Analysis of large closed ceramic containers

August 6th, 2017

Introduction

This article investigates artefact variability of Attic Geometric large closed ceramic containers. Macroscopic analysis is conducted on 123 ceramic artefacts. These are 77 vessels with complete profiles and 46 incomplete vessels or sherds. The majority of this material (87%) comes from Athens (107 artefacts), while the remaining 16 pieces (or 13%) have been identified as broadly Attic by Coldstream (2003b; 2010).

The argument

The article argues that according to metrical features, proportions and fabrics, the production of large sized containers was highly standardised from the beginning of the Geometric period. Innovations related to the production of complex forms such as monumental vessels of the Dipylon tradition, the chaîne opératoire of which does not match with the production of regular sized containers. Banded amphorae were the most standardised of all vessels and this probably related to their function as domestic wares. Elaborately decorated containers were equally standardised; however, after LGII few of these vessels associated with funerary contexts were produced with different conceptualisations compared to the main norm. The external treatment of elaborately decorated containers moved towards gradual abandonment of thick lustrous coatings after MGII-LGIa, which coincided with the generalised use of figurative decoration. Despite this technological change in external treatments, all containers demonstrate similarities pointing to a chaîne opératoire that was controlled by few and highly specialised potters or workshops. Such production units followed strict technological traditions and probably clustered together in a single production site.

Analysis of metrical features and proportions

The Athenian Agora

The analysis of metrical features (metrics) and proportions of large sized containers from the Athenian Agora is conducted on 23 vessels with complete profiles. The assemblage consists of 8 decorated neck-handled amphorae, 12 banded neck-handled amphorae (6 of which are neck-less), 2 hydriae and 1 decorated shoulder-handled amphora. The material is recorded in Charts 1 and 3. Only 7 vessels with complete profiles come from burial contexts (abbreviated as BR), while 16 come from mixed non-burial deposits (abbreviated as non-BR). Additionally, Chart 2 presents 23 pieces coming from incomplete or fragmented pottery from the Athenian Agora, including 2 amphora sherds from Kynosarges and a single sherd from the collections of the British School at Athens. These fragments are not used in the current analysis of metrical features and proportions; however, they supplement the analyses of fabrics and decorative technology further below.

Figure 1: Scatter-graph of correlation between net height and rim diameter. Athenian closed ceramic containers from the Agora with complete profiles.

Figure 2: Scatter-graph of correlation between net height and base diameter. Athenian closed ceramic containers from the Agora with complete profiles.

Figures 1 and 2 plot the correlations between rim diameter and net height, and base diameter and net height for the above assemblage based on the measurements presented in Chart 1. According to both scatter-graphs, the assemblage forms two clusters which diversify according to vessel height and vessel shape. These are recognised by eye and the densest cluster belonging to a specific typology (e.g. banded neck-handled amphorae) is used as an index for identifying all other clusters. Cluster 1 contains vessels shorter than 45 cm, while cluster 2 contains vessels taller than 45 cm. More specifically, cluster 1 consists of 16 vessels, dating between EGI and LGIIb-EPA, coming from both burial and non-burial deposits:

Even though this cluster includes 4 elaborately decorated amphorae (3 N-H and 1 S-H), the vast majority is banded vessels. According to Figures 1 and 2, all banded neck-handled amphorae (including neck-less) have been produced in small and standardised proportions. Such proportions are not related to any specific chronological period. Instead, they appear to be typologically specific and connected to vessel function. According to Shear (1993), banded neck-handled amphorae coming from the lowest contexts of well deposits relate to domestic use: they were originally used to extract water from wells but they were accidentally dropped in and abandoned.

Cluster 2 consists of 7 vessels, dating primarily in the Late Geometric period, coming from both burial and non-burial deposits:

All vessels are either decorated neck-handled amphorae (5) or hydriae (2). According to Figures 1 and 2, cluster 2 is characterised by larger and broader vessels, which show a larger degree of variability compared to those of cluster 1. Furthermore, according to Chart 1, the largest four vessels in this group come from Geometric burial deposits dating after LGII (P4980, P16990, P32887 and P4768). Based on this observation, it appears likely that some vessels dating after c.735 BC were built according to distinct conceptualisations, most likely due to their funerary function. These were vessels of larger proportions, by contrast to pottery primarily found in non-burial deposits, such as banded neck-handled amphorae.

Despite the division of this assemblage in two clusters, the percentages for the proportions of rim or base diameter to net height (and base to rim diameter) in Chart 3 show a large span of variability that is unlikely to suggest any distinct patterns. According to mean proportions calculated based on the data in Chart 3 for the entire assemblage, the standard deviations of each proportion show relatively high degree of variability. Still, the assemblage shows two tendencies, in which standard deviations are the lowest: firstly, in the proportion of neck length to net height, and secondly in the proportion of handle attachment height to net height:

Both patterns require further investigation as they are likely to respond to technological traditions in the assembling features of such ceramic containers.

Figure 3: Scatter-graph of correlation between net height and neck length with regression line. Athenian closed ceramic containers from the Agora with complete profiles.

