Ceramics in Archaeology
Ceramic artifacts are an important role in archaeology for understanding the culture, technology and behavior of peoples of the past. They are among the most common artifacts to be found at an archaeological site, generally in the form of small fragments of broken pottery called sherds. Processing of collected shreds can be consistent with two main types of analysis: technical and traditional.
Traditional analysis involves sorting ceramic artifacts, sherds and larger fragments into specific types based on style, composition, manufacturing and morphology. By creating these typologies it is possible to distinguish between different cultural styles, the purpose of the ceramic and technological state of the people among other conclusions. In addition, by looking at stylistic changes of ceramics over time is it possible to separate (seriate) the ceramics into distinct diagnostic groups (assemblages). A comparison of ceramic artifacts with known dated assemblages allows for a chronological assignment of these pieces.
The technical approach to ceramic analysis involves a finer examination of the composition of ceramic artifacts and sherds to determine the source of the material and through this the possible manufacturing site. Key criteria are the composition of the clay and the temper used in the manufacture of the article under study: temper is a material added to the clay during the initial production stage, and it is used to aid the subsequent drying process. Types of temper include shell pieces, granite fragments and ground sherd pieces called 'grog'. Temper is usually identified by microscopic examination of the temper material. Clay identification is determined by a process of refiring the ceramic, and assigning a color to it using Munsell Soil Color notation. By estimating both the clay and temper compositions, and locating a region where both are known to occur an assignment of the material source can be made. From the source assignment of the artifact further investigations can be made into the site of manufacture.
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