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Book: Searching for Structure in Pottery Analysis

Chapter: The Structure of Ceramic Analysis: Multiple Scales and Instruments in the Analysis of Production

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.24648


This introduction to the volume examines how the essential distinction in ceramic investigation between “structural” and “compositional” data has historically provided a framework for situating various analyses, a guiding heuristic distinction, even as the analytical capabilities for the detection and interpretation of ceramic properties have expanded. It traces the co-development of these approaches and their related analytical instrumentations in the early to mid-twentieth century, as well as their gradually diverging trajectories from the latter part of the century to today. The recent trend toward compositional, and especially geochemical, study is critically evaluated in light of important developments in the anthropology of technology and the accumulated archaeological research on craft production and potting practices. In contrast to studies relying solely on compositional attributes, the introduction outlines an integrated approach that combines elemental data with information pertaining to paste preparation, formation, decoration, and firing techniques in an anthropological effort to delineate the socioeconomic, learning, and political aspects of specific pottery industries. The authors argue that the inclusion of “structural” data is indispensable to forming a systematic understanding of ceramic production across geographies, political economies, and craft traditions. Drawing on their work with the MAE (Making of Ancient Eurasia) Project, they review how multi-scalar digital radiographic analysis has influenced their thinking about both ceramic structure and composition, and they demonstrate how the macro- and micro-scale variation revealed in ceramic fabrics and formation techniques has led them to call into question the treatment of structure and composition as two discrete domains of analytical characterization. Instead, a perspective that views each of these evidentiary domains as deeply entangled perspectives on the constitution of ancient pottery and pottery-making is presented. As a general introduction, this chapter also situates the volume within current research on ceramics more generally, and the multi-scalar structural analysis of pottery in particular, crystalizing several lines of recent scholarly interest. Finally, the essay provides a roadmap for the book, noting the various conceptual threads that run through different contributions and pointing the reader toward critical points of convergence and departure from conventional wisdom in our understanding of ceramic analysis.

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