Pottery Studies and Archaeometry: Between Scientific Analyses and Archaeological Interpretation

  • Jasna Vuković Department of Archaeology Faculty of Philosophy University of Belgrade
archaeometry, pottery, history of the discipline, archaeological interpretation


The consideration of the relationship between pottery studies and the application of hard sciences in archaeology includes the scrutiny of the importance of pottery studies in the history of archaeology as a discipline, and especially the differences in the approach to material culture between European and North American researchers. After modest beginnings during the 19th century, petrographic analyses were introduced into ceramology during the first decades of the 20th century, mainly thanks to the works of Anna Shepard. She was one of the initiators of the first conference on the ceramic technology, held as early as 1938. For archaeology in general, it is significant to note that the beginning of pottery studies, stressing the importance of social anthropology as well as the application of hard science methods, markedly predates the expansion of processual archaeology. It is also vital to explore certain tensions and differences in approaches to ceramics, exiting today as the consequence of polarization inside archaeology, among researchers primarily leaning upon natural sciences, and the ones regarding material culture as the product of cultural processes. Archaeometry is widely applicable in ceramology, above all in identifying the pottery recipes, raw material provenance, firing regimes, and many other aspects that are the consequences of various cultural practices. Maybe paradoxically, the researchers leaning towards natural sciences have most frequently embraced the concept of technological choices, presupposing that every human activity is the consequence of social relations, leading artisans to choose one of several technical possibilities, depending upon social norms. On the other hand, ethno-archaeological research relativizes to a certain extent the “solid” and unambiguous results of natural sciences, more readily accepting the concept of technological style, i.e. considering the socially influenced technological traditions. The concept of archaeological biomarkers, i.e. research into the remains of organic matters on ceramic vessels, indicates the differences between the scientistically oriented European archaeology, as opposed to the North American, dominated by the anthropological dimension of research, and pottery is not treated as a mere source of data, but as an object of research in its own right.   An additional difficulty in pottery studies is presented by the essential misunderstanding between archaeologists and natural scientists, also present in Serbia. We are still faced with the insufficient knowledge of possibilities of analytical techniques. On the other hand, the majority of research is conducted by the natural scientists, resulting in one-sided or multidisciplinary outcomes, and interdisciplinary studies are extremely rare. At the same time, although with exceptional possibilities, natural sciences applied to the research into the past are not infallible, and have been criticized on several levels, concerning the issues of raw material provenance, as well as identifying the remains of organic material on pottery vessels. Interdisciplinarity should undoubtedly be considered as an advantage in archaeological research, but we should bear in mind that the aim of pottery studies is the understanding of people and processes in the past, so the ultimate responsibility of interpretation rests upon archaeologists. For this very reason, they are obliged to understand the advantages as well as limitations of analytic techniques, and above all to formulate the theoretical framework, research topics and hypotheses.


Download data is not yet available.


Albero, Daniel Santacreu. 2014. Materiality, Techniques and Society in Pottery Production: Current Perspectives in the Technological Study of Archaeological Ceramics Through Paste Analysis. Warsaw: DeGruyter.

Arnold Dean E. 2000. Does the Standardization of Ceramic Pastes Really Mean Specialization? Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 7(4): 333–375.

Arnold, Dean E., Hector Neff and Ronald R. Bishop. 1991. Compositional Analysis and “Sources” of Pottery: An Ethnoarchaeological Approach. American Anthropologist 93(1): 70–90.

Babić, Staša. 2011. Čemu još istorija arheologije? Etnoantropološki problemi 6(3): 566–577.

Barnard, H., S. H. Ambrose, D. E. Beehr, M. D. Forster, R. E. Lanehart, Mary E. Malainey, R. E. Parr, M. Rider, C. Solazzo and R. M. Yohe II. 2007. Mixed results of seven methods for organic residue analysis applied to one vessel with the residue of a known foodstuff. Journal of Archaeological Science 34: 28–37.