Figure 3 plots the correlation between neck length and net height for 14 large sized containers with necks. The assemblage forms a distinct cluster comprised of different typological and chronological groups. Two decorated neck-handled amphorae (P4768 and P16990) stand out. The regression line shows that the proportional increase between neck length and net height follows the equation y = 0.2775x + 0.6766 (where y = neck length and x = net height). In other words, neck lengths are roughly equal to 27.75% of a vessel’s net height with a difference of 0.6766 cm, which is too small to be considered. The coefficient of determination of the regression line (R2=0.9573) shows strong statistical correlation. The coefficient of determination (R2) can be converted to percentage if multiplied by 100; therefore, in the above regression line variables show 95.73% statistical correlation.

This pattern explains a conscious choice by potters to form the necks of such containers at a specific proportion in relation to a vessel’s height, serving specific conceptualisations of how such containers should have looked like. The presence of two loners shows that such conceptualisations in pottery production had few exceptions. According to Chart 3, the proportion of neck length to net height for P16990 is 18.6%, and for P4768 is 16.5%. Such vessels were produced with shorter necks and could perhaps be products of experimentation. Both come from burial contexts and date after LGIIa.

Figure 4: Scatter-graph of correlation between net height and handle attachment height with regression line. Athenian closed ceramic containers from the Agora with complete profiles.

Figure 4 plots another proportional pattern related to the handle attachment height of large containers. According to the scatter-graph, the proportional increase between handle attachment height and net height for 20 vessels coming from different chronological and typological groups follows the equation y = 0.6796x - 1.0332 (where y = handle attachment height and x = net height). In other words, the handle attachment height of amphorae and hydriae from the Agora is roughly equal to 67.96% of a vessel’s net height, with a small difference of 1.0332 cm, which is relatively small to be considered. Furthermore, the coefficient of determination of the regression line (R2=0.9904) shows perfect statistical correlation at 99.04%.

The above regression line for the Agora assemblage is followed by the majority of artefacts, although there are also three loners. This pattern relates to a technological choice formed by a strong technological tradition: potters deliberately attached vessel handles at a height of roughly 68%, or in other words close to 2/3 (=66.67%) of a vessel’s net height. Similarly to Figure 3, neck-handled amphorae P4768 and P16990 are loners, together with P19228, which is a shoulder-handled amphora. Even though both neck-handled amphorae could be products of experimentation that stand out, the diversification of the shoulder-handled amphora P19228 is most likely due to its different typological properties: according to Chart 3, the proportion of handle attachment height to net height for this pot is 51.3%, meaning that its handles have been attached roughly at the middle of its height. By contrast to neck-handled amphorae, shoulder-handled vessels have their handles attached at a different height. The possibility that this was regulated by another technological tradition will be examined below with regard to the Kerameikos assemblage.

The Kerameikos cemetery

The analysis of metrical features (metrics) and proportions of large sized containers from Kerameikos is conducted on 41 vessels with complete profiles. The assemblage consists of 28 decorated neck-handled amphorae (one of which is an SOS type), 5 banded neck-handled amphorae (4 of which are neck-less), 2 hydriae, 1 decorated belly-handled and 5 shoulder-handled amphorae. The total material is recorded in Charts 4 and 5. All vessels have been recovered in burials and their grave contexts are noted on each chart.

In his publication on the material from the Kerameikos cemetery, Karl Kübler (1954) recorded one metrical feature per ware, and not always the same across different ware categories. In the case of amphorae presented in Chart 4, the only metrical feature that was originally recorded was net height. The other metrical features on the chart were measured in smaller scale through published photographs and then calculated in real scale based on the original real net height measurements recorded by Kübler (1954). In order to limit bias and ensure that the calculated measurements were close to the real ones, an accuracy test was conducted on 6 large sized containers of different types, summarised in Chart 6. During this accuracy test, vessels were accessed and examined macroscopically with the same methods explained for the Agora material: firstly, it was verified that the height measurements recorded by Kübler (1954) were correct; secondly, real rim diameters (and other key features) were recorded with the same equipment that was used in the macroscopic analysis of the Agora assemblage. After this examination, real rim diameters and real proportions or rim diameter to net height were produced and compared to the ones that were calculated though published photographs for the same artefacts. According to Chart 6, differences between real and calculated rim diameters range between 0 cm and 0.5 cm. Differences between real and calculated proportions of rim diameter to net height range between -0.9% and +0.1%. The test shows that differences between real and calculated metrical features exist; however, they are too small to affect the results of analyses.

Figure 5: Scatter-graph of correlation between net height and rim diameter. Athenian closed ceramic containers from the Kerameikos cemetery with complete profiles.

