Tracing the Potter’s Wheel is composed of three intertwined sub-projects which take complementary approaches to the investigation of the potter’s wheel in the Bronze Age Aegean.
The EXPERIMENT sub-project explores and defines the chaîne opératoire of early wheel potting by integrating a systematic programme of experiments to replicate production techniques. Experimentally-produced vessels will be compared against archaeological material from the Aegean in order to identify the specific wheel-use strategies used by past potters, which will then contribute directly to an understanding of the development of these strategies throughout the Bronze Age Aegean.
The VISUALISATION sub-project pushes the boundaries of 3D digital techniques and analytical tools in the recording process and in the identification of wheel production trace identification. Purpose-designed digital archiving and printing techniques are also integral to this sub-project, as the means promote public engagement with technological approaches to material culture while also visualising our research results – familiar engagement goals attained through new technology.
The ANALYTICAL sub-project will focus on compositional and technological analysis to determine the provenance of wheel formed vessels within key diachronic ceramic assemblages of the study region. By establishing a local vs. imported provenance for wheel formed vessels within their find contexts, instances of technological transmission of the potter’s wheel can be contrasted against – and interpreted in light of – choices in the distribution and consumption of identified imported wheel formed vessels. The trajectories of transmission for the potter’s wheel can then be mapped through time and the relationship with broader cultural encounters within this arena can be assessed.
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.
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.
Developing integrated ‘digital science’ approaches for identifying wheel use in pottery production
The presence (or absence) of wheel use in potting and its subsequent spread through the Aegean be analysed by studying the manufacturing process operational sequence (or chaîne opératoire). Forming methods, such as wheel-coiling, leave characteristic traces in the surface topography of the pottery, but these are often difficult to discern with the naked eye – and archaeologists need to be trained in order to do so. The principal aim of this sub-project is therefore to investigate whether algorithms can be used to enhance the recognition of macro-traces on the surface topography of pottery based upon high resolution 3D surface scanning of pottery, and, subsequently assist with the identification of the forming techniques. This project also explores whether it is possible to identify unique markers through 3D technology which can be used to trace the transmission of the potter’s wheel. This sub-project will be the responsibility of Loes Opgenhaffen, forming the core of her PhD research.
The application of 3D techniques is an integrated research tool for conducting research into the formation of complex societies through technological development and/or change. The development of an online platform providing access to the analytical data, 3D reference collections of the project, will serve as a new arena to communicate research outcomes and results to both scholars and the wider public. As 3D visualisations such as virtual reconstructions and 3D prints are highly attractive to public, the ‘digital’ project explores new ways of engaging the public with ongoing research into ancient forming techniques, including a mobile exhibition and interactive features at heritage events and museums.
When one considers an algorithm as a sequence of actions to be performed in order to solve a problem, some parallels might be tentatively suggested with the chaîne opératoire of pottery production. Of course there will never be a direct analogy, but an analytical relationship may be proposed. The experimental component of Tracing the Potter’s Wheel addresses the range of possible techniques of pottery production. Close collaboration between experimental and digital archaeologists on the project will allow for the digital mapping of not only the the broader details of chaînes opératoires in experimental pottery production, but also the conscious and unconscious actions and gestures undertaken.
Actions taken and decisions made by archaeologists shape their datasets. The awareness of the agency of archaeologists in the creation of archaeological data is key to the translation of the archaeological process of reconstructing pottery in the digital domain; the algorithm is in this respect the analytical process that leads to the reconstruction of ancient potting techniques. This reflective approach to archaeology, together with the chaîne opératoire approach, is central in the digital component of the Tracing the Potter’s Wheel project.
Reconstructing technological trajectories in the Bronze Age Aegean
Drawing on Jill Hilditch‘s extensive experience, this component of the Tracing the Potter’s Wheel project focuses on compositional and technological analysis to determine the provenance of wheelmade vessels within key diachronic ceramic assemblages of the Bronze Age Aegean, allowing trajectories of technological knowledge transmission to be mapped through time and the relationship with broader cultural encounters within this arena to be assessed. It is important to establish whether wheelmade vessels, those produced using any technique or combination of techniques that includes rotational kinetic energy (RKE), within an assemblage are locally produced or imported. This is because local wheelmade vessels (using locally available/compatible raw materials) are tangible indicators of the social interactions across which technical knowledge was transmitted, through the learning and adoption of that knowledge by a local potting community of practice. In contrast, an import, a vessel defined as produced beyond the vicinity of the site under study and often using non-locally compatible raw materials, even if wheelmade, can only indicate the exchange and distribution of the finished vessels, not the transmission of technical knowledge or know-how needed to operate the potter’s wheel. A clear understanding of local production sequences for local ceramic products, and their respective communities of practice, as well as distribution networks and consumption choices are crucial for reconstructing the interaction pathways through which the potter’s wheel spread.