Bishop, Ronald and Frederck W. Lange. 1991. Introduction to Ceramic Legacy of Anna O. Shepard, eds. Ronald Bishop and Frederick W. Lange, 1–8. Niwot: University Press of Colorado.

Bishop, Ronald L. 1991. “Anna O. Shepard: A Correspondence Portrait”. In Ceramic Legacy of Anna O. Shepard, eds. Ronald Bishop and Frederick W. Lange, 42–87. Niwot: University Press of Colorado.

Bronitsky, Gordon and Robert Hamer. 1986. Experiments in Ceramic Technology: The Effects of Various Tempering Materials on Impact and Thermal-shock Resistance. American Antiquity 51(1): 89–101.

Buxeda i Garrigós, J., M. A. Cau Ontiveros and Vassilis Kilikoglou. 2003. Chemical Variability in Clays and Pottery from a Traditional Cooking Pot Production Village: Testing Assumptions in Pereruela. Archaeometry 45(1): 1–17.

Caley, Earl R. 1951. Early history and literature of archaeological chemistry. Journal of Chemical Education 28(2): 64–66.

Charters, S., Richard P. Evershed, A. Quye, P. W. Blinkhorn, and V. Reeves. 1997. Simulation experiments for determining the use of ancient pottery vessels: The Behaviour of epicuticular leaf wax during boiling of a leafy vegetable. Journal of Archaeological Science 24: 1–7.

Chilton, Elizabeth. 2014. Plus ça change: From Postprocessualism to “Big Data”. Current Swedish Archaeology 22: 35–40.
Copley, M. S., R. Berstan, Stephanie N. Dudd, V. Straker, S. Payne, and Richard P. Evershed. 2005a. Dairying in antiquity. I. Evidence from absorbed lipid residues dating to the British Iron Age. Journal of Archaeological Science 48: 485–503.
Copley, M. S., R. Berstan, V. Straker, S. Payne, and Richard P. Evershed. 2005b. Dairying in antiquity. II. Evidence from absorbed lipid residues dating to the British Bronze Age. Journal of Archaeological Science 32: 505–521.

Copley, M. S., R. Berstan, A. J. Mukherjee, Stephanie N. Dudd, V. Straker, S. Payne, and Richard P. Evershed. 2005c. Dairying in antiquity. III. Evidence from absorbed lipid residues dating to the British Neolithic. Journal of Archaeological Science 32: 523–546.
Craig, Oliver E., John Chapman, Carl Heron, L. H. Willis, Laszlo Bartosiewitz, G. Taylor, Alasdair Whittle and M. Collins. 2005. Did the first farmers of central and eastern Europe produced dairy foods? Antiquity 79: 882–894.

De Atley, Suzanne P. and Ronald L. Bishop. 1991.“Toward an Integrated Interface for Archaeology and Archaeometry”. In Ceramic Legacy of Anna O. Shepard, eds. Ronald Bishop and Frederick W. Lange, 358–380. Niwot: University Press of Colorado.

Djordjević, Biljana. 2005. “Some ethnoarchaeological possibilities in the pottery technology investigations”. In Understanding people through their pottery, Proceedings of the 7th European Meeting of Ancient Ceramics, eds. M. Isabel Prudêncio, M. Isabel Dias and J. C. Waerenborgh, 61–69. Lisbon: Instituto Português de Arqueologia.

– – – . 2013. “Pottery making in Zlakusa. First Ethnoarchaeological Research in Serbia”. In Ethnoarchaeology: Current Research and Field Methods, Conference Proceedings, Rome, Italy 13th–14th May 2010, eds. Francesca Lugli, Assunta Alessandra Stoppiello and Stefano Biagetti, 49–52. BAR International Series 2472, Oxford: Archaeopress.

Džonson, Metju. 2008. Arheološka teorija. Beograd: Clio.

Eerkens, Jelmer. 2005. GC-MS Analysis and Fatty Acid Ratios of Archaeological Potsherds from the Western Great Basin of North America. Archaeometry 47(1): 83–102.