Figure 5 presents the correlations of rim diameter to net height for the Kerameikos assemblage. The material is divided in five clusters according to typological groups. Similarly to the material from the Agora, all banded neck-handled amphorae do not exceed the height of 45cm and the neck-less ones are clustered together in one group (cluster 1). All neck-less banded vessels belong to the early phases of the Geometric era (between EGII and MGII):

Decorated neck-handled amphorae are scattered across four clusters (clusters 1, 2, 3 and 4), three of which also contain vessels from other typologies such as banded neck-handled amphorae, hydriae and a belly-handled amphora (clusters 1, 2 and 3):

Clusters 4 and 5 are distinct compared to the rest of the Kerameikos assemblage. Cluster 4 consists of the tallest neck-handled amphorae in the entire assemblage, which all date between EGII and EGII-MGI:

This specific group of vessels stands out with regard to its chronology and size, and is likely to represent products of the same workshop. By contrast to decorated neck-handled amphorae from the Agora, where the tallest vessels derive from burials after LGII, the tallest equivalents from Kerameikos date in the Early Geometric period (for comparisons see Charts 1 and 4).

Cluster 5 consists of all decorated shoulder-handled amphorae:

These vessels probably belong to a different tradition: even though their net height is average and similar to that of neck-handled amphorae (between 30 cm and 60 cm), their rim diameters are broader compared to other decorated vessels (between 17 cm and 25 cm). Finally, the only SOS neck-handled amphora in the assemblage (1298) stands out. It is likely that by contrast to other decorated vessels, SOS amphorae were distinct products with little similarity to other containers.

The correlation of base diameter to net height for the Kerameikos assemblage in Figure 6 verifies the properties of clusters 1 and 4 discussed earlier and also that the SOS neck-handled amphora 1298 is a loner. However, according to the graph, all shoulder-handled amphorae of cluster 5, which appeared to be distinct in Figure 5, now merge together with the vessels of clusters 2 and 3, which are by majority neck-handled amphorae. A possible explanation is the following: even though shoulder-handled amphorae were produced with broader rims compared to average neck-handled amphorae, their base diameters were formed in a standard way that was common across other typological classes. As the sequence (sensu Van der Leeuw 1994, 136-7) of forming such vessels on the wheel was from base to rim, the conceptualisation of bases was the same for both types. In that sense, it is more than likely that the production of both types of amphorae was interconnected and potters probably shared similar conceptualisations.

Figure 6: Scatter-graph of correlation between net height and base diameter. Athenian closed ceramic containers from the Kerameikos cemetery with complete profiles.

The percentages for the proportions of rim or base diameter to net height (and base diameter to rim diameter) for the Kerameikos assemblage in Chart 5 show large fluctuation which is unlikely to suggest any distinct patterns. The standard deviations of mean proportions calculated for the entire assemblage according to the data in Chart 5 show relatively high degree of variability. Only exception is the proportion of neck length to net height:

According to Figure 7, the regression line for the proportion of neck length to net height is y = 0.2945x + 1.3824 (where y = neck length and x = net height). In other words, neck lengths of closed ceramic containers from Kerameikos are roughly equal to 29.45% of a vessel’s net height with a difference of 1.3824 cm. For this specific assemblage the coefficient of determination of the regression line (R2=0.8722) shows 87.22% statistical correlation, which is relatively satisfactory. The SOS amphora 1298 is again a loner. Similarly to the material from the Agora, the necks of closed ceramic containers from Kerameikos have been conceptualised and produced at a proportion below 3/10 of a vessel’s net height. The relatively smaller degree of statistical correlation of the regression line in Figure 50 is due to the wider scattering of the Kerameikos material compared to that from the Agora; however, the general tendency is clear.

Figure 7: Scatter-graph of correlation between net height and neck length with regression line. Athenian closed ceramic containers from the Kerameikos cemetery with complete profiles.

In the previous section, the correlation of handle attachment height to net height for closed ceramic containers from the Athenian Agora showed that the handles of shoulder-handled amphorae were attached at a different area on a vessel’s body, by contrast to neck-handled amphorae and hydriae. Furthermore, the height of handle attachment for neck-handled amphorae and hydriae was roughly 2/3 of a vessel’s net height, starting from the base. The same conclusions are verified with regard to closed ceramic containers from Kerameikos.

Figure 8 presents the correlation of handle attachment height to net height for a total of 40 containers. The belly-handled amphora 2146 was left out as handle attachments of such vessels are not discussed in this project. According to the scatter-graph all neck-handled amphorae (decorated and banded) and hydriae from Kerameikos form a regression line that follows the equation y = 0.6667x – 1.4131 (where y = handle attachment height and x = net height). In other words handle attachment heights are equal to 2/3 of a vessel’s net height (66.67%) reduced by a small difference of 1.41 cm. The coefficient of determination of the regression line (R2=0.9736) shows strong statistical correlation (97.36%). In the same graph, the regression line for shoulder-handled amphorae follows the equation y = 0.537x – 0.1826. This means that the handles of such vessels were attached at a height slightly above the centre of the pot, roughly at 53.7% in relation to a vessel’s net height. The coefficient of determination (R2=0.8141) shows ambivalent degree of statistical correlation. Similarly to all previous statistics, SOS neck-handled amphora 1298 is a loner.

Figure 8: Scatter-graph of correlation between net height and handle attachment height with regression lines. Athenian closed ceramic containers from the Kerameikos cemetery with complete profiles.

