Urkesh Ceramic Analysis

Introduction: The book


Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati – August 2023

Back to top: Preface

A “global” record

Since the beginning of the Mozan/Urkesh Archaeological Project, the decision was made to publish every element from the excavations and every observation made in the course of the work in the field. This applied to both stationary features in the ground and movable items, including of course ceramics.

Now, the ceramic corpus from a long term excavation like Mozan is enormous, approaching, after twenty-three seasons of excavation, a total of a million pieces, between whole vessels and sherds. It was a daunting prospect: how to keep track of all this material in the first place, and then how to publish it in a comprehensible manner?

I took on the responsibility for this task, regarding the ceramic corpus. From the start, in 1984, I had to make sure that:

  1. a coherent framework be set in place to account for every element, from a well preserved whole vessel to the most minute of sherds, and
  2. a publication channel be designed that would allow for this enormous amount of data to be integrated in a meaningful whole.

These two points may be described briefly as follows.

Back to top: Preface

1. The ceramic system as a whole: the typological book

Ensuring the theoretical and practical coherence of the system were the strategy and the tactics which I implemented throughout the project, and this digital book presents the results. While the total inventory of the data, or “global” record, is articulated in the unit books (see the next paragraph), here I give an insight into the whole system, with ample reference to, and inclusion of, selected data.

There are three parts.

  1. Introduction (left sidebar, top): a presentation of the structure of this website and of the data which it utilizes.
  2. Categorization (left sidebar, bottom): the criteria of analysis, with full details of the system of variables and variants (categories and attributes) that are used in defining the system.
  3. Shapes (right sidebar): a window onto the corpus with regard to a special category, the shapes, analyzed from the points of view of chronology, context and typology.

Back to top: Preface

2. The full ceramic corpus: excavation unit books

Since the start of the excavations, the decision was made to create an independent publication channel for each excavation unit, which eventually took the form of an independent website. It would be a constantly updating channel, not only on a daily basis as the excavation would progress, but also from season to season.

Ceramics being by far the category with the most elements (up to 60,000 sherds for a given unit in some cases, plus whole vessels), the challenge was to secure that every single sherd would retain its identity: this meant in practice the creation of individual files for every shape sherd on the one hand, and for small batches of body sherds belonging to the same ware category.

There were about thirty unit books active at the time excavations stopped in 2011 because of the start of hostilities. During excavations, it was critical to maintain a coherent oversight over all of them, with uniform procedures and an explicit methodology, as it was critical to aim for all the necessary accuracy in implementing the process.

It is not the goal of this digital book to describe these unit books. Each unit book speaks for itself, see for example A16, with the overall description of ceramics and the ware indices and frequencies, where each sherd is linked to its own individual page (e.g., the first of the Bi-color ware, A16q710.3.3).

The supervision of the ceramics from each excavation unit has been my direct responsibility in the twenty-six years when excavations were taking place, and then in the twelve years that followed up to the present day.

In the process, I found in Laerke Recht a most valuable associate, who helped in the supervision of the work and in the elaboration of aspects of the website. She will as of now be in charge of the ceramic analysis of the individual unit books. For more about this see below in the pages about methodology and about the corpus.

Back to top: Preface

A ceramic digital discourse

The study of ceramics as I have undertaken it in the Urkesh project is a prime example of the interplanarity principle that guides the digital discourse methodology, and it is well exemplified in this digital book.

There is a variety of multiple planes that are related to each other and may be called upon as needed, such as:

  • the overall categorization system that defines every element in the entire corpus;
  • the chronological sorting in the horizons section of this digital book;
  • the descriptive sections on ceramics in the unit books;
  • the full detail for any given vessel or sherd also in the unit books.

One may link to any detail within these planes, which is the standard use of hyperlinks. This is a multiplanar approach, such as one follows when consulting a dictionary: the interest is exhausted the moment the target is reached, and there is no further interest in the context where the word was found.

The interplanar approach, on the other hand, aims at linking not details within planes, but each plane as a whole. The link still targets a detail, but it implies at all times that the detail be seen within its context, its plane. This has the double advantage that (a) it gives pride of place to the whole, i .e, the plane, while (b) maintaining the full individuality of the fragment. See also below, under Relationship to the UGR.

Back to top: Preface