Contribution of present study, limitations and suggestions for future work

August 13th, 2017

As material culture is inseparable from social interaction, the analysis of technological and social aspects involved in its production are essential in understanding the forces controlling its evolution through time. This thesis introduces a technological approach based on the chaîne opératoire theory, which contributes to the discussion on the relationship between technology, style and society in Attic Geometric and Orientalising fineware production.

In relation to its practical methodology, this technological approach targets artefact variability (sensu Schiffer & Skibo 1997) across different fineware groups. The presence or absence of standardisation in ceramic products marks the circulation of technological traditions (sensu Sillar & Tite 2000), which once orchestrated ancient ceramic chaînes opératoires. Aim of this approach is to elucidate the role of the potter and his attitude towards technological traditions in relation to the changing nature of consumption demands within the society. The role of the potter is studied through the isolation of his technological choices (sensu Sillar & Tite 2000) made along the chaîne opératoire steps, and by examining them in relation to archaeological evidence and dates of significant social changes noted in previous studies. Here, the analysis of technological choices was limited in three core aspects: the conceptualisation (sensu Van der Leeuw 1994) of different ceramic shapes, the use of raw materials (sensu Van der Leeuw 1993) and the use of decorative technologies.

If applied in a practical study on archaeological ceramics, this approach is also subject to a number of limitations. Firstly, it requires a large number of intact vessels to be measured macroscopically for obtaining core metrical features and estimating their relevant proportions. Such intact vessels may not always be available or accessible for a number of reasons. Secondly, this approach requires an adequate sample for microscopic analysis, which may not be easily accessible due to legislation restrictions. The present study offers two separate strategies devised in order to overcome such practical obstacles.

Firstly, macroscopic analysis of metrical features and proportions can target an adequate number of vessels of complete profile, accessed and studied macroscopically in situ, supplemented by a number of vessels in display, studied through published photographs. To ensure the quality of statistical results, this project introduces accuracy tests that can prove useful for future research in the study or ceramic artefacts through published illustrations. Secondly, fabric analysis can target a large assemblage of fragmented pottery, examined macroscopically in hand specimen, supplemented by a smaller assemblage of similar shapes examined microscopically. The present comparisons between Hand Specimen Examination, Thin Section Analysis and Scanning Electron Microscopy show that this strategy is useful in the identification of fabrics and the investigation of fabrication practices. Furthermore, targeted SEM-EDX analysis is useful in the investigation of decorative technologies.

With particular reference to Attic Geometric and Orientalising finewares, this thesis offers some new conclusions that need to be considered next to our current understanding of Attic Early Iron Age society:

  1. Despite some adaptation during periods of significant social changes, the broader production of Attic Geometric finewares was highly standardised, practised by specialised potters, and regulated by strong technological traditions.
  2. The production of skyphoi was a paradox: even though such shapes were relatively standardised in a loose sense, the potters and painters involved in their production probably enjoyed a higher degree of artistic freedom compared to their colleagues who were involved in the production of other vessel classes. It could be likely that the broader chaîne opératoire of Attic Geometric finewares was regulated by specialised labour division subject to the potters’ own preferences. Alternatively, the total production was subject to a strict pattern of hierarchy, during which simple shapes (e.g. skyphoi) were produced during intermediate apprenticeship stages for potters and painters who moved later on to the production of more complex shapes (e.g. amphorae). The production of monumental Dipylon-style vessels was distinct.
  3. Despite differences in the conceptualisation and function of Attic decorated finewares, all vessels were produced from the same fabric and were decorated with paints of similar chemical composition for at least three centuries. The production of Subgeometric vessels and the decoration of Protoattic pottery might have followed different technological traditions compared to other 7th century BC production modes.
  4. The production of large closed ceramic containers and medium sized pouring vessels was most likely clustered in a single site. This clustering allowed a small number of potters to communicate and regulate a highly standardised and specialised ceramic production. The cluster matches the model of nucleated workshops suggested by Peacock (1982) and was probably located in the later Classical Athenian Agora as suggested by Papadopoulos (2003). By contrast, the production of skyphoi was probably scattered in different locations and regulated by individual workshops (sensu Peacock 1982).
  5. The numbers of Attic Geometric workshops suggested by Davison (1961) and Coldstream (1968) are relatively high and also relate to painters instead of potters. Their numbers need to be revised.

Despite the above conclusions, this study needs to expand in the future in order to cover some gaps in relation to Orientalising fineware production, which is currently underexplored. Firstly, intact Protoattic vessels must be studied macroscopically and compared to the present Geometric finewares for the investigation of continuity of technological traditions between the 8th and 7th centuries BC. Secondly, microscopic analysis of fabrics and further analysis of chemical compositions between pastes and coatings is necessary for a better characterisation of 7th century BC ceramic technologies. Such microscopic study must include both Protoattic and Subgeometric pottery. Additionally, the present methodology could expand in a separate discussion on the conceptualisation of Attic Submycenaean and Protogeometric vessels, which is likely to reveal similar standardisation and technological traditions as the ones noted during the Geometric period. In fact, some of the archetypal forms followed by Geometric potters are likely to have related to 11th and 10th century BC vessel shapes. This suggestion requires further investigation.

Finally, it must be specified that the features investigated in this thesis characterise the chaîne opératoire of Attic decorated finewares. According to the study by Strack (2007), the production of coarse hand-made pottery in Early Iron Age Attica included a plethora of popular shapes that were produced independently and regardless of the technological advances in the production of wheel-made vessels. Furthermore, the production of undecorated coarse wares continued for public and private consumption during Classical (Rotroff and Oakley 1992) and Hellenistic times (Rotroff 2006). It is highly likely that this production followed different conceptualisations and technological traditions compared to that of decorated finewares. A similar analysis of metrical features and proportions is likely to verify this point in the future.