by Rodrigo Silva
Archaeology is a combination of science and art with the purpose of learning about certain people or peoples through the careful analysis of remains. The dating of artifacts, which may lead to a general dating of a specific period of any given culture, is among the main objectives of archaeological research.F1
Archaeologists struggle to obtain absolute dates instead of those based on relative chronology.F2 They developed several methodologies for archaeological research routinely utilized in undertaking archaeological research in the Holy Land (i.e. Syro-Palestinian archaeology). Some of these methods, to mention a few, are architectural traits of a certain periodF3, numismaticsF4, the Carbon 14 methodF5, and dendrochronology (or the reading of tree rings in artifacts made out of wood)F6. The advent of these techniques has allowed new ways of dating but its acceptance is not yet complete.F7
Undoubtedly, archaeology has gained much with technology, however, more than one hundred years ago, the British excavator Sir Flinders Petrie introduced a method that, by far, is the most common in the archaeology of the Levant.F8 The innovation was first used at the excavation of Tell el-HësiF9 (some 25 km. from the city of Gaza in southern Palestine) and consisted in the usage of pottery as a dating method. Such introduction changed the nature of the next century's archaeological research in Palestine.F10
Any effective artifactual dating method must fulfill three requisites: first, the object must be used by many people in many places; second, such object must have been fairly abundant; third, it mush have had notorious taxonomical or stylistic changes. Ceramic ware fulfills all these requisites and it has done it from very early in human history.F11 The intrinsic human need for producing tools and clay have been allies for many millennia.F12
Another way to state this is that archaeologists use samplingF13 of ceramic ware for three reasons:
The use of clay seems to have been independently developed by different peoples in different places. In Syro-Palestine (which encompasses the modern state of Israel and portions of Jordan, Syria and Egypt) clay is very accessible.F16 Also, the fact that the region is a natural bridge between Egypt, Anatolia and Mesopotamia should be added to the pottery equation (i.e., the land would be naturally influenced by foreign elements).
How did ancient man discover the connection between clay and pyro-technologyF17, i.e. that dried clay subjected to red heat (about 600 degrees Celsius) becomes hard without disintegrating in the presence of water? There are two main theories that try to explain such discovery: The earth theory states that holes lined with clay were made in the ground in order to keep the hard-to-create fire which was vital for human existence. That fire would turn the clay into a crude vessel which maybe gave humans a hint for pottery manufacturing.
The second theory is that potters would line baskets with clay to render them waterproof. Then, in due time, as the clay dried out and contracted the potters would have simple pots which could hold fire or which the potters could place into fire. Alternatively, potters could burn such clay-lined baskets in fire leaving a simple fired pot behind. The problem with this theory is that it presupposes the existence of basketry.F18
How were the vessels made before the introduction of the revolutionary wheel at the end of the MB I?F19
The introduction of the slow wheel (see footnote 19) enabled pots to be made much more quickly. The wheel was either pushed or kicked round and the impetus of the stone wheel was sufficient to enable pots to be made. Since the wheel rotated, both the decoration and the morphology of the ware would undergo profound and lasting changes (i.e., their shape had to be round and the easiest way to decorate them was by painted or indented horizontal bands).
Another important element in the manufacturing of vessels is their impermeability. Since the introduction of glaze in the modern sense of the word took place much later, ancient potters had to look for alternative methods in order to strengthen their vesselsF20 and make them impervious.F21
Amnon Ben-Tor, director of the Hazor excavations, provided several points during the 1992 season regarding the reading of Palestinian pottery. He defined the archaeologist's concern in ceramic ware as the study of changes.F22 Ancient pottery (as any product of human creativity) was not foreign to different styles in decoration and shapes. These stylistic changes, promoted by the easy replacement of vessels (i.e. inherently cheap), equals to more data for chronological dating (despite the fact that it loads slowly please see Levantine Pottery Chart). For the standard ceramic study, see Ruth Amiran's Ancient Pottery of the Holy Land (Amiran 1970).
Never forget that all ancient pottery is hand-made, consequently, do not expect to find two identical vessels. Rather than looking for identicalness look for similarities.F25 Those similarities can be summarized as:
II Finishing: The kind of clay, the making of the vessel, its firing, burnishing, decoration, and the like.
The five most common types of vessels are:
We always need to remember that pottery is "a very sensitive product of human inventive power. Although it forms part of life, it reflects changes, political events and artistic trends in the progress of humanity" (Amiran 1957:187). In other words, there is an intrinsic risk in the study of ceramic ware: Do not get caught in its study per se. Try to learn about the people that used the pot rather than master its composition, shape and date. A big mistake that archaeologists have committed in the past is the virtual exclusion of the people, the common folk who inhabited the land.F33
Finally, two aspects about Palestinian ceramic ware are to be considered:
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