The British Museums Collections

The analysis of metrical features (metrics) and proportions of large sized containers from the collections of the British Museum is conducted on 13 vessels with complete profiles. The assemblage comprises of 12 decorated neck-handled and 1 belly-handled amphorae, recorded in Charts 7 and 8. All vessels derive from unknown contexts and are characterised as broadly Attic by Coldstream (2010), apart from those of suspected Athenian origin. Three vessels come from the Protogeometric period but relate to known EG shapes. They have been added in the assemblage as an alternative due to lack of Early Geometric pieces. Such Protogeometric vessels also function as an index of continuity or discontinuity compared to the Geometric period.

The material from the British Museum was published by Coldstream (2010), who originally recorded two metrical features per vessel: height and rim diameter. Even though this assemblage was not examined macroscopically, the presence of two recorded metrical features allowed the calculation of others through published photographs. These were then tested with an accuracy test similar to the one described for the Kerameikos assemblage. During this test, real net height measurements were used to calculate rim diameters through photographs. Then, calculated rim diameters were compared with real rim diameter recorded by Coldstream (2010). According to the test presented in Chart 9, differences between real and calculated rim diameters for the British Museum amphorae range between -0.8 cm and +0.7 cm. Differences between real and calculated proportions of rim diameter to net height range between -1.8% and +1.3%. According to the test, calculated measurements do not differ greatly compared to the real ones; therefore, statistical bias is limited.

According to the net height measurements recorded in Chart 7, decorated amphorae from the British Museum show a distinct chronological pattern: the three Protogeometric amphorae (two N-H and one B-H) are the shortest in the entire assemblage.

Figure 9: Scatter-graph of correlation between net height and rim diameter with regression line. Decorated Attic closed ceramic containers from the British Museum with complete profiles.

The proportional increase of rim diameter to net height for all neck-handled amphorae plotted in Figure 9 follows the equation: y = 0.3381x + 0.2199 (where y=rim diameter and x=net height). This means that rim diameters of neck-handled amphorae are roughly equal to 33.81% of their net height, while the difference of 0.2199 cm is too small to be considered. The coefficient of determination of this regression line (R2=0.9094) shows relatively strong statistical correlation (90.94%). The only belly-handled amphora in the entire assemblage is a loner. The percentage of 33.81% is unlikely to suggest a technological trend followed by Attic Geometric (and possibly Protogeometric) potters. Some similar percentages ranging between 30% and 35% have been recorded in Chart 5 for the proportions of rim diameter to net height of the Kerameikos material; however, similar proportional ranges for the Agora material in Chart 3 are rare. Based on this comparison, the regression line of Figure 9 is most likely due to the nature of this specific assemblage and is unlikely to suggest a distinct technological tradition.

Mean proportions produced for the entire assemblage according to the data recorded in Chart 8 show relatively high standard deviations. Only exceptions relate to the proportions of neck length to net height and handle attachment height to net height, similarly to all previous assemblages:

Figure 10: Scatter-graph of correlation between net height and neck length with regression line. Attic closed ceramic containers from the British Museum with complete profiles.

According to Figure 10, the regression line for the proportion of neck length to net height for the British Museum assemblage is y = 0.3198x – 0.0772 (where y = neck length and x = net height). This shows that neck lengths of closed ceramic containers are roughly equal to 32% of a vessel’s net height, while the difference of 0.072 cm is too small to be considered. For this specific assemblage the coefficient of determination of the regression line (R2=0.7869) shows weak statistical correlation (78.69%). Despite the weaker degree of statistical correlation for this assemblage, large containers from the British Museum seem to comply with the broader pattern noted in previous assemblages: neck lengths are roughly around 3/10 of a vessel’s net height. Additionally, neck-handled amphora GR1927,0411.1 is a loner. This vessel dates in LGIIb and similarly to the loners discussed for the Agora neck-handled amphorae, it is the tallest vessel in the entire assemblage.

Figure 11: Scatter-graph of correlation between handle attachment height and net height with regression line. Attic closed ceramic containers from the British Museum with complete profiles.

Figure 11 presents the correlation between handle attachment height and net height for the same assemblage. The scatter-graph does not include belly-handled amphora GR1978,0701.7 because the attachment heights of belly-handles are not discussed in this project. According to Figure 11, the proportion of handle attachment height to net height for neck-handled amphorae follows the equation y = 0.6832x – 2.8758. The coefficient of determination of the regression line shows 91.9% of statistical correlation (or R2=0.919), which is relatively strong. Similarly to neck-handled amphorae and hydriae from the Agora and Kerameikos, the above regression line shows that vessels from the British Museum have their handles attached at roughly 2/3 of a vessel’s net height. More specifically, the handle attachment height is at 68.32%; however, this is reduced by an average of 2.88 cm. Furthermore, Figure 11 verifies that GR1927,0411.1 stands out and must be treated as a loner.

The special case of the monumental Dipylon-style neck fragment P22435

A neck fragment with part of the shoulder and one handle, P22435, is the only monumental Dipylon-style artefact discussed in this study. It appears to be the product of a different production sequence and must be examined separately. This artefact reveals the complexity of the chaîne opératoire of large grave markers connected to burials and status display, and is completely different compared to all other vessels examined in this project.

