Cultural encounters and technological transmission within the Bronze Age Aegean

The experimental component of the Tracing the Potter’s Wheel project entails hypothesis testing within two separate experiments. This experimental programme will firstly address the extent to which it is possible to successfully identify different potting techniques in archaeological material, and secondly tackle the more complicated question of the configuration and possible correspondence of wheel devices with those forming techniques. 

The strength of the experimental component’s contribution to the overall aims of Tracing the Potter’s Wheel is the greater detail accessible in discussing chaînes opératoires diachronically. Confirmation of the presence and persistence of specific production techniques through time enriches the interpretations we build about communities of craftspeople, which in turn benefits our understanding of the extent and nature of social interactions at a wider scale.

Method

Separate experimental approaches are necessary in this two staged programme, the first of which will parallel the methods employed in Caroline Jeffra‘s PhD research. This requires the production of an experimental typeset of vessels, their shapes determined by their suitability as analogues for the archaeological material of the Bronze Age Aegean. Vessels will be created using a series of different forming techniques, and each unique combination of vessel shape/forming technique will be created several times in order to provide ample opportunity to observe possible changes in potting skill through experience as well as to discover as full of a range of macroscopic surface features as possible. The potting process itself will be filmed from several angles in order to capture habitual gestures and unconscious practices explicitly. Experimental vessels will then be fired and studied using protocols identical to those applied to archaeological material. This extensive and well-recorded comparative collection will then be used to establish details of the chaîne opératoire for archaeological assemblages.

Diagram of a bridge spouted jar production chaîne opératoire alongside an experimental vessel photo from C. Jeffra’s PhD research.

The method for the second experimental question builds directly on the first by asking: to what extent can we identify the arrangement of wheel device components and understand the mechanics of their use? By first establishing what techniques potters were habitually employing in their potting, we may start addressing this question from a better understanding of the requirements their equipment needed to meet. Archaeological finds which have been identified as constituent parts of wheel devices will be reproduced in clay, and different configurations of these parts will be constructed. These configurations will then be used to produce vessels using experimentally-identified, period-appropriate potting techniques, and the feasibility of different configurations will be critically assessed.

 

Want to find out more? You can follow along with the day-to-day experiences of an experimental potter on Caroline’s Instagram.