Evershed, Richard P. 1993. Biomolecular archaeology and lipids.World Archaeology 25(1): 74–93.

– – – . 2008. Organic residue analysis in archaeology: The archaeological biomarker revolution. Archaeometry 50(6): 895–924.

Ethier, Jonathan, Eszter Bánffy, Jasna Vuković, Krassimir Leshtakov, Krum Bacvarov, Mélanie Roffet-Salque, Richard P. Evershed and Maria Ivanova. 2017. Earliest expansion of animal husbandry beyond the Mediterranean zone in the sixth millennium BC. Scientific reports 7: 1–10. DOI:10.1038/s41598–017–07427-x, http://rdcu.be/uGBl.

Feathers, James K. 1989. Effects of Temper on Strength of Ceramics: Response to Bronitsky and Hammer. American Antiquity 54(3): 579–588.

Garraty Christopher P. 2011. The origins of pottery as a practical domestic technology: Evidence from the middle Queen Creek area, Arizona. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 30(2): 220–234.

Gonzáles-Ruibal, Alfredo. 2014. Archaeological Revolution(s). Swedish Archaeology 22: 41–45.

Gosselain, Olivier P. 1992. The bonfire of enquiries. Pottery firing temperatures: what for? Journal of Archaeological Science 19: 243–259.

– – – . 1994. “Skimming through the potter’s agenda: an ethnoarchaeological study of clay selection strategies in Cameroon”. In Society, culture and technology in Africa, ed. S.

Terry Childs, 99–107, MASCA Res. Pap. Sci. Archaeol., 11, Supplement. Philadelphia.

Gosselain, Olivier P. and Alexandre Livingstone Smith. 2005. “The Source. Clay Selection and Processing Practices in Sub-Saharian Africa.” In Pottery Manufacturing Processes: Reconstruction and Interpretation (Acts of the Xivth Uispp Congress, University of Liège, Belgium, 2–8 September 2001, Colloque/Symposium 2.1), eds. Alexandre Livingstone Smith, Dominique Bosquet and Rémy Martineau, 33–47. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Damjanović, Ljiljana, Vesna Bikić, Kristina Šarić, Suzana Erić and Ivanka Holclajtner-Antunović. 2014. Characterization of the early Byzantine pottery from Caričin Grad (South Serbia) in terms of composition and firing temperature. Journal of Archaeological Science 46: 156–172.

Hegmon, Michelle. 1998. “Technology, Style, and Social Practices: Archaeological Approaches”. In The Archaeology of Social Boundaries, ed. Miriam T. Stark, 264– 279. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.

– – – . 1992. Archaeological Research on Style. Annual Review of Anthropology 21: 517–536.

Heron, Carl and Richard P. Evershed. 1993. “Analysis of organic residues and the study of pottery use”. In Archaeological Method and Theory, vol. 5, ed. Michael B. Schiffer, 247–284. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press.

Holclajtner-Antunović, Ivanka, Danica Bajuk-Bogdanović, Vesna Bikić and Milica Marić-Stojanović. 2011. Micro-Raman and infrared analysis of medieval pottery findings from Braničevo, Serbia. Journal of Raman Spectroscopy 43 (8): 1101–1110.

Jones, Andrew. 2004. Archaeological Theory and Scientific Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kidder, Alfred V. 1936. Introduction to The pottery of Pecos vol 2, by Alfred V. Kidder and Anna O. Shepard, Papers of the Phillips Academy Southwestern Expedition 7, xvii–xxxi. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Kimpe, K., C. Drybooms, E. Schrevens, P. A. Jacobs, R. Degeest and M. Waelkens. 2004. Assessing the relationship between form and use of different kinds of pottery from the archaeological site Sagalassos (southwest Turkey) with lipid analysis. Journal of Archaeological Science 31: 1503–1510.

Kristiansen, Kristian. 2014. Towards a New Paradigm? The Third Science Revolution and its Possible Consequences in Archaeology. Current Swedish Archaeology 22: 11–71.

