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Book: Searching for Structure in Pottery Analysis

Chapter: From Texture to Temper: A Multi-scalar Approach to Identifying Variation in Clay Preparation Strategies

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.24649


Clay preparation techniques are among the most conservative elements of pottery production traditions. Variation in these techniques can indicate diversity in social relations of craft learning and labor, or adaptation to inconsistencies in raw materials. Describing strategies for clay preparation can therefore yield an important perspective on the social contexts of production. Yet, the finished and fired structure of pottery can mask or destroy evidence for clay preparation techniques. Conventional petrographic or other textural analyses of ceramic fabrics can provide useful information on only a fraction of the original paste components. These findings however, are enhanced when complemented with a range of analytical procedures that compare pottery to the raw clays from their respective sites. In this case, a large sample of potsherds selected from seven Early Bronze Age sites in the Eastern Caucasus was imaged using xeroradiography to evaluate textural contrasts. These differences were further examined using microscopy, SEM-EDS, and INAA. Clay samples from each site were also evaluated in terms of texture, mechanical properties and composition using similar analyses. The use of these combined and multi-scalar analyses reveals significant diversity in clay preparation strategies between the sites in the study. In addition, the findings suggest greater diversity in clay preparation within a single, widely distributed pottery type called Kura-Araxes ware, than between this pottery type and another contemporary type known as Velikent Fine ware. Both types of pottery could have been produced together at the sites where they are found, a conclusion with far-reaching implications for how we interpret interaction and mobility between communities.

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