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Pottery in the Archaeological Record: Greece and Beyond. Acts of the International Colloquium Held at the Danish and Canadian Institutes in Athens, June 20–22, 2008

Pottery in the Archaeological Record: Greece and Beyond. Acts of the International Colloquium Held at the Danish and Canadian Institutes in Athens, June 20–22, 2008

Edited by Mark L. Lawall and John Lund (Gösta Enbom Monographs 1). Pp. 168, figs. 133, tables 5. Aarhus University Press, Aarhus 2011. $40. ISBN 978-87-7934-587-4 (cloth).

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In 2007, Peña published Roman Pottery in the Archaeological Record (Cambridge), illustrating theoretical models of ceramic use, reuse, and discard with Roman amphora evidence. Peña’s monograph inspired ceramic specialists working in Greece, resulting in a workshop held at the Danish Institute at Athens in 2008, whose participants’ contributions were published in the volume under review. As stated by the volume’s editors in the introduction, the goal of Greece and Beyond is twofold: first, to provide a geographical and chronological extension of Peña’s Roman Pottery; and second, to create interpretive models for understanding the life cycles of pottery at Mediterranean sites. The volume accomplishes the first objective with resounding success but falls somewhat short of the second. Each chapter is a valuable and fascinating contribution to the field of ceramic studies. When considered collectively, however, these case studies implicitly argue against the viability of constructing widely applicable models on a fragmented foundation of unique social, historical, economic, and archaeological circumstances—an issue raised by Pryor and Slane in their review of Peña’s Roman Pottery (BMCR 2008.05.31) and acknowledged by some contributors to the volume under review. While many methods described in this book are flexible enough to be of use to scholars working on pottery from other places and periods, the few specific models created to explain ceramic phenomena are type-, time-, or site-specific.

The organization of Greece and Beyond follows that of Roman Pottery (essentially the flow diagram model established by anthropologist Michael B. Schiffer in 1972 for the life cycle of artifacts), moving from production through use and reuse to discard.

In the first chapter, Hasaki presents the preliminary conclusions from her study of modern workshops in the Kalalet, a potters’ quarter in Moknine, Tunisia. While archaeologists tend to focus on equipment such as wheels, kilns, and settling basins, Hasaki directs our attention to the physical size, spatial arrangement, and activity patterns of workshops. While some conclusions seem obvious (more space is required for drying larger vessels), many challenge long-established assumptions about ancient ceramic workshops. Most surprising is the direct relationship between the size of a workshop and the size of the vessels it produces, while the number of workers employed by individual workshops remains consistently small.

The paper by Murphy and Poblome describes an ongoing study of two Late Roman (fourth–sixth centuries C.E.) ceramic workshops in the Potters’ Quarter at Sagalassos, one tableware manufactory and one coroplast workshop. Drawing on complementary approaches, the authors have developed a custom-made methodology that fits their unique corpus of material and addresses their specific research questions. This is accomplished through infrastructure analysis, architectural comparisons, alternative typologies, and ethnographic analogy. Murphy and Poblome have done an excellent job of illustrating the variability of pottery production, even between and within contemporaneous and proximate workshops at a single site.

Lawall gives a brief Greek-language “follow-up” to Peña’s monograph. Lawall covers a lot of ground—including aspects of amphora production, use, reuse, and discard—that nonspecialists rarely consider. Models patterned on Peña’s illustrate Greek amphora life cycles. These are somewhat difficult for a novice to decipher without detailed explanation, and the point that Greek transport amphoras can have incredibly complex life cycles is beautifully expressed in Lawall’s text anyway. The flow diagrams do, however, convey complexity with visual immediacy. The chapter is a fantastic overview of a very specialized field and will prove invaluable to non-amphora specialists.

Lund reviews visual depictions of amphoras in the form of sculpted reliefs, mosaics, figurines, lamps, wall paintings, and glass vessels, limiting his survey to “realistic” scenes involving humans. Surprisingly, there are no known images of Roman amphora manufacture. Lund concludes that these images confirm much of what we already know about Roman amphoras from other sources, but it is interesting to note that the artisans who produced these images were concerned with showing specific, identifiable types.

Handberg explores the reuse of amphoras in Early Hellenistic rural sites discovered around the Džarylgač Lake near the Greek settlement of Panskoye in northwestern Crimea (modern Ukraine). Handberg distinguishes three types of tools made from amphora sherds, the largest class comprising handle and toe fragments with multidimensional striations. Citing comparanda from Greek and Maya pottery workshops, Handberg proposes that these sherds were polishing tools in the production of handmade pottery. Handberg’s proposed connection between “indigenous” people and handmade pottery warrants caution, but his observations will inspire researchers to look more carefully at inconspicuous sherds for evidence of secondary use.

