Pondering pottery

When I pick up little shards of pottery, I feel like I’m lifting up tiny snapshots of history. Which is odd, given that pottery is typically seen as the least romantic element of archaeology. 


I think my excitement over pottery is obvious here

Ceramic remains are the most common find on archaeological sites, often appearing in terrifyingly large numbers. These huge amounts of shards found are typically divided into diagnostic and non-diagnostic pieces, diagnostics being rim, base, handle or decorated parts, or anything perceived as unusual and potentially important ( in Egypt and Sudan, this also includes shards made of foreign clay). The rest tend to be counted, weighed, and discarded. Planning how to take the ceramic evidence on board without becoming too overwhelmed by millions of red sherds, often all looking the same, is something which always has to be taken into account prior to an excavation. 

This link with numerical analysis is probably the reason many people don’t see them as very interesting. Even complete vessels tend to be considered only as chronological tools. But these hunks of clay have so much more to tell us than the date of the context they are found in.

Change in vessel shape can reveal the different things people were eating and the way they were cooking; the cultural identity they felt a part of; the people they traded with and whether they married into local communities when they were stationed abroad; correct dining etiquette and fashion interests. To me, there’s nothing more fascinating than a pot!


Sitting looking innocent, hiding its secrets…


So I’ve set up this section of my blog to post on the non-cake related aspects of my life; a slightly more serious but infinitely more obsessive side! Here I’ll aim to share news on ceramic research and upcoming exhibitions, explore interesting vessels from various cultures and  share fun little factoids (yes, they are fun, and there are plenty of them too!).


Tell me this isn’t just a little bit intriguing


This decision coincides with the start of the ‘Festival of Pots’ at the Petrie Museum, a series of blog posts by various scholars discussing their favourite items in the pottery gallery, and discussing the reasons why studying pottery is so important for archaeology. Catch the first introductory post by curator Alice Stevenson here: http://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/museums/2014/02/04/pondering-petries-pots/. This promises to be a fascinating series, with lots of specialists making an appearance! 


Flinders Petrie, the man behind the wonderful collection at the Petrie Museum as well as the creator of the first Egyptian ceramic chronology

In other news, the schedule for the Current Research in Egyptology 2014 conference is out, and I’m due to speak on the 9th April on ‘Precious deposits: new interpretations of infant jar burials in Egypt and Sudan’, as well as presenting a poster entitled ‘Deliberate drips: developments in ceramic decoration at the end of the New Kingdom in Nubia’ discussing the supposedly careless nature of red rims on bowls in the late New kingdom. This being my first conference, I alternate between excited and petrified, not least because the last poster presentation I did was for GCSE History and I think THIS one might need to be a tad more professional…  

Keep your eyes peeled for more pot ponderings, but that’s it for now. Over and out. 


8 thoughts on “Pondering pottery

    • Perhaps you should come to the CRE and watch my presentation :-p it is based on a research essay I did during my masters, looking at them from the point of view of the vessels themselves rather than as anthropological entities to see if this could shed any light on them. I also wanted to test the idea that ceramics are poor, cheap items of no value which gets bandied around a lot, by examining how they were used and interacted with In everyday life. It was really fun!

  1. That sounds great, all of it! And overall: thanks for giving pots such a wonderful eulogy. That´s what I think, too. And it was one of the most fascinating moments in my career when I explained a whole panorama of cultural development lifting up a sherd during a break in the field and speaking about what it tells us. I will never forget the faces of the working with me on that day!

      • I don´t want to be intruding, but would you like to do something together, in some indefinite future? Just if you´d like to…. I am always in favour in raising our “ceramicists voices” together se we can reach a wider audience!

      • Certainly, I’d be very interested in collaborating! It is always great to meet other ceramicists and work together. I am easy to find on Linkedin under Loretta kilroe or Facebook under Lettie kilroe you would like to add me for for the indefinite future!

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