By contrast to the necks of other amphorae, which were produced out of a single piece of clay during a single episode on the wheel’s head (Figure 12), P22435 was produced out of five (if not six) different parts that were assembled by a combination of techniques (Figure 13). This neck fragment has an external rim diameter of 50.4 cm and its height reaches 46 cm. It is a heavy piece and its original weight probably exceeded 14 kg. Its current weight (16.25 kg) is after excessive restoration and attachment of three thick iron bars at the bottom part in order to allow the fragment to stand.

Figure 12: Forming and assembling process of a normal size neck-handled amphora.

Figure 13: Features of forming and assembling of necks of monumental Dipylon-style vessels.

Figure 14: The inside of neck fragment P22435 from a Dipylon-style amphora.

Macroscopic analysis shows that the neck was produced out of at least three clay cylinders, connected together by placing one on top of the other. The final product was assembled and finished on a wheel or turntable, where the potter stabilised the cylinders together, shaped the neck and formed the rim coil by pulling the clay outwards (Figure 13). As shown in Figure 14, the inside surface of the neck bears a vertical crack which is likely to suggest that the clay cylinders were not formed on a spinning wheel. Instead, it is likely that these were originally produced from rectangular slabs, which were curved into a cylindrical shape before attached to form the neck. Furthermore, there are indications that such rectangular slabs were produced inside a mould and their manufacture could indicate similarities with tile-production.

Thorough macroscopic analysis of the fragment’s inner surface reveals two clear joints, which allow the estimation of width of the three clay-slabs or cylinders that comprise the neck: the lower one (10 cm), the middle one (11 cm) and the upper one (or perhaps upper two – roughly 16 cm). The lower slab or cylinder has broken completely off the rest of the vessel revealing the joint between parts 1 and 2 (Figure 58). The joint between parts 2 and 3 is not clear; however, fluctuations in wall thickness around this specific height and patches of clay on the inside surface suggest that this is indeed a joint between two separate vessel parts. Additionally, the metrical features of the surviving handle are c.41 cm length, 9.6 cm width and 2.3 cm thickness. According to the above, two constituent pieces of the neck and the handle piece of P22435 are of similar width (10 cm, 11 cm and 9.6 cm respectively); therefore, it is likely that ancient potters who produced such complex vessels had specific guidelines or perhaps used large moulds that resulted to standardised constituents parts with similar metrical features. In that sense, P22435 is the product of a complex chaîne opératoire, combining moulding and wheel-finishing characteristics.

According to the study by Roux & Courty (1998) on wheel fashioning methods, and in relation to the analysis of apprenticeship duration in mastering wheel throwing techniques by Roux & Corbetta (1989), it appears likely that the production of monumental Dipylon-style vessels was in the hands of experienced potters, who employed combinations of techniques in order to achieve the expected results. Furthermore, the complexity of the production of such vessels probably required the collaboration of a number of artisans; therefore, monumental vessels were most likely produced by large and highly specialised workshops.

Analysis of fabrics

Fabric analysis is conducted on 41 Athenian closed ceramic containers from the Agora, summarised in Chart 10. According to hand specimen examination, all closed ceramic containers are made out of one fabric, which comes in two variants:

Fabric Variant 1
This is a hard (occasionally medium-hard), very fine and very well sorted fabric, exhibiting fine distribution and orientation of voids of different sizes. It appears in colour variations of the higher 5YR sequence of the Munsell (1975) soil chart, and most commonly in 5YR 7/3 or 7/4. It contains well sorted small holes and elongated voids between 5% and 10%, although even in its coarser versions the fracture appears fairly dense. Larger inclusions are mainly clay pellets up to 5% and iron nodules in concentrations between 5% and 7%. Because of the firing temperatures and the dense nature of the clay matrix, it is difficult to distinguish between clay pellets and iron ores. The fracture contains some scattered white grits of perhaps calcareous nature at a concentration no more than 3%. These appear mixed with tiny white particles of fine quartz and silver mica, and again, they are difficult to distinguish because of the dense nature of the matrix. The fabric often contains very well distribute black bits of unknown matter up to 2%. The fabric’s colour is generally homogeneous; however, sometimes it may occur that specific areas along the fracture have degraded to a yellowish colour.

Fabric Variant 2
This fabric is a slightly coarser version of variant 1. The colour of the fracture ranges between the higher and middle 5YR sequence of the Munsell (1975) soil chart. It is medium to hard, with well sorted, small elongated voids up to 15%. The orientation and distribution of inclusions is very fine. The only visible particles distinguished with certainty are fine quartz grains, white or grey, ranging between 10% and 15%, and silver mica flecks up to 5% maximum. In some cases variant 2 is abundant of well sorted and evenly distributed small and fine white particles, which appear in the form of calcareous dust. These particles mix evenly with the finest of quartz and mica particles, and as mentioned earlier, they are difficult to distinguish. Concentration of total white matter can vary between 15% and even 30%. Sometimes there occur moderately sorted clay pellets of medium to large sizes, yet no more than 3%. Similarly to variant 1, in certain spots along the fracture there appear clay concentrations of greyish or yellowish colour by contrast to the typical homogeneous reddish or brownish fracture.