Using a combination of new, forthcoming and published ceramic fabric studies, the local ceramic production sequences at selected diachronic sites within the Bronze Age Aegean will be assessed. In collaboration with the experimental subproject, the wheelmade vessels identified by Caroline Jeffra can be assessed within their site context, using macroscopic and petrographic analysis to determine local compatibility and technological choices. The spatial and chronological parallels for these wheelmade vessels will then be established at the regional scale to trace the potter’s wheel as a technological innovation within potting communities of the Aegean.
(* – open access)
*Opgenhaffen, L., Jeffra, C.D. & J. Hilditch, ‘Balancing data storage and user functionality: the 3D and archaeological data strategy of the Tracing the Potter’s Wheel Project’. In: M. Hostettler, A. Buhlke, C. Drummer, L. Emmenegger, J. Reich & C. Stäheli (eds), The 3 Dimensions of Digitalised Archaeology. State-of-the-art, Data Management and Current Challenges in Archaeological 3D-Documentation. Springer Nature, New York.
*Opgenhaffen, L., Jeffra, C.D. & J. Hilditch, ‘The Tracing the Potter’s Wheel Project (TPW): An Integrated Archaeological Investiagtion of the Potter’s Wheel in the Bronze Age Aegean’, IANSA, XII/2.
*Opgenhaffen, L. ‘Tradition in Transition. Technology and Change in Visualisation Practice in Archaeology’, Open Archaeology, 7/1. SPECIAL ISSUE Archaeological Practice on Shifting Grounds.
*Opgenhaffen, L. ‘Visualizing Archaeologists: A Reflexive History of Visualization Practice in Archaeology’, Open Archaeology, 7:1. SPECIAL EDITION Art, Creativity and Automation: Sharing 3D Visualization Practices in Archaeology, 353-377. https://doi.org/10.1515/opar-2020-0138
*Jeffra, C.D., ‘Crafting Beyond Habitual Practices: Assessing the Production of a House Urn from Iron Age Central Italy’, EXARC 2020/4, https://exarc.net/issue-2020-4/ea/assessing-production-house-urn-iron-age-central-italy
*Jeffra, C.D., Hilditch, J., Waagen, J., Lanjouw, T., de Gelder, L., Stoffer, M. and M.J. Kim, ‘Blended Learning Initiatives and the Use of Augmented Reality for Archaeological Ceramic Education’, EXARC 2020/4 https://exarc.net/issue-2020-4/int/blending-material-and-digital-project
Hilditch, J., “Bringing the past to life: material culture production and archaeological practice” in S. Dupré, M. Stols-Witlox, A. Harris, J. Kursell & P.S. Lulof (eds.) Re-enactment, Reconstruction and Replication Practices. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 61-88.
*Jeffra, C. ‘CRAFTER: Potting Techniques of the Bronze Age’,EXARC Journal 2019 (1). Available at: https://exarc.net/issue-2019-1/ea/crafter-potting-techniques-bronze-age [Accessed June 29, 2019]
Jeffra, C. ‘Forming Technology’, in I. Nikolakopoulou, Akrotiri, Thera. MBA pottery and stratigraphy. Vols. I-II. p. 471-477. Athens: Archaeological Society.
Hilditch, J. ‘The pottery fabrics and technologies of Phases B-C’, in I. Nikolakopoulou, Akrotiri, Thera. MBA pottery and stratigraphy. Vols. I-II. p. 377-470. Athens: Archaeological Society.
Conference and Workshop Contributions
Jeffra, C.D., Co-organiser: Archaeological Approaches to the Study of the Potter’s Wheel,International Conference, 24-27 November 2020, Digital.
Jeffra, C.D., ‘Widening participation in wheel-potting technique assessment’, paper presented to Archaeological Approaches to the Study of the Potter’s Wheel,International Conference, 24-27 November 2020, Digital. (link to follow)
Opgenhaffen, L., C.D. Jeffra & J. Hilditch, ‘Balancing data storage and user functionality: the 3D and archaeological data strategy of the Tracing the Potter’s Wheel Project’, European Association of Archaeologists (EAA) Annual Meeting (virtual). https://youtu.be/J5yDVdxt4WA
Hilditch, J. C.D. Jeffra & L. Opgenhaffen, ‘Creating an open-access digital repository of archaeological and experimental ceramics: The Tracing the Potter’s Wheel Approach’, European Association of Archaeologists (EAA) Annual Meeting (virtual). https://youtu.be/vzuqvTj1J8c
Opgenhaffen, L., Co-organiser: Sharing Practices, Archaeological 3D visualization in the Netherlands (ARCHON Winter School), 20-22 February 2020, Amersfoort/Amsterdam (NL).
