Old pots, new technology

‘Day of Archaeology 2017’ finds me working on the final stages of a finds project with a difference. Instead of working my way through boxes of pottery sherds, I’m sat in front of my computer, updating and enhancing the Worcestershire on-line ceramic type series. This work builds on the strong tradition of ceramic research in the County, which is one of the few regions in the country to have a comprehensive pottery type series covering all periods. This physical type series is the work of a series of dedicated finds specialists based in the Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service, primarily Derek Hurst and Victoria Bryant. It provides all archaeologists working in the county with a standardised way of identifying and recording pottery.

The on-line type series first went live in 2003 and has been added to piecemeal as and when small amounts of funding became available. However, this year we were lucky enough to secure funding from Historic England as part of its Improving Sector Reference Resources initiative. This has enabled us to not only enhance and add to the information available on the website but also update the software so that the site not only runs more smoothly but is optimized for use on mobile phones and tablets. This has not all been straightforward! A lot of my time has been spent in dialogue with the web designer, identifying things that work well and trying to solve issues and bugs that have cropped up along the way. I have to admit that a lot of the technical stuff has gone over my head and I’m sure that a lot of the detailed pottery information has equally confused the designer, but now we are on the final straight we can see that the time spent sending emails back and forth has been well worth it!

I have mainly been focused on uploading our form series for locally produced medieval wares and more commonly found post-medieval fabrics (the composition of the clay) and forms (the type of vessel). For the forms, this involved selecting and uploading representative illustrations and writing a brief description of each form type. Medieval vessels were also cross-referenced with the MPRG (Medieval Pottery Research Group) type series.

In the case of the post-medieval fabrics, each type sherd has had a clean break photographed. Getting this clean break isn’t as easy as it sounds – it has to be as even as possible to photograph well and in some cases, it felt as if there would be next to no sherd left to photograph as I repeatedly snipped to try and achieve this! However, it has been well worth the effort, with the resulting images being of extremely high resolution, enabling the user to zoom in and out to focus on specific inclusions or fabric details.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of this project has been the addition of concordance tables for all medieval and post-medieval fabrics. This provides a link to pottery type-series from surrounding counties and is hopefully the first step to creating a truly regional resource.

With the end of this stage of the project in sight, my main task today is to go back through each fabric to make sure that the text is correct, that uploaded illustrations and photographs are displaying correctly and checking that all of the links work smoothly. Any last little niggles are being noted so that we can get everything smoothed out before this new, enhanced version of the site goes live in the last week of August. It’s an exciting time – my colleagues and I are looking forward to seeing all of our hard work come to fruition and hope that it will be a valuable research tool not only for other finds specialists but for the archaeological community in general.

For me personally, it’s the end of an extremely successful project! Not only have I enjoyed seeing our rather ambitious vision coming together but I’ve learnt a lot in the process. Working through the fabric and form data and using some of the knowledge I have gained through 18 years of working on pottery in Worcestershire has been particularly satisfying. However, perhaps even more useful has been to opportunity to revisit older reports and discuss content, ideas or issues with colleagues and fellow specialists from other organisations.

For those who are interested in the project, the old version of the website can be viewed at www.worcestershireceramics.org .  The new, enhanced version will be available to view at the same address from the end of the month.

A history of the pot in 5000 years

I’m Rob Hedge, and I work for Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service in The Hive, Worcester. I’m a Community Project Officer, and I spend some of my time doing outreach and education work for the service, and some of it locked away in the basement working on archaeological finds. Today, I’m in the Finds Room.

I began the day by preparing to get rid of several boxes of artefacts. This goes against many people’s expectations of an archaeologist’s role. Shouldn’t we peculiar basement-dwellers be hoarding everything, clinging onto dusty consignments of mysterious treasures for all eternity? Well, maybe, but the unfortunate truth is that British archaeology faces a storage crisis. Besides, there’s a limit to how often museum curators can feign interest in the contents of a Victorian dump.