Lemonnier, Pierre. 1986. The Study of Material Culture Today: Toward an Anthropology of Technical Systems. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 5: 147–186.

– – – . 2002. Introduction to Technological Choices: Transformation in Material Cultures since the Neolithic, ed. Pierre Lemmonier, 1–35. London: Routledge.

Livingstone Smith, Alexander. 2000. Processing Clay for Pottery in Northern Cameroon: Social and Technical Requirements. Archaeometry 42(1): 21–42.

– – –. 2001. Bonfire II: The Return of Pottery Firing Temperatures. Journal of Archaeological Science 28: 991–1003.

MacGovern, Patrick. 1995. Science in Archaeology: A Review. American Journal of Archaeology 99(1): 79–83.

McGovern Patrick, Juzhong Zhang, Jigen Tang, Zhiqing Zhang, Gretchen R. Hall, Robert A. Moreau, Alberto Nuñez, Eric D. Butrym, Michael P. Richards, Chen-shan Wang, Guangsheng Cheng, Zhijun Zhao, and Changsui Wang. 2004. Fermented beverages of pre- and proto-historic China. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 101(51): 17593–17598.

McGovern, Patrick and Gretchen Hall. 2016. Charting a Future Course for Oranic Residue Analysis in Archaeology. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 23: 592–622.

Mahias, Marie-Claude. 2002. “Pottery Techniques in India”. In Technological Choices: Transformation in Material Cultures since the Neolithic, ed. Pierre Lemmonier, 157–180. London: Routledge.

Malainey, M. E, R. Przybylski, and B. L. Sheriff. 1999. Identifying the Former Contents of Late Precontact Period Pottery Vessels from Western Canada using Gas Chromatography. Journal of Archaeological Science 26: 425–438.

Matson, Frederick 1952. “The Contribution of Technical Ceramic Studies to American Archaeology”. In Prehistoric Pottery of the Eastern United States, coordinated by James B. Griffin 2, 1–7. University of Michigan: Ann Arbor.

– – –. (ed.) 1965. Ceramics and Man. Chicago: Aldine.

– – –. 1991. “The 1938 Ceramic Technology Conference – A Review After 50 Years”. In Ceramic Legacy of Anna O. Shepard, eds. Ronald R. Bishop and Frederick W. Lange, 88–120. Niwot: The University Press of Colorado.

Miloglav, Ina. 2016. Keramika u arheologiji – lončarstvo vučedolske kulture na vinkovačkom području. Vinkovci, Zagreb: Gradski muzej Vinkovci – Filozofski fakultet Sveučilišta u Zagrebu.

Mioč, U., P. Colomban, G. Sagon, M. Stojanović and A. Rosić. 2004. Ochre decor and cinnabar residues in Neolithic pottery from Vinča, Serbia. Journal of Raman Spectroscopy 35 (10): 843–846.

Orton, Clive, Paul Tyers, and Alan Vince. 1993. Pottery in Archaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Palavestra, Aleksandar. 2011. Kulturni konteksti arheologije. Beograd: Filozofski fakultet.

Pollard, A. M. 2008. Archaeometry 50th Anniversary issue – Editorial. Archaeometry 50(2): 191–193.

Price, Douglas T. and James H. Burton. 2011. An Introduction to Archaeological Chemistry. Springer: London.

Reber, Eleanora and John P. Hart. 2008. “Visible Clues: The Analysis of Visible Pottery Residues from New York State with Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry”. In Current Northeast Paleoethnobotany II, ed. John P. Hart, 129–139. Albany: The University of the State of New York, The State Education Department.

Rice, Prudence M. 1996. Recent Ceramic Analysis: 2. Composition, Production, and Theory. Journal of Archaeological Research 4(3): 165–202.

– – – . 1987. Pottery Analysis: A Sourcebook. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Schiffer, Michael B. and James M. Skibo. 1987. Theory and Experiment in the Study of Technological Change. Current Anthropology 28(5): 595–622.

