Production and Distribution of Pottery in the Eastern Mediterranean: Applications of Ceramic Petrography

Louise Joyner

Cite this as: L. Joyner 2000 'Production and Distribution of Pottery in the Eastern Mediterranean: Applications of Ceramic Petrography', Internet Archaeology 9.

The potential of applying petrographic analysis to ceramics was first fully realised by Anna Shepard in her seminal studies on prehistoric pottery from Mesoamerica and the Southwest United States in the 1930s (Shepard 1956). She demonstrated how effectively petrography could be used to answer archaeological questions concerning provenance and technology. Ceramic petrography applied to Old World pottery really took off with the work of David Peacock in England during the 1960s (Peacock 1970). From these beginnings the technique of ceramic petrography developed, and its use in the study of archaeological ceramics grew, nowhere quite so rapidly as in the Eastern Mediterranean region.

The theme for this section of Internet Archaeology was suggested to me by Alan Vince after a particularly popular joint meeting of the Ceramic Petrology Group and Near Eastern Ceramic Research Association at the British Museum in November 1998, on the theme of cooking pots. A number of the papers presented at that meeting, together with papers from other workers in the field of ceramic petrography, have formed the basis for this section on the application of ceramic petrography to pottery from the Eastern Mediterranean.

Map of Region
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general location map

Pre-Pottery Neolithic Turkey Affonso and Pernicka
Chalcolithic - Byzantine Levant Goren
Late Bronze Age Egypt and Levant Smith, Bourriau and Serpico
Late Bronze Age Cyprus, Syria, Anatolia Knappett
Late Bronze Age Levant Middleton, Magrill and Humphrey
Late Antique Levant Joyner and Politis
Islamic Syria Mason and Gonnella

The seven papers presented here illustrate the breadth of ceramic petrographic research being conducted on ceramics in the Eastern Mediterranean, covering a broad chronological range and wide geographical distribution within the region. Affonso and Pernicka present a mineralogical and chemical study of the raw materials selected at Nevali Çori in Turkey to make what may be amongst the earliest examples of fired clay Neolithic figurines. Smith et al. use ceramic petrography to characterise the fabrics of Late Bronze Age transport amphorae excavated in Egypt, and to suggest possible provenances for these amphorae, some of which contradict previous assumptions. The provenance of Late Bronze Age Red Lustrous Wheel-Made Ware, which is found over a wide area of the Near East, has never been fully resolved. Here Knappett attempts to solve the provenance problem using ceramic petrography to compare Red Lustrous Wheel-Made Ware recently excavated from Kilise Tepe in Turkey with similar pottery from Cyprus, Syria and Anatolia. In his paper, Goren presents the main ceramic fabrics from several key Southern Levantine sites. This very useful compilation brings together, for the first time, data on these fabrics which will be an invaluable resource for any ceramic specialist working in the Near East. The work of Middleton et al. on the production of pottery at Lachish in Israel during the Late Bronze Age focuses on the selection of raw materials used in a single workshop. They have sought to reconstruct the manufacture of ceramics at this workshop from clay procurement and preparation of the raw clays to forming techniques and decoration. Joyner and Politis have used petrography to elucidate patterns of production and consumption of kitchenware at a typical Early Christian desert monastery in the Holy Land. They have shown that while some vessels may have been locally produced, others were imported from great distances. Technologically advanced Islamic stonepaste ceramics from Aleppo in Syria have been investigated by Mason and Gonnella, with the aim of characterising and provenancing these wares.

Internet Archaeology provides an excellent vehicle for displaying numerous colour petrographic images of ceramics, rather than the restricted number of black and white images commonly found in more traditional publications. This has given the authors of the papers the opportunity to display ceramic petrographic fabrics more fully than they could normally have done in a conventional journal, with the added advantage of publishing in colour. The use of moving images (Joyner and Politis) to illustrate the optical effects of rotation of thin sections on the microscope stage has also been explored. It is hoped that this collection of papers will encourage other ceramic petrographers to consider publishing, or making accessible, their ceramic fabrics in an electronic format.


Peacock, D.P.S. (1970) The Scientific Analysis of Ancient Ceramics: a review. World Archaeology, 1, 375-89.

Shepard, A.O. (1956) Ceramics for the Archaeologist, Publication 609, Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C.


My thanks go to Andrew Middleton, Ian Freestone, Alan Vince and Judith Winters for their help and encouragement through the course of editing these articles in this issue of Internet Archaeology. I would also like to thank Paul Tyers for all the maps he produced for each abstract page.

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