But one person’s junk is another’s treasure, and I confess to being fond of the detritus of late-19th century throwaway consumerism. In this case, the finds in question were uncovered in Evesham, having spent the last 120 years in a pit. The museum didn’t want them for their archaeological collections, but thankfully a sympathetic social history curator was only too keen to snap them up for their educational handling collections. So, my lovely assortment of ‘Virol’ bone marrow containers, beer bottles and the ubiquitous ‘Camp Coffee’ jars were handed over to their new home, and will once more sit proudly on a shelf.

One item that wasn’t complete enough to be taken was this plate, depicting the bell tower of once-mighty Evesham Abbey. I love it because it highlights a very human desire to mark significance and local identity, and its discovery just a few hundred metres from the landmark it depicts amuses me. It’s as if the tower, still standing defiant and isolated, is stubbornly outliving our attempts to immortalise it in commemorative crockery.

Plate depicting the Bell Tower, Evesham Abbey, c.1900

Plate depicting the Bell Tower, Evesham Abbey, discarded around 1900

From one pot to another: having set up some of our volunteers and our work experience student with their tasks, I turn my attention to a site that couldn’t be further from the familiar world of late Victorian dumps. Project Officer Richard Bradley and I are working on the report for an excavation he led at Shifnal, Shropshire. It’s a fascinating but elusive site: occupied in the Neolithic period around 5000 years ago, then seemingly abandoned before once again being a focus of activity in the Iron Age, about 2500 years ago. There are few finds (a common feature of prehistoric sites in this region), plenty of pits and ditches, and a tangled web of radiocarbon dates. It’s a real challenge to unpick which features belong to which periods. One issue is resolved when we identify some grotty fired clay as ‘briquetage’: coarse Iron Age salt containers used to pack salt for transportation from the brine wells at Droitwich.

What the Neolithic finds lack in quantity, they make up in quality. Tell-tale parallel worn grooves and a smoothed, ground surface reveal a block of stone to be a rare ‘polissoir’, for polishing Neolithic stone axes. And a large chunk of a Mortlake style Peterborough ware bowl, around 5000 years old, displays the unmistakable imprint of the potter’s fingernail in the elaborate chevron decoration. A pattern which, like the bell tower, serves as a mark of identity. Pots like this were produced across Britain, in a huge variety of designs but with strong regional trends in ‘fabric’ (the material incorporated into the clay during manufacture) that seem to defy purely functional explanations. Mass produced or hand-made, ancient or modern, a pot is never just a pot – it’s a window on a world-view, and in this case a direct connection to the delicate, precise actions of a craftsperson across around 250 generations.

Neolithic Peterborough Ware (Mortlake) pottery, c.3000 B.C., found in Shropshire

Neolithic Peterborough Ware (Mortlake) pottery, c.3000 B.C., found in Shropshire

Archaeologists are a merciless bunch. “Where’s the rest of it?” they tease Richard. Elsewhere, work experience student Kat is tasked with counting, weighing and piecing together an impressive assemblage of Iron Age pottery. You can see how she got on in her own day of archaeology post. I welcome a group of school and 6th form students, who get to work on processing some finds from an HLF-funded community archaeology investigation into intriguing early ironworking sites in the Forest of Dean. Later, as staff and volunteers trickle home, I set up some photographs, bringing together two pots separated by 5000 years, but crossing paths on my day of archaeology.

On my way out, I pause to check on a very exciting discovery, recovered by our archaeologists from a Worcestershire quarry a few months ago. It returned from its trip to the conservator yesterday, and soon it’ll be going on display for the summer at Worcester Museum, to delight children and adults alike… can you guess what it is?

Mystery find - watch out for it at Worcester Museum this summer!

Mystery find – watch out for it at Worcester Museum this summer!

Archeologia e ceramiche: non solo storie dalla terra ma anche storie “di terra”


Ceramica ingobbiata e graffita prodotta a Pisa nel XVI secolo (Cinquecento) con al centro un decoro con viso femminile e capelli raccolti in una rete.