Opgenhaffen, L. & M. Simons, ‘3D printing for research and education’, workshop hosted at Sharing Practices, Archaeological 3D visualization in the Netherlands (ARCHON Winter School), 20-22 February 2020, Amersfoort/Amsterdam (NL).
Jeffra, C. ‘Experimental archaeology as an equal methodological partner: the integrated approach of the Tracing the Potter’s Wheel project’, paper presented to Experimental Archaeology Conference EAC11, Trento (IT), 2-4 May 2019.
Opgenhaffen, L., Jeffra, C., and Hilditch, J. ‘Power to the people: 3D archives for exploring ancient ceramic technology‘, paper presented to the Centre for Digital Heritage meeting 2018: 3D Archives, (Re)Use and Knowledge Production’, Lund (Sweden), 18 – 20 Jun 2018.
Hilditch, J. and N. Abell, Conference Session: Production Beyond the Palaces: Technological and Organizational Aspects of LBA Ceramic Manufacture, 19th International Congress of Classical Archaeology: Archaeology and Economy in the Ancient World, Cologne/Bonn, (Germany), 22 – 26 May 2018.
Hilditch, J., and Jeffra, C. ‘As the world turns: technological approaches to assessing ceramic production within and beyond the palaces in the LB Aegean’, paper presented to the 19th International Congress of Classical Archaeology: Archaeology and Economy in the Ancient World, Cologne/Bonn, (Germany), 22 – 26 May 2018.
Opgenhaffen, L. ‘Back on the turntable: Visualizing the potter’s wheel with 3D technology’, paper presented to the Digital Archaeology Group meeting, Leiden (NL), 8 Feb 2018.
Opgenhaffen, L. ‘The dark side of the pot: problems in 3D visualisation of archaeological ceramics’, paper presented to the Dutch Ceramics & Glass Research Network Meeting, Amsterdam (NL), 8 Dec 2017.
Jeffra, C. ‘This is not the method you’re looking for: experimental archaeology for Tracing the Potter’s Wheel’, paper presented to the Dutch Ceramics & Glass Research Network Meeting, Amsterdam (NL), 8 Dec 2017.
Hilditch, J., Jeffra, C., and Opgenhaffen, L. ‘3D techniques for visualising, analysing and interpreting technological innovation in the Bronze Age Aegean’, paper presented to the Meeting Of The European Association of Archaeologists, Maastricht (NL), 30 Aug – 2 Sep 2017, during the session Hidden Stories. 3D Techniques as Tools for Exploring Archaeological Assemblages.
Opgenhaffen, L. ‘A 3D reference collection of wheel-fashioned pottery’ paper presented to the Meeting Of The European Association of Archaeologists, Maastricht (NL), 30 Aug – 2 Sep 2017, during the session 3D Technologies in Archaeological Documentation, Analysis and Interpretation.
Hilditch, J., Jeffra, C., Opgenhaffen, L. ‘Tracing the potter’s wheel (TPW): investigating technological trajectories and cultural encounters in the Bronze Age Aegean’, paper presented to the University of Amsterdam ACASA Research Meeting Archaeology, Amsterdam (NL), 7 June 2017.
Hilditch, J. ‘Tracing the Potter’s Wheel: Integrated Digital Approaches to Ancient Technology’, paper presented at the Re-enactment, Replication, Reconstruction: Interdisciplinary Workshop on Performative Methodologies at the Lorentz Centre, Leiden (NL), 12-16th June 2017.
Jeffra, C. ‘The intersection of experimental archaeology and the chaîne opératoire approach in ceramic study’, paper presented to the Experimental Archaeology Conference EAC10, Leiden (NL), 19-22 April 2017.
Jeffra, C. ‘Exploring Pottery Production through Experimental Archaeology and Macroscopic Analysis’, paper presented to the Dutch Ceramics & Glass Research Network Meeting, Leiden (NL), 17 Feb 2017.
Opgenhaffen, L. ‘The use of 3D visualization for ceramic analysis’, paper presented to the Dutch Ceramics & Glass Research Network Meeting, Leiden (NL), 17 Feb 2017.
Exhibitions and Outreach
Autumn 2019 – Tracing the Conical Cup: Innovative practices in the past and present, Tracing the Potter’s Wheel Interactive Exhibition, hosted by the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion and Netherlands Institute at Athens, Greece.
Hilditch, J. (2019) Exhibition opening lecture: Tracing the Conical Cup: Innovative practices in the past and present, Netherlands Institute at Athens (NIA), Athens, Greece, 2 October 2019.