Urkesh Ceramic Analysis
Categorization / Lexicon / Decoration

Introduction to Decoration Types

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General Description

In most periods reflected in the Mozan/Urkesh stratigraphy potters created decorated ceramics although the amount of decorated ceramics produced as a percentage of the total inventory varies from period to period. For instance in the LC 3 period while there are potters’ marks which could be considered as a decoration, the marks on the exterior of bowls and platters of cord cannot be considered decoration because they are the direct result of a technique to hold the vessel shape during the drying process, e.g. J3q367-p2 (bowl with cord impressions).

We have almost no Ninevite V painted ceramics but the later Ninevite V incised decorated pottery is plentiful in the stratigraphy and in two tombs excavated in the Outer City. The only ED III painted pottery we have are stands painted with fugitive paint, related to Scarlet Ware in the south. Otherwise the decoration in this period consists in incised geometric patterns and applied rope decoration. These continue into the Akkadian and Ur III periods. Stamped designs are found in the Mittani and Middle Assyrian periods. Painted decoration returns at the end of the Ur III-Isin Larsa period with the use of bitumen-based paint covering usually the rim or neck and rarely with dots spaced in a line, e.g. A10.108 (pot with painted rim and dotted line). Bitumen in this period could be used as an adhesive or on the interior of vessels for water-proofing.

Painted ceramics reappeared more frequently in the Khabur period; the designs were simple and included solid paint on the rim or necks of necked jars eg. A16q5-p6, vessels with stripes on the bodies. Slightly more complicated designs included running triangles e.g. J7q51-p4, usually filled with various geometric patterns, placed on the upper bodies and more rarely running hatched lines enclosed by parallel lines. Flat rims could be decorated with short parallel stripes eg. J1q1033-p17.

The Mittani period saw an explosion of paint on ceramics with a large number of designs and design combinations. It also saw painted designs that could be red or dark brown paint applied directly on the self-slip covering the vessel, or painted on a red ground. The most unusual in the Urkesh corpus were white designs painted on a dark ground. The Khabur period parallel lines continue in the Mittani period on the body and often on the rim. Running triangles (also found in the Khabur period) are an important design motif in the Mittani period, usually filled with a variety of patterns eg. J1q374-p4. A dark and light checkerboard pattern is also striking eg. J5q34-p77. Complex designs included geometric patterns that could be arranged in a number of ways. Animal designs included a number of birds eg. J1q139-p1 and rarely fish and horned animals, e.g. BHq540-p1 . In the Mittani period there are a large number of red-edged bowls, e.g. J1q444-p4 which are made in a coarse ware and may have been used as eating and serving utensils.

Rarely in the Mittani period are there incised or stamped patterns. The incised “wheat” designs are not carefully executed. Stamped decoration is mostly circles.

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