Il lavoro di un’archeologa può essere vario e complesso e chi come me è anche specializzata nello studio delle ceramiche del passato (che di terra sono fatte!) si troverà spesso a pover riscoprire e


Le ceramiche appena ritrovate vengono lavate con acqua e spazzolino.

ricostruire le storie racchiuse nella terra o di terra composte.

Ecco, questo è il mio mestiere, raccontare le storie delle ceramiche e di coloro che le avevano create e utilizzare, capire le persone e le società del passato, i cambiamenti delle mode e delle tecnologie, i modi di produrre gli oggetti e quelli di utilizzarli o, una volta rotti, gettarli via.

Come ogni giorno, quindi, anche questo Day of Archaeology 2016 (svolto in un cantiere in corso di scavo nel centro storico di Pisa) si è composto di vari passaggi preliminari agli studi più approfonditi e alle ricostruzioni: gesti semplici che,


Si osservano le ceramiche in ogni particolare con l’aiuto di lentini d’ingrandimento: in laboratorio l’osservazione potrà essere fatta con microscopi ad ingrandimenti molto più alti.

partendo dalla scoperta delle ceramiche, permettessero di riconoscerle e comprenderne il potenziale informativo.

E allora la ceramica è stata lavata con un po’ di acqua fresca e uno spazzolino, e poi pazientemente fatta asciugare. Successivamente i diversi tipi di ceramiche sono stati divisi e contati, cercando di capire se le forme potranno essere ricostruite, e iniziando a descriverne i decori, le forme, le cronologie. Queste ultime saranno utili ai colleghi che scavano per datare gli strati e capire le epoche di ciò che si trova durante lo scavo (muri, pavimenti, ambienti ecc…).

Ogni ceramica viene fotografata, in modo che resti un

al lavoro

Si conteggiano i frammenti, si riconoscono le ceramiche e si trascrivono sui database informatici le informazioni ricavate.

archivio fotografico digitale di tutto, e poi imbustata con la sigla dello strato di provenienza e conservata in magazzini ordinati di cui viene stilato un elenco, per sapere sempre dove poterla ritrovare.

Si usano database elettronici per conservare le informazioni e osservazioni fatte sul cantiere, che potranno essere affinate con studi successivi con restauri delle forme e analisi di laboratorio e, una volta rielaborate per le mostre e/o le pubblicazioni, permetteranno non solo di conoscere il momento in cui, ad esempio, una casa fu creata o distrutta, ma ci porteranno a comprendere la vita nel medioevo


Le ceramiche vengono fotografate e archiviate.


Le ceramiche sanno raccontare storie bellissime, se solo si ha l’amore e la pazienza di ascoltarle!

Marcella Giorgio

Archeologa professionista, specializzata nello studio della ceramica medievale e postmedievale



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Cooking with Vikings

maude fire  At the Hearth with Helga (Maude Hirst)

I’m a Viking-Age archaeologist, interested in the everyday lives of people in early-medieval England, Scotland, and Scandinavia, which I try to understand through looking at their artefacts. I am most well-known for my work on what might seem an odd choice of artefact: Viking hair combs (I’ve already written elsewhere about why these are important, so I won’t bore you with that again here). I’m also interested in metalwork, particularly what we can say from the evidence recovered by metal detectorists (this builds on my previous life as a Finds Liaison Officer with the Portable Antiquities Scheme; if you don’t know about the PAS, do check it out). But most recently, I have started up a project that uses scientific analysis of pottery to learn about how people stored, prepared, cooked, and ate food in different parts of Viking-Age England.


Dirty pots reveal cooking practices of early farmers in Neolithic Poland

Today, like most Fridays, is the culmination of a week’s work in the lab. I am a PhD student in the Organic Geochemistry Unit (OGU) at the University of Bristol working on the European Research Council-funded ‘NeoMilk: The Milking Revolution in Temperate Neolithic Europe’ project. NeoMilk is an interdisciplinary collaboration of researchers at the Universities of Bristol, Exeter, College London and Poznań (Poland), and the National Museum of Natural History, Paris, researching the development of dairying practices in Neolithic Europe by archaeological, chemical, zooarchaeological and statistical analyses. These interdisciplinary proxies will provide a window on the cultural, environmental and temporal variables of cooking and subsistence practices, to better understand the context of the Linearbandkeramik (LBK) culture in the development of agriculture in Central Europe.

