5.0 Discussion

5.1 Typology versus petrographic fabrics

There is a good correlation between the typology of the pottery and the petrographic groupings.

The cooking wares (cooking pots, lids, casseroles and jugs) fall into two macroscopically distinct groupings: one group being red and the other grey. These macroscopic differences are reflected petrographically. The red cooking wares form the discrete well-sorted sand fabric which is petrographically distinct from the fine fabric of the grey cooking wares. A single example of a red casserole in the fine fabric is unexpected. As there is only one sample, it is difficult to say if this oxidation of the fabric was intentional or accidental. A small group of grey cooking wares (cooking pots and lids) were made in the sand and silt fabric and one grey cooking pot lid was made in the quartz and mudstone fabric, along with a 'local' storage jar.

The cream storage jars, together with a reddish storage jar, were all made in the sparse quartz sand fabric. These storage jars are quite distinctive macroscopically, the majority being a buff-cream colour. Most of the reddish storage jars and the Late Roman I Type amphorae were made in the limestone and igneous fabric. They are generally a light red to red/brown colour macroscopically, and some have red Greek script on the outer surfaces. However, the two dark brown 'Gaza' amphorae form a separate petrographic grouping, the quartz and limestone fabric. The mortarium was made in the metamorphic and igneous fabric.

5.2 Provenance

The provenance of the red and grey cooking wares is uncertain. These cooking ware forms are widespread and are commonly found at other monastic settlements. The lack of kilns at Deir 'Ain 'Abata comes as no surprise as kilns are not usually found associated with Early Christian monasteries ( Hirschfeld 1992). The production centre or centres for the cooking wares may nevertheless be local to the site, perhaps at Safi, the ancient city of Zoara which is less than 5km away. Pottery wasters provide indirect evidence for the presence of kilns at Safi, but no excavation has yet been attempted. However, a non-local source for the cooking wares cannot be excluded as quartz-rich fabrics are common and are often not diagnostic.

The non-plastic inclusions in the cream storage jar fabric are consistent with the local geology around Deir 'Ain 'Abata. The sand and the silty clay may have come from a nearby wadi deposit that drained into the Dead Sea.

Petrography has confirmed that the 'non-local' storage jars and Late Roman I Type amphorae were indeed imported into the site as the range of non-plastic inclusions in this group is not consistent with the local geology around Deir 'Ain 'Abata. The clay used for these was probably derived from an ultrabasic/ultramafic source, such as an ophiolitic complex, associated with a limestone source. An ophiolite source would account for the altered volcanics, serpentinite, mafic minerals and chert grains. Peacock and Williams (1986) described a fabric (Class 44) very similar to this containing limestone, pyroxene and serpentinite, and give a date range overlapping with that of the Deir 'Ain 'Abata vessels. Peacock and Williams suggested an origin either in the Troodos Massif of Cyprus or in the Antioch region of Northern Syria (Figure 17).

Although the non-plastic inclusions in the quartz and limestone fabric of the 'Gaza' amphorae are consistent with the local geology around Deir 'Ain 'Abata, they are also consistent with the geology around Gaza. Comparison with a thin section of a modern traditionally made pot from Gaza (Peacock 1975) and also thin sections from other 'Gaza' amphorae confirm that a Gaza provenance is highly likely (we would like to thank David Williams for access to these thin sections). Gaza was a major port on the Mediterranean coast during the Late Antique period (Figure 17).

The mortarium can be identified unequivocally as an import, because the range of non-plastic inclusions is incompatible with the local geology around Deir 'Ain 'Abata. The vivid orange base clay with a suite of metamorphic and igneous rock fragments is very distinctive. Hayes (1997) has recorded dark brown mortaria from North Syria containing 'black volcanic grits'. These mortaria were common in the Levant from the 3rd/4th until the 7th century AD. Yisraeli (1970) reported that mortaria wasters and fragments are commonly found in the region of Ras al-Basit, 25km south-west of the Orontes on the North Syrian coast, and it is possible that this mortarium was produced there (Figure 17).

5.3 Technology

Technologically, the red and grey cooking wares are dissimilar. Different raw materials sources were exploited in each case and firing conditions were also different: the red cooking wares were moderately to highly fired in an oxidising atmosphere, whereas the grey cooking wares were fired in a reducing atmosphere. This suggests that the red and the grey cooking wares were made in separate workshops. The coloration of the red cooking wares is probably due to the use of ferruginous clays that were fired in an oxidising atmosphere, rather than because of the addition of pulverised iron oxides or other metallic oxides to the clay by the potter, as suggested by Smith (1973) for similar red cooking pots at Pella. The grey cooking wares occur in two different fabrics which may represent a variation in the source of the raw materials used in a single workshop or perhaps reflect production by more than one workshop, each exploiting different clay sources.


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Last updated: Tue Oct 24 2000