Urkesh Ceramic Analysis

Categorization: The system


Laerke Recht – October 2015
Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati – March 2022

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The categorization of the Mozan/Urkesh ceramics began to take shape from the very beginning of our work there, in 1984. This was critical since at that point few sites had been excavated in the Khabur region (most importantly Mallowan’s excavations at Chagar Bazar and Tell Brak). It was necessary that the categories be as comprehensive as possible but at the same time flexible so that they could be edited and expanded as our comprehension became more developed.

At first, shape and ware categories were broad, e.g., open bowl, necked jar. Ware categories were predicated on categories established by the earlier excavations in the Amuq. It was very helpful that after a couple of years of excavating in Mozan Dr. Marilyn Beaudry, then Director of the Ceramics Research Group at the Cotsen Institute at UCLA, came to Mozan to help us to refine the ware categories.

Over the years our research on the excavated Mozan ceramics developed new categories and sub-categories with the expansion of the excavations and our understanding of the resulting greatly enlarged ceramics inventory.

For a fuller exposition see the history of the project.

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What characterized our methodology from the beginning of the excavations is the inclusion of all the excavated ceramics in a coherent and multi-planar database which links any given sherd (body and shape) with categories relating to their physical composition (ware), their morphology (shapes), their stratigraphic context, and so on. The chronological attribution of the context in part depends on all these ceramic linkages, besides the architecture, the nature of the deposits and all the objects and samples from any given context.

From the methodological point of view a single grammar controls the categorization and programming of every single piece of pottery found in the excavation – as it does for all the other elements of the record. As soon as the ceramics are analyzed they are added to the Urkesh Global Record. This availability of a multiplanar digital database results in creating a coherent whole for both stratigraphy and typology. This data is therefore available to all the excavation team with the consequence that, at times, it has an impact on the excavation strategy itself not only for the original unit from which this data came but for other units as well.

From this methodological approach to ceramics we have become increasingly aware of the the workings of the Urkesh community of potters producing these ceramics, their methods, their appreciation of previous methods through their imitation of earlier ceramics. Additionally vessel shapes, techniques and decorations were imitated as well by non-craft potters (see Kelly-Buccellati 2012).

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The categorization system needs to take into consideration the long span of time during which Urkesh potters operated. This differentiation is fundamental for an understanding of the entire corpus, and it is presented in detail in the section on Horizons. Here one will find a quick overview.

In the beginning of our excavations two tombs were discovered in the Outer City and yielded a large amount of pottery from the Early Dynastic II period.

The most complex area of the excavation dating to Early Dynastic III is temple BA and the ED III administrative building (OH2) in the Outer City.

For the Akkadian and Post-Akkadian periods the palace and the ābi (= A12) were fundamental for the ceramics they yielded.

During the early second millennium tombs on the High Mound dating to the Old Babylonian period as well as Old Babylonian houses gave us a large amount of well stratified ceramics.

The latest important period excavated is the Mittani period connected with the strata we excavated in the Plaza. The site was minimally occupied in the Middle Assyrian period.

At the very end of our excavations, before we had to stop excavating because of the Syrian war which began in 2011, we discovered the corner of a Late Chalcolithic temple high on the temple terrace.

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Organization of the material

Given the quantity of data and the high number of roster categories and lexical attributes (see under data sets), the presentation of the categorization system is accordingly quite complex.

In this section of the website, I will first introduce briefly the notions of roster and lexicon, with reference to the UGR Grammar explaining their relevance for ceramics. I will then deal with the content of both roster and lexicon separately.

For the roster I will give first a list of all the codes

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