My role is to analyse organic residues from food and other organic materials absorbed in pots from sites in and around Poland from a variety of environmental and cultural contexts, and compare results on inter- and intra-site levels (individual households, chronologies and vessel typologies).

In order to find out what these residues are, I have to prepare the potsherds. The following is a typical week for me in the lab:


Take sub-samples from potsherds I wish to analyse next. Only 1-2 grams of ceramic material is required for organic residue analysis, so only small areas of each sherd are sub-sampled, nearly always allowing the profile of the sherd or any areas with surface decoration to be left intact. A modelling drill is used to remove a very fine outer layer of the sherd on all sides that it will be sub-sampled from, so the presence of any surface contaminants from handling or contact with plastics can be minimised. I then use a hammer and chisel to remove that part of the sherd and then wrap it in foil until it is ready for analysis.

David using a modelling drill to prepare a small area of a sherd for sub-sampling

David using a modelling drill to prepare a small area of a sherd for sub-sampling


Crush and weigh the sherd fragments I’ve sub-sampled. Knowing the mass of the ceramic material lipids will be extracted from will allow me to calculate the concentrations of the lipids, which is useful as the analytical instruments are very sensitive and won’t work optimally if the lipid extracts are too dilute or concentrated.

David crushing a small sub-sample of a sherd prior to lipid extraction and analysis

David crushing a small sub-sample of a sherd prior to lipid extraction and analysis

The OGU has a weekly seminar and lab meeting on Tuesday lunchtimes which is a good opportunity to announce news, discuss any issues and tidy the lab.


Chemically extract the lipids from the sherd fragments.

David extracting lipids from a sherd

David extracting lipids from a sherd

We use gas chromatography, an analytical technique that screens the compounds in the lipid extract, firstly so we know lipids are present (sometimes they aren’t, either because of poor preservation or because the archaeological use of the vessel didn’t contribute to the absorption of lipids into the vessel – e.g. it wasn’t used for cooking food) and secondly so we know whether there are also any contaminants present that may have been introduced during extraction in the lab or before when the sherd was handled or came into contact with plastics during excavation or post-excavation. We can often differentiate these sources of contamination by including a blank in each batch of sherds we extract and analyse.


Run the samples and a blank on the gas chromatograph (GC).

David about to inject part of a sample into a gas chromatograph

David about to inject part of a sample into a gas chromatograph

As well as separate compounds within the lipid extracts, the GC determines the abundances of each compound, which we use with the weighed sherd fragments they come from to calculate the approximate concentrations of lipids from each sherd. At this stage I can determine which samples are suitable for further analysis tomorrow. Those that are too dilute will not be viable, though those that are too concentrated for the instruments can be diluted with hexane.


Run the selected samples on a second instrument that allows us to identify the compounds screened yesterday by finding the mass-to-charge ratios of their ions. This technique is called gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC/MS). GC/MS is useful for identifying compounds that are biomarkers for aquatic species.

Sometimes I run the samples on a third instrument that finds the isotopic values of two particular compounds (palmitic and stearic acid) which occur almost ubiquitously in residues. This instrumental technique called gas chromatography combustion isotope ratio mass spectrometry (GC-c-IRMS) works by comparing the proportions of carbon-12 and the heavier carbon-13 in these two compounds. I can then determine whether the lipids in that sherd derive from the meat of a terrestrial non-ruminant animal (e.g. pig) or a terrestrial ruminant animal (e.g. cow), or from the dairy products of a terrestrial ruminant animal.