In a brilliant examination of the role of human emotion in the formation of the archaeological record, Lynch reminds us that “not all depositional behaviors can be predicted and modeled” (68). Lynch studied “trash” deposits in the Athenian Agora, the debris cleaned up after the Persian sack of Athens in 480 B.C.E. Finding many new, intact, complete, mendable, and otherwise perfectly good pots in these deposits, Lynch concludes that the Athenians intentionally tossed out even the usable contents of their houses when they returned. This behavior, Lynch convincingly argues, can only have been motivated by the emotional need for a new start after the psychologically damaging wars. Her analysis defies the assumption that ancient humans acted “practically” when making decisions about their possessions, and her contribution has far-reaching implications for interpreting pottery in the archaeological record.

Costello examines the provisional disposal of household refuse of the Earthquake House at Kourion on Cyprus. This house was destroyed by an earthquake in the late fourth century C.E., and the inhabitants were caught by surprise: the contents of their house—including accumulations of trash—were found in situ. Costello employs ethnographic analogies, analysis of artifact diversity, a quantification method called “estimated vessels represented,” and relative density calculations to identify probable provisional discard areas within the house. He is able to show that three discrete areas were used to store trash temporarily, forming a waste stream of domestic debris.

Martin illustrates and tests Peña’s model with ceramic material from the Roman period excavated at Olympia, examining evidence for manufacture, primary use, same-purpose reuse, different-purpose reuse, provisional discard, maintenance, recycling, and discard. He concludes that Olympia supplies a great deal of information to illustrate Peña’s model and further asserts that if Peña’s model fits the pottery at Olympia, it should fit the pottery at other sites as well. Both conclusions are somewhat simplistic and, in the case of the latter, contradicted by other studies in the same volume.

Warner Slane presents an analysis of all known examples of ceramic repair, reuse, and recycling found at Corinth. She shows that repairs occur most frequently on pottery that was difficult to manufacture or transport, revealing how valuable these vessels were to those who managed to obtain them. Slane documents a staggering variety of secondary use in all periods: pots and fragments were used as burial containers, paint pots, funnels, strainers, lids, stoppers, tokens, and even scratch pads. In the Roman period, enormous quantities of systematically broken amphora sherds were used in construction fills at Corinth. Slane concludes these sherds must have come from huge consignments of whole amphoras, acquired and broken up specifically for building purposes, rather than scavenged, as Peña’s model for Rome suggests.

Tomber compares the character of Roman-period amphora reuse at two inland quarry settlements (Mons Claudianus and Mons Porphyrites) with two port sites (Myos Hormos and Berenice). Tomber points out that residents at the quarry settlements were required to import all their foodstuffs, creating a surplus of empty amphoras. Other wares, however, were difficult to obtain, and the quarry workers’ skills were used to cut down and decorate amphoras to serve as drinking vessels. At the port sites, a greater range of goods was available, and amphoras are not modified into tableware. Empty amphoras obviously accumulated at the port sites, but they were put to use in large-scale building projects. Tomber does an excellent job of showing how the location and function of a settlement can affect the inhabitants’ behavior toward pottery.

Rotroff offers a description and analysis of pottery repair in the Athenian Agora in the Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic periods. She compares the types of wares mended in each period, the methods of repair, and the motives for mending. Examining several possible motives for vessel repair and reuse, she presents compelling evidence for non-economically motivated repairs, including the effort involved in moving pithoi, the social value of prestige pieces, the inability to obtain replacements, and the possible sentimental attachment of the owners. Most interesting is her conclusion that many pots were repaired in the workshop and sold as slightly damaged goods, or while in transit from point of production to final destination.

The volume ends with closing remarks by Peña, the author who inspired the workshop. Each chapter of Greece and Beyond is a valuable contribution to pottery studies, and most authors offer new ways of thinking about excavation ceramics, but the overall premise and organizing principle of the volume seem unnecessary. Examining pottery “in the archaeological record” is presented as untested waters, but aspects of artifact life cycles have been discussed by Mediterranean archaeologists for generations, usually in the context of larger publications focused on a single site or category of pottery. Clay sources, production technologies, industry organization, repair and reuse, wear patterns, and secondary function should (and often do) accompany the more formal and chronological information for a corpus of pottery. If the goal of studying pottery is to characterize the lifeways of an ancient people through its material, then the production, use, reuse, and discard of said material should perhaps be seen as one facet of a larger framework built around a specific time, place, and people. It is hoped that this volume will inspire ceramic specialists to incorporate such information into their own work.

Department of Classics
DePauw University
Greencastle, Indiana 46135

Book Review of Pottery in the Archaeological Record: Greece and Beyond. Acts of the International Colloquium Held at the Danish and Canadian Institutes in Athens, June 20–22, 2008, edited by Mark L. Lawall and John Lund

Reviewed by Shannan M. Stewart

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 118, No. 1 (January 2014)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1181.Stewart

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