Urkesh Ceramic Analysis

Introduction: The book


Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati – August 2023

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Personal Statement

From the beginning of our excavations in Tell Mozan I had projected the analysis of all the ceramics we would find on the excavations. I was well aware of the fact that there was a very large number of ceramics from the excavations in Syro-Mesopotamia. And this would indeed be the case also for Mozan: depending on the size of the excavation unit the totals range from about 20,000 to over 60,000 shape and body sherds. Thus it was clear to me that the analysis would entail an enormous and very committed effort.

At the beginning of our work in Mozan the only important previous excavations had been conducted by Max Mallowan at Chagar Bazar and Tell Brak. From the ceramics we found on the surface of the site it was clear that it was a major third millennium site. We had also found a few Halaf period sherds and some ceramics from the Old Babylonian period.

Once the excavations began my first task was to describe the ware categories and create shape catalogs of the excavated ceramics. Since we began by excavating what turned out to be a major temple at the top of the mound this meant essentially starting with the analysis of ED III to Akkadian ceramics. In those earliest seasons we also excavated two tombs in the Outer City which dated to ED II.

With time we gathered major collections of pottery from the Late Chalcolithic through the Mittani periods, with a small number of Middle Assyrian contexts, yielding the vast set of horizons which can be found in the Catalogs section of the right hand side of this book.

This focus on the ceramics meant that I had to develop a team to work on them with me. I did this by bringing to Mozan experts in the analysis of ceramic ware types and inclusions. I developed the shape catalogs from the beginning which expanded with our ongoing excavations. The contributors also included local members whom I trained to recognize both ceramic wares and shapes and to document them with codes, which also developed over time, forming our extensive database.

As the material grew and after the war which started in 2010 forced us to stop the excavations, we continued to harmonize and revise this database both at the level of this Ceramics book at for the individual excavation units. This work is ongoing.

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The major activity areas

The Urkesh Ceramic Analysis project consists of four distinct components. Since the inception of the project in 1984, Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati has been in charge of all four components, and was responsible for the carrying out of the project from beginnning to end, see the personal statement above.

The four components, which I designed and implemented, are as follows.

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1. Methodology

The design of a complex categorization system, based on the correlation of roster and lexicon, was introduced at the very beginning. It was gradually modified as new material was being excavated, but always with a view to maintaining the full coherence of the system. This required a close, and at times difficult, interaction between the practical need to account for all the material being excavated and the theoretical structure of the system being developed.

This was particularly trying because the digital implementation was often out of step with the progress of the work, which resulted in a number of intermediate, non-digital compendia that could help imn dealing with the data while preparing for their eventual inclusion in the digital format.

This was especially difficult because of the great diversity of types that emerged as the chronological range expanded to over two millennia. The regular updating of our cataog for internal use served us in good stead for keeping control over both the quantity of data and the complexity of their categorization.

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1a. A special case

One of the intermediate, non-digital steps was the creation of assemblages. They were created for individual units to help in the ongoing digital implementation process. At times the excavations of a unit were out of step with the analysis of the ceramics from the unit, meaning that the ceramic corpus was toolarge to be processed in time, or that there were other units that quickly needed information based on their ceramics. These conditions at times created a backlog of ceramic lots not yet analyzed in the sherd yard. Because of this it was necessary for me to check all the un-analyzed lots from the unit to determine what shapes were important.

These I arranged into assemblages based on the shape or the feature from which they came if the feature appeared topologically or stratigraphically important, see J2 for an example. The assemblages facilitated the analysis of the ceramics so that codes already in use from other units could be consistently adopted and if codes did not yet exist they could be established.

The assemblages were therefore an intermediate stage in the digitization process. They were produced manually for each unit, and at times across various units, and served as a major guide in the analysis of their respective units. At first, these assemblages were inserted as such in the website (see, e.g., A16b8, eventually to be reworked into a fully digital format (e. g., A15b4).

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2. The excavation phase

Equally complex, and even more demanding in terms of its practical implementation, was the task of organizing and supervising, throughout the 24 seasons of excavation, the process of collecting the material.

This required the training of the members of the excavating team in in gathering all ceramics from all contexts in small q-lots accurately labeled. It must be noted that sherds were collected in small quantities, in lots not to exceed about 100 items, and thus from very limited and well defined spatial contexts. Also they had to follow a thorough and efficient system that would secure the transit from the excavation unit to the sherd processing facilities and storage in the expedition house.

Just as important was the training of the workmen: there were regular lectures in the field, aimed at explaining the reason for collecting carefully seemingly unimportant items and motivating them to apply all the necessary attention and care in the collection phase.

A key element in these procedures was the care given to the emplacement record. It was because of the coherence of the methodology and the explicitness of its formulation in successive versions of field manuals and of the instruction that went with it, that the record, vast as it is, remains complete in its most minute details.

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3. The processing of the data in the field

Once brought to the house, two major sets of activities were organized: first the analysis and then the storage. Both have bee described in detail in a separate page.

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4. The design and production of the digital book

Within the purview of the UGR system, the Ceramics Digital Analysis website took shape as the first full-fledged topical digital book. As such it is meant to serve also as a model for future topical books on other classes of artifacts, outlining the methodology used and providing an inventory of the data from a ttypological point of view. Given the enormous quantity of the material, the ceramic inventory as accessed here from the right hand sidebar has to be very selective, in contrast for instance with what will be the case with the glyptic digital book.

From the very start, the digital book aimed to achieve two major goals. The first is to serve as a guidepost for research during the excavation, thus meeting an urgent need for internal use. With the etsablishment of the LAN system in Mozan, this became a very realistic approach, where everyone on the staff could access this digital book, then in its initial stages, and use it in function of the needs of any given excavation unit.

The second, and yet at the same time the primary, goal was to provide the final publication of this research. The long history of the project shows that this was always in the foreground: the structure of the website and its contents grew apace with the project and are now being finalized in this, its first version. It may rightfully be said that this process was a prime example of interplanarity in action – the writing of the website going hand in hand with the work on the individual unit books.

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Main contributors: L. Recht and C. Chavez Yates

As indicated on the title page of this digital book, two main contributors have assisted me in the realization of the project. Their contribution to specific pages in this website is acknowledged at the top of each relevant page. The major areas in which they collaborated on the project are indicated below. For other contributors wsee this page.

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Laerke Recht

Since 2011, Laerke Recht has been in the forefront of the realization of the current version of the website. As it developed, she contributed very actively to the conceptualization of certain aspects, in particular with regard to the organization of the sections relating to the horizons, the shapes and the whole vessels. In this she also interacted with B. Forni in the design of the CerPhaS program.

She also played an indispensable role in the implementation of the work, with regard in particular to the checking of the data for accuracy. In this she worked closely with other younger collaborators, including, currently, two of her students at the University of Graz. In particular, she proposed and developed the entire secton on whole vessels.

She has assumed the task of supervising the ceramic inventory of the unit books that remain to be finalized, in order to integrate them in future versions of this website. To this end, she will write the summary for each unit book as she did, e. g., for J1.

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Caitlin Chavez Yates

Caitlin Chavez Yates took part in the last four excavation seasons at Tell Mozan, and continued working on the ceramics project until 2016. In thsi regard she was especially instrumental in achieving two major goals:

  1. the final organization of lexicon was a complex issue, especially for the shapes, with its 936 entries.
  2. the revision and conversion of the codes, which required a great deal of care and attention.

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