I also have to wash and sterilise the various tubes I’ve used for extracting the lipids from all these sherds this week, so they are ready for another set of sherds next week. I usually catch up on responding to emails and doing any writing, or I may occasionally do other work, such as photograph the 425 sherds I sampled from 14 LBK sites in north-central and northwest Poland in June.

Box containing the 425 sherds David sampled from Poland in June

Box containing the 425 sherds David sampled from Poland in June

Time for a well-earned weekend! Further information about the NeoMilk project is available at www.neomilk-erc.eu, and the instrumental techniques we use at the OGU at www.bris.ac.uk/nerclsmsf. Last Saturday I and three other members of the OGU exhibited a stall at the Thornbury Science Festival near Bristol, which included a game called ‘Palaeodetective’ that showcases the diverse research the OGU is engaged in; you can play the game online at www.chemlabs.bris.ac.uk/outreach/resources/Palaeodetectives%20Online%20Version!

Crafting Stories of the Past: Strathearn Environs and Royal Forteviot (SERF) project 2015

Two weeks today the Strathearn Environs and Royal Forteviot (SERF) project was packing up and leaving Perthshire, Scotland.  Trenches in various locations around the small village of Dunning had been excavated, recorded and were ready to be back-filled by machine.  SERF is both a multi-period research project and an archaeological field school run by the University of Glasgow since 2007.  This year we had over 50 participants helping out with fieldwork which revealed evidence from the Early Neolithic, Iron Age, Medieval and Modern periods.

Today the SERF team is sorting through the variety of materials that have come back from the field, piecing them together to create stories about the past.  Dr Dene Wright, director of the excavations of the Early Neolithic pit complex at Wellhill, has been making sense of the records (drawings, context sheets, notes and photographs), and completing his data structure report.  During this process a final check is done to ensure that all the records correspond to one other, when they don’t amendments are made and further notes are taken.  Dene can then draw links between features, compare the results from this site to others, and then put into words an initial interpretation for the site, situating it into wider narrative.

But, of course, there is still work to be done which will impact on how the site is interpreted.   Post-excavation processing is just beginning.  Gert Petersen (Laboratory Technician), pictured here with student Ilia Barbukov, has just started to sort through the residue materials from the flotation of soil samples.  The residues are carefully examined for carbonised wood and grains, bone, and any other artefacts.  These will then be sent to specialists, such as palaeobotanists, for further identification and analysis.

Now is also the time to sort through our finds and get them ready for specialists. This year we retrieved a record number of pottery sherds (relative to other SERF years).  Wellhill produced just under 200 pottery sherds, many of which came from a pit that also yielded our first fragment of a polished stone axe.  A variety of pottery sherds also came from our hillfort excavation at Dun Knock.  Although all the pottery was first thought to be of Iron Age date,  sherds from one of the ditches were unusual for this time period and may be much earlier.  This is where our specialist, Dr Ann MacSween, will come in and examine the whole assemblage.  Today all the sherds have been cleaned and were laid out in the lab ready for inspection.

For me (Dr Tessa Poller) today was also about interpretation and pulling together the evidence from the hillfort excavations at Dun Knock.  Like Dene I have a data structure report to write and much of my time has been collating the records from the site director Cathy MacIver.  The SERF hillfort programme, which has investigated ten forts over the past nine years, has also been piloting a digital visualisation project.  In collaboration with Dr Alice Watterson and Kieran Baxter this project is about exploring how archaeologists formulate and communicate interpretations, utilising digital media and visualisations as tools in this process.   Today I had a meeting with Alice to discuss progress, look over footage recorded in the field, suggest further work and to pull together a structure for a paper we will be presenting at the EAA conference in Glasgow.  Exciting ideas flow as this is all new to me and there are lots of creative potential.

Although we may not be in the field for long, there is always work to be done on the SERF project and more fantastic findings to be made.

Aerial view of the Neolithic pits at Wellhill 2015.

Aerial view of the Neolithic pits at Wellhill 2015.

Dr Dene Wright collating records for Wellhill.

Dr Dene Wright collating records for Wellhill.