– – – . 1997. The Explanation of Artefact Variability. American Antiquity 62(1): 27–50.

Shanks, Michael and Christopher Tilley. 1987. Re-Constructing Archaeology: Theory and Practice. London: Routledge.

Shepard, Anna O. 1936. “The Technology of Pecos Pottery”. In The Pottery of Pecos, vol. 2, by Alfred V. Kidder and Anna O. Shepard, Papers of the Phillips Academy Southwestern Expedition 7, 389–587. New Haven: Yale University Press.

– – – . 1956. Ceramics for the Archaeologist. Washington D. C.: Carnegie Institution of Washington.

– – – . 1977. Notes from a Ceramic Laboratory. Washington D. C: Carnegie Institution of Washington.

Sillar, Bill and M S. Tite. 2000. The challenge of ‘technological choices’ for materials science approaches in archaeology. Archaeometry 42(1): 2–20.

Skibo, James M., Tamara Butts, and Michael B. Schiffer. 1997. Ceramic Surface Treatment and Abrasion Resistance: An Experimental Study. Journal of Archaeological Science 24: 311–317.

Snow, C. P. 1961. The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Spataro, Michela. 2002. The First farming communities of the Adriatic: Pottery production and circulation in the Early and Middle Neolithic. Trieste: Edizioni Svevo.

Stark, Miriam. 1999. “Social Dimensions of Technical Choice in Kalinga Ceramic Traditions”. In Material Meanings: Critical Approaches to the Interpretation of Material Culture, ed. Elizabeth S. Chilton, 24–43. Salt Lake City: The University of Utah Press.

Urem-Kotsou, Duška. 2011. „Noviji pristupi u proiučavanju keramike. Upotreba posuda i analiza ostataka hrane u neolitičkoj keramici sjeverne Grčke“. U Panonski prapovijesni osviti. Zbornik radova posevećenih Korneliji Minichreiter uz 65. obljetnicu života, ur. Marko Dizdar, 247–265. Zagreb: Institut za arheologiju.

Urem-Kotsou, Duška, Kostas Kotsakis and Ben Stern. 2002. Defining Function in Neolithic Ceramics: The Example of Makriyalos, Greece. Documenta Praehistorica XXIX: 109–118.

Urem-Kotsou, Duška, Kostas Kotsakis, C. W. Beck and E. C. Stout 2008. “Organic Residues from the Late Neolithic Makriyalos Cooking Pots”. In Proceedings of the 4th Symposium of the Hellenic Society for Archaeometry, National Hellenic Research Foundation, Athens, 28–31 May 2003, eds. Y. Facorellis, N. Zacharias and K. Polikreti, BAR International Series 1746, 619–629. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Van Zelst, Lambertus. 1991. “Archaeometry: The Perspective of an Administrator”. In Ceramic Legacy of Anna O. Shepard, eds. Ronald R. Bishop and Frederick W. Lange, 346–357. Niwot: The University Press of Colorado.

Vuković, Jasna. 2015. Izgubljeni u tranziciji: problem prelaza ranog/srednjeg u kasni neolit centralnog Balkana u jugoslovenskoj/srpskoj arheologiji druge polovine XX veka. Etnoantropološki problemi 10(3): 652–673.

– – – . (u štampi) Studije keramike: teorija i metodologija u istraživanju grnčarije u arheologiji.

Washburn, Dorothy K., William N. Washburn, and Petia A. Shipkova. 2011. The prehistoric drug trade: widespread consumption of cacao in Ancestral Pueblo and Hohokam communities in the American Southwest. Journal of Archaeological Science 38: 1634–1640.
How to Cite
Vuković, Jasna. 2017. “Pottery Studies and Archaeometry: Between Scientific Analyses and Archaeological Interpretation”. Issues in Ethnology and Anthropology 12 (3), 683–701. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.21301/eap.v12i3.1.

Most read articles by the same author(s)