Urkesh Ceramic Analysis
Categorization: Roster

Ceramic Roster: descriptions

Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati – August 2023

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Classes of categories

As is otherwise customary in the field, I have distinguished seven major classes of categories, as follows:

Time assignment

In each class, there may be one or more categories, which may in turn be, or not be, organized hierarchically.

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Organization of categories

In line with the notion that the roster is a closed system, the roster categories are articulated as parts of a tightly knit system

The roster categories reflect two major degrees of complexity:

  1. there may be a single category, or a set of parallel categories, without any hierarchial ordering.
  2. there may be instead a precise hierarchy, where the categories are nested within each other.

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1. Single and parallel categories

Where there is no hierarchical ordering, two particular arrangements may occur.

  1. There may be a single category, as in the case of the measurement category: the only category envisaged in the system refers to the diameter of the rim and the percentage that is left when dealiing with a sherd.
  2. In other cases, there are multiple parallel categories, reflecting concurrent features. For example, the category of color subsumes a variety of alternatives, such as interior or exterior, the temper, one or more colors.

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2. Hierarchy of nested categories

In one particular case, that of the shapes class, there are multiple categories that are distributed hierarchically, in four levels or sub-classes, to which I give distintive terms, as follows.

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1. Basic

This refers to the overall shape and is defined by lexical terms that describe the general use of the vessel. Thus a cup (kāsu in Akkadian) is a small vessel than can be held in one hand for pouring; a jar is a vessel which is normally held in two hands and hused for dipping; etc..

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2. Family

A primary set of details: attention is here given to structural elements such the form of the neck in a jar or carination as an elaboration of the body shape.

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3. Sub-family

A secondary set of details: these are different configurations of the structural details found in the “family” sub-class, for example whether a neck in a jar is flaring or straight, or a carination is straight or rounded.

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4. Variations

Minor differences: these are useful if one wants to establish more refined categories in a very extensive corpus, as in the case of Urkesh. For instance, within the sub-family “flaring neck jar” one variation (where number 101 is the code for this category) is defined as “wider at base of neck than at rim, folded rim,” while number 102 is defined as “thick body wall, relatively narrow neck, folded rim.”

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A note on the development of the system

It was especially with the nested categories, and more precisely in the lower levels of nesting, that changes and, even more, additions occurred throughout the duration of the project. It was then improtant that these changes and additions be made with full concern for the overall coherence of the system, with full respect for the hierarchical nature of the categories.

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