Gert Petersen and Ilia Barbukov sorting through soil residues.

Gert Petersen and Ilia Barbukov sorting through soil residues.

Prehistoric pottery from SERF excavations.

Prehistoric pottery from SERF excavations.

Dr Alice Watterson collaborating on a digital visulisation project.

Dr Alice Watterson collaborating on a digital visulisation project.

serf logo


A day in the life of an archaeologist: Sharing clay pottery

A day in the life of an archaeology curator at The State Museum of Pennsylvania can vary greatly. On this day, Jim Herbstritt and Kim Sebestyen hosted a public outreach program in the museum’s multi-purpose demonstration space known as the Nature Lab.

The morning was spent in preparation for the program titled, “Pots of Clay and What They Say.” Materials were gathered, and notes were reviewed before heading over to the Nature Lab, a new multipurpose demonstration lab adjacent to the natural history exhibits on the third floor of The State Museum. Nature Lab features live educational presentations, as well as interactive, hands-on learning experiences.

A crowd of 40-50 children and adults gathered for the event, filling the benches at the rear of the room, as well as the tables that were set up around the speaker.

Jim discussed the types and uses of prehistoric pottery in Pennsylvania before inviting the group to try their hand at crafting and decorating their own pottery from modelling clay. The kids jumped at the chance for a hands-on experience. Before long, the curators had their hands full. Jim, Kim, and our summer intern, Naomi, guided the children’s exploration of the various tools used in ceramic production. There were shells and cordage used for stamping, as well as bone and wood tools for incising and indenting the clay. The young potters looked at actual examples of prehistoric ceramics from our collections as inspiration for their creations.

Archaeologists enjoy sharing their research and collections with the general public.  Their jobs at the museum provide us with a constant audience. Our goal is to educate visitors to the benefits of learning about our past and understanding change and adaption in cultural behavior. Archaeology provides history and heritage to many groups whose past would be lost from the documented record, but recovery of their artifacts provide the tangible evidence of their lives and a window to the past for our visitors.

Janet Johnson, a curator in the Archaeology Division at The State Museum of Pennsylvania, drafted this blog post.  

Uncovering Pollentia as Aspiring Archaeologists

Our names are Kiana and Addie, and we are high school volunteers helping to excavate a forum in the ancient Roman town of Pollentia. We are there through a program called Archaeospain, one of the few programs that offers authentic excavation experience for high schoolers, particularly those living in the US.

Mia and Nour

Pollentia is a Roman city on the island of Mallorca, and despite the fact that the site has been active since the 1920s, this project has been going on since the 1990s, working with The University of Barcelona and La Laguna University of the Canary Islands. This year a group of about thirty people, a mix of students, volunteers, and professionals, are working on the Forum and surrounding area. Addie and I are excavating a room that would have been a shop in the Roman market. We spend our mornings from 7:30 to 1 on site, and the afternoons from 3 to 5:30 washing and organizing pottery. This is the first week of a month long excavation, and the past few days have been spent “cleaning” the site, removing the weeds and the “superficial” layers of dirt. But even in just cleaning we have uncovered several pounds of pottery and bone. The most difficult aspect of the digging itself is not the actual finding artifacts, but finding the “layers” they belong to; understanding the differences in the the colors of the dirt and what they mean, how the layers correlate chronologically, and how to find the age of a section, or whether it has ever been uncovered before.

Addie Sifting

Part of our area has already been partially excavated, meaning that we also get to work with the “Roman layer,” the section that we know to be from the original city. Here, we have to be much more careful, working not with pick axes but with scraping tools and brushes, sifting all excess dirt to make sure we haven’t missed even the tiniest shard of pottery.

In the afternoon we sit around buckets of water and scrub our findings with nail brushes, whilst attempting to communicate with the slew of international students and volunteers, laughing and speaking Spanish to the best of our ability. Then we lay the pottery shards out to dry and label and file yesterday’s pottery in specific bags, which are then stored for later analysis.