Figure 15: Fabric division of 40 closed ceramic containers from the Athenian Agora.

According to Chart 10, the majority of Athenian closed containers were produced from variant 1 and their Munsell colours belong to the 5YR series. Figure 15 shows that variant 1 comprises 92% of the examined fabrics. The same variant was used for the production of different typological classes such as banded and decorated neck-handled amphorae, belly-handled amphorae and hydriae.

The presence of one fabric (although in two variants) in the production of large containers indicates a strong technological tradition in clay selection, manipulation and tempering practices. The variants of this fabric diversify in relation to inclusion sizes and concentration of calcareous matter; however, it is important to stress that both variants do not contain any coarse non-plastic temper (e.g. grog or large rock fragments), which might have been expected for large vessels. This tradition was followed in the production of different ceramic containers, regardless of their typology and period of production. Furthermore, according to Chart 10 all samples come from different contexts and the same fabric was simultaneously used in the production of pottery that was used in burial and non-burial practices. Only 2 out of 40 containers have been produced from variant 2.

Figure 16: Vitrified sherd conglomerate P6413.

Figure 17: Possible kiln stacking strategy in Geometric kilns.

One MG sample in Chart 10, P6413 (Papadopoulos 2003, 103-4) is completely vitrified and shows that Athenian kilns could exceed temperatures above 850 °C, which are necessary to produce such vitrification. P6413 (Figure 16) is a conglomerate of at least three different sherds, two of which are bases. Both bases are stuck to each other in a way that implies kiln stacking strategies employed by Athenian Geometric potters (Figure 17).

During the initial stacking, it appears likely that the larger vessels were placed inside the kiln upside down; smaller vessels followed by being stacked in upright position, on top of the bases of the larger vessels. Older or broken sherds were probably used to separate stacked pottery in order to prevent vessels from touching together inside the kiln. When this specific firing accident occurred, both bases and part of another vessel’s wall melted together forming the characteristic mass of P6413 (Figure 16).

Analysis of decorative technology

The analysis of decorative technology is conducted on 68 closed ceramic containers (both complete vessels and sherds) from three sites. The assemblage from the Athenian Agora consists of 34 mixed decorated amphora pieces (Chart 11), 18 banded neck-handled amphora pieces (Chart 12) and 8 hydriae pieces (Chart 13). The assemblage from the Kynosarges burials contains 5 mixed decorated amphora sherds, supplemented by 3 amphora sherds from the collections of the British School at Athens (Chart 14).

The Athenian Agora

The entire assemblage of banded neck-handled amphorae from the Athenian Agora has been treated with the least elaborate decoration (Chart 12). These vessels are uncoated and decorated with plain bands running across the vessels’ walls. The same decoration applies for P6997, which dates to the Late Protogeometric period (LPG). All hydriae from the Athenian Agora (Chart 13) have similar decoration, comprised of linear bands and simple curved lines running along the vessels’ walls. Three hydriae (P4980, P26727 and P8215) have black coated necks. Even though the hydriae assemblage is small to produce certain conclusion, the chronological distribution of semi-coated vessels complies with the pattern observed for decorated amphorae explained below.

With regard to Athenian decorate amphorae, Chart 11 shows that the material can be divided in two chronological groups, in which decoration follows distinct patterns: the first group dates between EGI and MGII-LGIa, and the second group in the period between LGIa (c.760 BC) and the early 7th century BC.

Figure 18: Comparison of decorative element colours of Athenian decorated amphorae from the Agora.

According to the Figure 18, all decorative elements of the first chronological group are painted with colours of Group 1 (black or brownish black). In the later period (after LGIa), the main decorative colours remain black and brownish black (77%); however, red and brownish red colours of Group 2 appear alongside (23%). Furthermore, according to Figure 19, coated vessels before LGIa comprise 87% of the assemblage, while uncoated pottery is 13%. By contrast, during the period after LGIa uncoated pottery rises to 63% of the assemblage, while coated pottery drops down to 37% (25% in colours of Group 1 and 12% in colours of group 2).

Figure 19: Comparison of coating colours of Athenian decorated amphorae from the Agora.

Based on the above, it appears likely that the generalised use of the figurative style after LGIa established new colours in the decoration of Athenian amphorae, at least to those from the Agora contexts. At the same period, the practice of coating vessels with thick layers of paint began to decline, although it was not completely abandoned. The decline of thick-coating practices on Athenian vessels was most likely due to the expansion of elaborate figurative decoration: it probably required additional ‘blank’ surface on the vessels’ walls for the painters to work on. The same coating pattern is noted on hydriae, although such vessels did not usually carry figurative themes.

