that in the MB I - MB II period Palestinian pottery was "thrown" on a fast wheel. That is, it was made on a wheel spinning fast enough that the centrifugal force formed the vessel. The potter merely guided the clay with his hands to attain the desired shape. This technology was apparently lost in the Late Bronze Age but regained in the Iron II period (Wood 1990:18). However, the origin of the wheel (i.e., the slow wheel) took place during the Chalcolithic period in Palestine (Amiran 1957:193).

F20Low temperatures during the firing process produce rather fragile and porous ware.

F21Some of the methods as listed in Cooper's A History of Pottery are:

1. Burnishing the clay when it was not quite dry. The surface was rubbed with a smooth stone or pebble which pressed the surface flat, giving it a dull, attractive shine and making it less porous.
2. Covering the surface of the pot with a slip of fine clay, prepared by removing the larger particles, such as was used by the Greeks on their red and black painted ware to give a decorated as well as a smooth surface.
3. Towards the end of the firing the pots could be covered with wet leaves. These produced smoke which penetrated the pores and gave the whole pot a shiny black color in the process known as "carbon smoking."
4. A vegetable "glaze" could be applied to the pot still hot from the fire, though the results were not as permanent as a true glaze. (Cooper 1972.)

F22For example, consider the development of the oil lamp throughout the millennia as set forth in Varda Sussman's "Lighting the Way Through History: The Evolution of Ancient Oil Lamps" (Sussman 1985).

F23From simple to complex, pottery can be analyzed by hand examination, hand lens or loop, binocular microscopy, neutron activation analysis, thin section petrography, x-ray (radiography xero-radiography), scanning electron microscopy and electron microprobe analysis (Lamberg-Karlovsky 1989:270).

F24Obviously, sherds must be washed before attempting any interpretation. Owen Rye points out in Pottery Technology that in washing pottery one should attempt only to remove loose deposits from the surfaces as hard encrustations may provide clues for reconstructing methods of production or use of the vessel. Moreover, he points out that the person doing the washing should not remove:

1. Organic coatings on the surface, especially fugitive materials such as resins or other plant derivatives.
2. Decoration or coating added after firing and thus easily removable with a brush, such as pigments filling incisions and clay painted on the bottoms of cooking pots to enhance resistance to thermal shock.
3. Variations in color between the inner and outer surfaces, which may offer clues to the use of the vessel.
4. Deposits resulting from usage, such as carbon on the exterior indicative of cooking and accumulations on the interior resulting from heating hard water.
5. Residues on the interior that may permit identification of cooking or storage functions.
6. Fragile surfaces resulting from application of a friable slip or use of materials containing soluble salts.
7. Decoration that may be visible only when the surface is wet because of destruction by erosion. (Rye 1981:11.)

Now, regarding the reading of pottery, W. Dever and H. Lance in A Manual Of Field Excavation point out that along with providing a close watch on the progress of the excavation in the several Fields and Areas, pottery reading gives a cross-check on stratigraphic developments including disturbances, intrusions and transitions into new chronological horizons (Dever and Lance 1978:112-113).

F25One single characteristic may suffice to determine the vessel's provenance. In fact, from a single fragment, archaeologists can reconstruct the whole piece. When referring to vessels, archaeologists use the terms complete and whole. Complete refers to a vessel whose remains compose from the rim to the base. Whole implies that the vessel is intact. Pottery mending is essential in Palestinian archaeological research. Amiran & Eitan in "Notes on the Function of Pottery-Mending in Excavations" define its purposes:

1. To obtain as many complete shapes as possible.
2. As a factor in stratigraphic considerations.
3. As an additional factor in elucidating situations within a stratum.
4. To make statistics of typology more accurate. (Amiran & Eitan 1966:.)

F26In dating a ceramic artifact the type of clay used, the method of manufacture (wheel-made, handmade or a combination of the two), its decoration, the firing method at low or high temperature, and its size are all important. Nevertheless the single most crucial criterion is shape (Laughlin 1992:72).

F27Archaeologists refer to rims, bases, handles and spouts as diagnostic sherds because they alone can provide a date, shape, size and function for the whole vessel. When analyzing a rim, two things should be considered:

1. Its shape (triangular, circular, etc.)
2. Its direction in relation to the rest of the vessel (e.g., Bronze Age rims fold to the outside while those of the Iron Age fold to the inside). (Borowski 1988:224)

F28Basically, all vessels will be either closed or open. An open vessel is that whose maximum diameter is located at the rim. A closed vessel, therefore, is that whose maximum diameter is located anywhere else but at the rim.

F29"The elongated ovoid body, tapering towards the base, ensures that pressure on their thin walls is equally distributed over the entire height, thus enabling the large and heavy load to be transported and stored safely" (Ziffer 1990:28-29).

F30Many store rooms packed with large storage jars were found at the residential quarter at Jericho. These jars, systematically arranged in tightly packed rows, were found still full to the brim with their contents -- carbonized grain. The violent conflagration devastating the site burnt the grain preserving it till to the present day (Ziffer 1990:28-29).

F31They were the most common type of vessel because their handling and usage required much more risk of breaking than, for example, oil lamps. Their popularity and their well-established shapes for different archaeological periods make them one of the most helpful types for dating purposes (Laughlin 1992:72).

F32The fossilized sediment left by the evaporated liquid on both vessels, inside the jar on the dipper juglet's outer surface, bound them together. Thus, the juglet remained in its original position despite the fact that the stick, to which it was once suspended, had disintegrated (Ziffer 1990:30).

F33One good example of pottery and its users can be seen in Geva 1979. See also Honeyman 1939.

F34Ceramics, however, are not just the products of culture as they have inherent connections with the environment. Environmental and cultural/historical conditions have favored or limited the production of pottery in a given area (Arnold 1985:221ff). An example of the influence of environment on ceramics is the massive manufacturing of the vessel known as churn in the Chalcolithic Beersheba region. This vessel, used for churning milk in the process of making butter, reflects the importance of herding in that society. On the other hand, its complete absence in the Golan area probably reflects another reality (Mazar 1990:69).


Page last edited: 01/25/06 07:15 PM


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