While the digging itself is hard physically, and the labeling and analyzing can be tedious and time consuming, but each shard of broken pottery sparks excitement as we take one more step towards understanding the past of humanity.


2013 Day of Archaeology Festival Thank You!

The D.C. Historic Preservation Office (DC HPO) would like to thank everyone who came out and supported the 2013 Day of Archaeology Festival!  Thank you for stopping by our table and participating in our activities, we really enjoyed having you.   We would also like to thank Archaeology in the Community, for hosting the D.C. festival. 

It was a very successful event!

For those of you who wish to learn more about the DC HPO, within the Office of Planning, please navigate to our website.

The DC HPO presented on Prehistoric Pottery and Historic Ceramic assemblages, found in DC archaeological sites.  Displays were complete with signage and artifacts.  Visitors were engaged in a variety of activities, such as the “What is This?” game, where visitors had to guess the identity and function of artifacts on display.  The Stratigraphy Exercise, where visitors matched artifacts to associated soil contexts.  And, finally, the Pinch Pot making station, where visitors make their own clay Pinch Pots using prehistoric-themed tools and techniques.  It was a huge hit with the kids!

Scroll down to view photos!

Photos and Captions Blog Photos and Captions


Potshards by the thousand

I would like to take the opportunity of this ‘Day of Archaeology’ to present to you my area of specialisation, ceramology; the study of ceramics and of pottery. To define the universe of the ceramologist, my universe, in a few succinct words, we could say that just like archaeology writ large, ceramology too is a profession that is also a passion. I do like the distinctive traits of this discipline, the wealth of information that it seeks to deal with, the ways it leads to a fine grained understanding of a site’s history, and then contributes to put some order into the chaos of knowledge. For me, ceramology means also sharing, interacting with others, reaching beyond one’s own specialism: ceramology is not an isolated discipline, but rather one that fully participates in the collective work of an archaeological team in order to give meaning to the excavated remains of the past.

Alban Horry
One of my most exciting archaeological adventures – and I use the word ‘adventure’ advisedly – occurred during the excavation of the Parc Saint-Georges in the French city of Lyon, between 2002 and 2004. My task was to study this quite exceptional collection of recent pottery recovered from the banks of the Saône River. The quarter’s residents had then the habit of throwing their domestic refuse in the river, including their ceramics. The result is the most important post-medieval assemblage found so far in Lyon, ample testimony to the wealth and diversity of clay and pottery objects from these households. The study of these objects has rejoined that of other assemblages dating from the 16th to the 19th centuries excavated within the city of Lyon over the past three decades. Overall, no less than 400,000 potshards have already offered and will continue to provide researchers with many hours of study and research perspectives.
In my workplace at INRAP – the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research – I have also to undertake the study and the expertise of medieval and modern ceramic assemblages uncovered during trial evaluation (diagnostics) prior to building works on these sites. These are short term missions where it is necessary to quickly provide the colleagues who undertake the excavations with essential chronological elements, to enable the production of synthetic rapports. I particularly enjoy this part of my work, where I can anticipate the more detailed studies that could be undertaken upon the completion of large-scale excavations.
I also like the fact that I can study ceramics ranging from the 5th to the 19th centuries, on what is a very long time span, rich in continuities and also in variations. The same diversity bears on the regions where I work, spanning from Rhônes-Alpes and Auvergne to Bourgogne, in eastern and central France. This wide geographic range allows me for example to trace phenomena of diffusion in ceramic productions.

An equally important aspect of my work concerns the communication of my research results on medieval and modern ceramics, through scientific publications and participation in conferences and colloquia.
Last but not least, I have also the opportunity and the pleasure to present my profession and to share my passion with the wider public. Indeed this seems to me to be particularly important in order to increase general awareness of archaeology. After all, the ceramologist that I am works on a selection of ordinary items which nonetheless bear their distinctive testimony on the past. With ceramics we can reach the very heart of history – not perhaps the history of great events, but that, closer to us, of our ancestors going on with their daily lives.

Alban Horry, ceramologist at INRAP

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