In October last year, I was invited to participate in the inaugural event to kick off CRAFTER: Crafting Europe in the Bronze Age and Today. This three-day workshop brought together nearly 30 potters and archaeologists in the city of Mula, Spain. The CRAFTER network was established in order to bring together representatives from Spain, Hungary, Germany and Serbia – pairs of museum-based archaeologists and modern day potters – who seek to produce high fidelity replicas of Bronze Age ceramics from their respective countries. I was there to represent both Tracing the Potter’s Wheel and EXARC, at the invitation of Roeland Paardekooper. I was also in a wonderfully unique position: I was the only participant who is both an archaeologist and a potter.
For the event, I decided to illustrate how the potter’s wheel may have been used in the Aegean during the Bronze Age. If you’re familiar with the work I’ve done before, you’ll know that this is new territory for me; my question is almost always a variation of ‘what techniques did the potters use to make their products?’ In this case, I wanted to illustrate to the CRAFTER group the interaction between the forming techniques as I understand them and the way that the pottery wheel itself may have functioned.
One small complication: I flew from Amsterdam to Spain for the meeting, so the wheel had to be portable enough to take apart and fit into a normal suitcase for checked luggage. My starting point for the wheel design relied heavily on the work that Don Evely has done, as well as his collaboration with Jerolyn Morrison. Essentially, their designs are built to support an axle on which the wheel head is mounted, and to allow it to rotate as freely and smoothly as possible. I knew that I wanted to make two parts out of clay – illustrating the archaeological evidence for the wheel head and the collar. The rest of the support structure for the axle was a wooden frame held together with bolts and tension straps, a sort of Frankenstein’s monster of miscellaneous hardware supplies.
The first day of the CRAFTER event gave participants an overview of the Bronze Age at sites from the participants’ home countries. We also heard from local potters whose families had been practicing the craft for generations. It was a great foundation for the second day of potting demos by Spanish and international potters alike, including my own contribution. We were using the cloisters space of the Mula City Museum, and overall I very much enjoyed the atmosphere with the other potters – everyone focused on different aspects of the chaîne opératoire and used different techniques, so we each had things to learn from one another. I was able to get the traveling wheel installed and working, and I was very happy with the set up. Having observations from professional potters from a range of backgrounds was a valuable opportunity which will certainly make an impact on my wheel device reconstructions in the future. Curious about how it worked? Have a look as I first tested it out:
Since our meeting in Spain, a number of the participants have published on related topics in the EXARC Journal, and I’m happy to say that I did so as well. It was clear from the outset that my focus on the wheel was a big outlier when compared against the other CRAFTER potters, so it inspired me to try and take a broader view. What can we say about the nature of pottery forming techniques across Europe during the Bronze Age? The other potters studied their local archaeological materials carefully to understand how to produce faithful replicas, and for the most part used coil construction. I spent some time delving into the literature on the subject, looking for experimental work as well visual assessments based solely on visual inspection. The evidence was surprisingly sparse and/or untested, but it was a satisfying exercise to look at the work happening north and west of TPW’s project focus. There’s clearly an enormous amount of work still to be done, and I’m very happy to be part of the community of people grappling with these question. If you’d like to read more, you can find the full text of my article here. Do you want to know more about this topic, or the work that TPW does? You can get in touch with us here, subscribe to this blog to get updates whenever we post, or follow us on Facebook.