Ceramic ethnoarchaeometry in Sicily: recent traditional productions as a tool for understanding past manufactures

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Abstract

As is well known ethnoarchaeology aims to help archaeologists in the reconstruction of ancient social and cultural habits and lifestyle. It has also been used for the better understanding of the main elements involved in the historical pottery production of a given territory: selection criteria of clayey raw materials; paste recipes used by local craftsmen; to test hypotheses of pottery provenance from a specific workshop (Peacock, 1982; Fulford & Peacock, 1984; Arnold et al., 1991; Costin, 2000; Stark et al., 2000; Buxeda et al., 2003). On the other hand, the works that apply physicochemical analytical methodologies to study traditional ceramic artefacts and clayey raw materials occur more frequently in the scientific literature (Hein et al., 2004). It is believed that, within a specific chronological and/ or territorial context, the comparison of raw materials with local ceramic manufactures in terms of both compositional and textural features could be crucial for the reconstruction of production choices (i.e. clay quality, sand tempering, shaping and drying procedures, surface finishing, firing conditions, etc.). One of the main contributions of ethnoarchaeometry to the solving of a specific archaeological problem is the assignment of a production centre/area to ceramic artefacts of an unknown origin and the reconstruction of the corresponding ‘operative chain’. Only an appropriate holistic approach using a combination of different disciplines is capable of solving problems related to the assignation of a specific ceramic production to a specific site and/ or the identification of the possible origin of the raw materials, subsequently leading to valid proposals regarding the socioeconomic and cultural identity of an area or the trade networks involved. The latest archaeological excavations in central and western Sicily have revealed kiln structures and apposite facilities designed for ceramic manufacture at a number of sites, proving the relevance and importance of pottery craftsmanship in the economic history of this region from antiquity until today. Occasionally leftovers of raw clays and/or sand temper, ceramic wasters and even unrefined artefacts have been found at some kiln sites that have allowed archaeologists to characterize specific pottery productions more accurately (Falsone, 1981; Cuomo di Caprio, 1992; Greco, 2000; Guglielmino, 2000). The geological predilection of western and central Sicily for the development of a millenary pottery manufacture tradition, owing to the presence of abundant suitable clayey formations, has already been proved straightforwardly (Montana et al., 2010). Nevertheless, the documental and oral testimonies regarding the antique techniques of ceramic production for this part of Sicily are still limited and based only on macroscopic morphologic and decorative features (Ragona, 1986). Recently, a systematic archaeometric research has been developed within this territory, involving highly representative archaeological case studies that also highlight the importance of a combined analytical approach using both petrography and chemical analysis to attest local pottery productions (Montana et al., 2003; Belvedere et al., 2006; Montana et al., 2011). These works confirm that selection of raw materials not only depends on their accessibility, but also on their mineralogical composition and textural features (i.e. relative abundance and size of sand inclusions). In fact, the latter confer specific physical properties to a clay, that is to say, plasticity and linear shrinkage (after drying and firing), t
Original languageEnglish
Pages253-258
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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