The appearance of new colours in the decoration of Athenian finewares after LGIa can also be verified with regard to banded neck-handled amphorae. According to Figure 20, all banded vessels between LPG and MGII-LGIa are painted in black or brown black colours (colour Group 1). However, after LGIa and until the early 7th century BC, 36% of the vessels are decorated in colours of Group 2 (red and brown red). Finally, in the Agora assemblage there is one vessel, hydria P12124, which is decorated in colours of Group 3 (orange or yellowish red). This vessel dates during LGIb-LGIIa.

Figure 20. Comparison of decorative element colours of Athenian banded neck-handled amphorae from the Agora.

The Kynosarges burials and the collections of the British School at Athens

The amphora material from the Kynosarges burials and the collections of the British School at Athens is examined together due to its small size (7 pieces). According to Chart 14, the use of thick coatings on these sherds coincides with the chronological pattern observed for decorated amphorae and hydriae from the Agora: it relates to periods closer to the Middle Geometric, while uncoated sherds come from the Late Geometric.

Despite this similarity, the Kynosarges material appears different with regard to its decorative colours. Even though the majority of all amphorae from the Agora are decorated in Group 1 colours, the majority of vessels from Kynosarges are decorated in Group 2 colours (Chart 14). This observation may show two things: firstly, that some of the painters who decorated the Kynosarges material used paints of different chemical composition compared to those who decorated the material from the Agora. Secondly, that the paints used on the Kynosarges pots were the same as the ones used on the Agora ceramics; however, most of the Kynosarges vessels resulted in lighter colours due to the different firing techniques employed by the potters who fired them.

The Kynosarges samples are few to produce certain conclusions; however, it could be likely that the Kynosarges material was the product of at least one different group of artisans compared to that from the Agora.

Summary and discussion of analysis of large ceramic containers

The analysis of artefact variability of various types of closed ceramic containers shows that there are technological similarities in the production of such vessel, and they must be regarded as products of the same chaîne opératoire. These vessels have been assembled from at least three different constituent parts (main bodies, necks and handles), the larger of which formed during different episodes on the fast wheel. Monumental Dipylon-style vessels such as P22435 were the products of a different chaîne opératoire, which not only required more complex assembling processes in relation to other containers, but also the use of combined techniques such a moulding and wheel-finishing. Such monumental vessels were an LGIa innovation. Their production coincided with the expansion of figurative style decoration (Coldstream 1968; Galanakis 2013) and they were probably commissioned for status display in elite burial rites (see Whitley 1991).
The analysis of metrical features and proportions in this chapter demonstrates that banded neck-handled amphorae were the most standardised of all closed ceramic containers, produced in small sizes that never exceeded 45 cm in net height. Their decoration was equally standardised, comprised of plain bands on uncoated surfaces. Although several elaborately decorated neck-handled amphorae from the Agora and Kerameikos cluster together with banded vessels, the majority of decorated amphorae (N-H, B-H and S-H) and hydriae form different groups according to their rim diameter, base diameter and net height measurements.

In the Agora and the British Museum assemblages decorated neck-handled amphorae become significantly taller and wider during Late Geometric times. Especially in the Agora assemblage, the largest neck-handled amphorae date after LGII (e.g. P16990, P4768) and derive from burial contexts. By contrast to the Agora assemblage, the tallest and widest decorated neck-handled amphorae from Kerameikos come from the period between EGII and MGI. This group of pottery is likely to relate to a specific workshop from this period, possibly connected to a specific burial group.

Decorated shoulder-handled amphorae from Kerameikos form a distinct cluster with regard to their net height and rim diameter correlation. It appears likely that such vessels were produced under different conceptualisations compared to other large containers: they were of average height with broader rim diameters. However, according to the overall correlation of base diameters and net heights from Kerameikos, the shoulder-handled amphorae cluster merges with the clusters of neck-handled and belly-handled amphorae, and hydriae. This could mean that during the initial episodes of the forming process on the potter’s wheel, different amphorae types were non-distinguishable. Their external characteristics became clear in the second step of their assembling process, after their necks were attached on their main bodies. The ones with broader rim diameters received shoulder handles, and the rest received belly and neck handles. Finally, the only SOS neck-handled amphora from Kerameikos tested in this project is a loner and shows no connections with other vessels.
The analysis of proportions of different vessel parts in relation to vessel height reveals two strong technological traditions. These remained in constant circulation for more than two centuries across Athenian and possibly other Attic Geometric workshops. All are equally visible on the Agora, Kerameikos and British Museum assemblages, despite the presence of exceptions and the different degrees of statistical correlation of the regression lines characterising these patterns. Furthermore, the similarity of these proportions for the Agora and Kerameikos material verifies the existence of a single production site connected to both archaeological contexts.

In the first technological tradition, the neck length of almost every ceramic container in the three assemblages is roughly 30% of a vessel’s net height (or 3/10):

Neck handled amphorae P4768 and P16990 from the Agora, and GR1927,0411.1 from the British Museum, are loners and must to be regarded as products of experimentation or different technological choice. According to this broader pattern, is appears likely that the necks of large containers were consciously visualised in relation to the overall size of the pot. Potters probably had in mind some pre-existing conceptions regarding how amphorae should have looked like, which functioned as archetypes that operated within the broader potting tradition.

A similar phenomenon is noted with regard to the proportion of handle attachment height to net height, where a second technological tradition is noted. In the majority of neck-handled amphorae (banded or elaborately decorated) and hydriae, neck handles are attached at a proportion of roughly 2/3 of a vessel’s net height (roughly between 67% and 69%):

It is likely that such proportion related to functional purposes: neck handles were placed at a height that would allow the user to control the vessel by grasping one of the handles with one hand and by holding the vessel’s base with the other hand. The material from all sites shows that there were few exceptions to this tradition: firstly, P4768 and P16990 from the Agora have their handles attached at proportions that exceed 70% of a vessel’s net height; however, this could be due to the larger height of these loners in relation to the rest of the assemblage. Secondly, P19228 from the Agora and all other shoulder-handled amphorae from Kerameikos have their handles attached slightly above the middle of a vessel’s net height (between 51% and 54%), suggesting another possible tradition for this typological group. Finally, GR1927,0411.1 from the British Museum has its handles placed at 57.5% of a vessel’s net height, which is exceptional.

According to the above, it is more likely that the attachment of handles on large closed ceramic containers was dictated by technological traditions that characterised different typological groups. Such traditions might have originated from conceptions related to the functionality of such vessels, even though their use could have been domestic and ceremonial simultaneously. Regardless of their intended function, their archetypal shape was probably standardised: neck-handled amphorae and hydriae were produced with (upper) handles placed at roughly 2/3 of a vessel’s net height, while shoulder-handled amphorae were produced with handles slightly above the centre of the pot.
In relation to the chronological distribution of the assemblages, shoulder-handled amphorae do not survive during the Late Geometric period. By contrast, all neck-handled amphora loners that stand out of these two traditions (including the SOS vessel 1298 from Kerameikos) have been produced after LGII. In that sense, the Late Geometric must be viewed as a period during which certain technological traditions were abandoned (e.g. for shoulder-handled amphorae), while small-scale experimentation took place in relation to technological traditions that survived (e.g. for neck-handled amphorae).

The strongest technological tradition of all, which remained unchanged across two centuries, related to the use of a single fabric in the production of all types of ceramic containers. Hand specimen examination shows that this fabric comes in two variants: variant 1 is the finest and densest fabric, while variant 2 is a slightly coarser and more calcareous version of the first. Despite the presence of a finer and ‘coarser’ version of the same fabric, both variants contain no real coarse and large-sized tempers (e.g. grog or large rock fragments). The hardness of these clays, suitable for the production of thick-walled vessels, was most likely due to high firing temperatures instead of fabrication practices.

The dominant colours used for decorative elements and coatings of closed ceramic containers during the Geometric era were black and brown black (Colour Group 1). However, after LGIa other colours such as red, reddish brown, orange and reddish yellow (Colour Groups 2 and 3) began to be used simultaneously. Such colour variability could be attributed to the generalised use of the figurative style in pottery decoration. The majority of samples from Kynosarges have been decorated with red colours. This could mean that the Kynosarges group was produced by a distinct workshop that stood outside the Agora norm; however, the sample is very small to produce any certain conclusions.

The period between EGI and MGII-LGIa was characterised by a generalised use of thick lustrous or matte coatings on the external surfaces of elaborately decorated amphorae. Banded vessels and the majority of hydriae were produced without external coatings. Coating practices began to decline after LGIa and were gradually replaced by a preference in thin matte slips or plain washes in the colour of the original clay. This simpler and relatively quicker external treatment probably allowed more ‘blank’ space on vessels in order for the painters to apply complex figurative (or non-figurative) decoration. Therefore, the decline of thick coating practices should to be viewed in relation to the generalised spread of the figurative style after LGIa, but only in relation to elaborately decorated amphorae.

With regard to the broader fineware production, this chapter demonstrates that two periods of the Geometric era must be regarded as distinct. Firstly, between EGII and MGI there appear elaborately decorated neck-handled amphorae at the Kerameikos cemetery, which are distinctively large in comparison to vessels from all other periods. The production of such vessels could relate to a specific workshop; however, the possibility of a distinct consumption demand during this period appears also likely and requires further investigation. Secondly, the Late Geometric period is indicative of three patterns of technological change in the broader production sequence. Firstly, during LGIa external treatments of large decorated amphorae change in relation to the spread of the figurative style. Secondly, during the same period and under the impact of the Dipylon workshop (Coldstream 1968, 29-30), monumental-size ceramic containers appear for the first time as the result of a different and more complex chaîne opératoire. Such vessels stand out with regard to the potters’ technological choices, knowledge and skills. Other traditional shapes such as shoulder-handled amphorae decline. Thirdly, after LGII and until the early 7th century BC there appear patterns of experimentation in the production of neck-handled amphorae. Some vessels are produced larger and their proportional characteristics diverge from existing technological traditions. New shapes such as SOS neck-handed amphorae appear as independent products towards the end of the Late Geometric, most likely manufactured at distinct workshops that stood away from the existing technological traditions of that time.