Urkesh Ceramic Analysis

Categorization / Lexicon / Wares


Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati – June 2023, July 2023

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Excavated ceramics from all the unit books are described by the same system in the Roster and Lexicon. These categories developed over time in that with the study of the material we were excavating we had more information for the description of the ceramics. This meant that the descriptions became clearer. For instance many sherds were initially put into the CH category because they had chaff temper but as our inventory of excavated sherds increased we realized that they should be categorized as Red Calcite ware because of the amount of red calcite added as the temper in addition to some chaff.

The first step after washing all the sherds was to write the q and p numbers on the interior of all shape sherds. Subsequently during the analysis phase if the ware code is written on the sherd then it was difficult to change it later. Thus the final ware code appears only in our excel records. Some wares at times changed names or were incorporated into new groupings. For instance RC ware was initially called ROG ware, emphasizing the red-orange color of the clay, but the name was changed to RC in order to emphasize the calcite inclusions as well as the red color.

In Roster ZcaW details of the individual ware types are described depending on a variety of categories including temper (ZcaW1 and 2) surface treatment (ZcaW3 and 4) inclusions and their frequency (ZcaW5 and 6) firing (ZcaW7) and fracture (ZcaW8). The variants within these categories are detailed in the Lexicon.

In the Lexicon variants are described as part of the main ware description. And depending on the importance of diverse variants they are emphasized differently in the ware descriptions. For instance in the description of Pebble Tempered ware, since this ware was used in creating cooking pots, in this ware description the temper and surface treatment are emphasized.

In some cases the changes of the ware through time can be described. This for instance is the case for Ninevite V ware. While the earlier finer examples of this ware came from excavations in the Temple BA area the later examples came from two tombs in the Outer City (Ob1 and Oa4). The vessels made in the earlier version of this ware have thin walls are highly fired and have little temper added. The surface is decorated with incised and combed decoration. The later vessels made in this ware have thicker walls, more inclusions, and are decorated with incised and grooved designs.

In the Urkesh ceramic corpus the most numerous wares are Chaff Tempered ware (CH) and Red Calcite Tempered ware (RC). These are described in detail as they changed through time CH and RC.

In the Lexicon the wares are divided into two main sections: 1. fourth millennium and 2. third and second millennium. The division stems from the fact that vessels made in fourth millennium wares are often handmade, very low fired, have a carbon core, and are generally tempered with much chaff evident on the surface and in section. Third and second millennium wares are almost always used for wheel made vessels which are highly fired with few examples of carbon cores. Some vessel shapes, for instance conical cups, continue from the third into the second millennium. Both wares and shapes can be imitated by later potters and this also holds true for decoration types (see Kelly-Buccellati 2012). Pebble Tempered ware is used throughout the period for cooking vessels, usually with the same globular pot shape with a round base.

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3rd and 2nd Millennium Ceramics

During the excavations at Mozan/Urkesh ware descriptions had to be developed from the beginning. At that point in time there was very little published regarding excavated ceramics in the Jazirah region of Syria and Iraq. As I began to analyze the clay, inclusions, firing and surface treatment of the ceramics we were excavating I depended for the most part on my knowledge of the excavated ceramics from the Amuq that the Braidwoods1 had published since I had been able to study them first hand in the collection of the Oriental Institute in Chicago where I received my PhD in archaeology. Additionally the research near the beginning had the help and advice of Marilyn Beaudry-Corbett of the Cotsen Institute at UCLA.

The shape catalogs and ware descriptions starting in the early 90’s show the origin of the categorization process, based on rosters and lexica as presented in the typological section. This work eventually grew into full maturity with the digitalization process of the Urkesh Global Record.

In the development of the ware descriptions for the periods of the third and second millennium we were then excavating I was impressed by the continuity of the potting tradition. For many horizons changes through time were relatively small and were introduced gradually. Therefore the wares which were used for only one horizon, e.g. Rough ware, are identified as such. But for the wares that were used over longer periods of time I employed the same ware codes but give a description for each period of the changes in this tradition. This section of the Ceramics book gives all these descriptions.

When we began excavating fourth millennium context the wares and also the shapes were very different from the third and second millennium ceramics we had been excavating in Urkesh. Because of this I developed a different set of ware codes and descriptions, as shown in this section.

One indication that later potters respected the earlier potting traditions in their city is that later potters imitated earlier pottery that they evidently saw on the surface of the city.2

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4th Millennium Ceramics

Fourth millennium ceramics were found on the surface of the tell from the beginning but they were not found in large amounts.3 They occurred for the most part on the surface of the Outer City. Consequently we were surprised when we began to find them stratified on the High Mound in Urkesh, especially since they were coming from strata connected with the Temple Terrace at high elevations with respect to the Outer City. They were also found close to the revetment wall.

Thus we excavated fourth millennium ceramics after we had excavated and analyzed a large corpus of third and second millennium ceramics. For the history of the development of the typological analysis of the Mozan ceramics see here.

Late Chalcolithic 3 ceramics are predominantly coarse, chaff tempered. The vegetal temper was not well mixed with the clay. At times lithic temper was also added. For the most part vessels were low fired with wide carbon cores. Larger vessels could be medium fired but still exhibited a carbon core.

The most common shapes of coarse chaff tempered pottery are plates and platters, hammer rim bowls, casseroles and medium jars with restricted necks. All of these shapes are typical for the LC3 period.

Plates, platters and hammer rim bowls were formed in two parts employing two different techniques, and joined half way down the body. The lower part of these shapes is rough with many straw impressions and probably made in a mold constructed of fiber. The rim and upper part of the body could be handmade but more often are wheelmade on a slow wheel and attached to the lower portion through a pinching method at the join. The result is a wide depression under the rim and a bulge on the upper body. In some cases any other traces of the join were erased by scraping.

Finer ceramics were also produced but are numerically less important. These ceramics differ fundamentally from the coarse LC3 ceramics in that they have thin vessel walls, are wheel-made, have few inclusions, smoothed surface, and are medium fired with no carbon core. Most shapes are small with common shapes being bowls and cups.

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Note 1

Braidwood, R. and Braidwood, L. 1960, Excavations in the Plain of Antioch 1: The Earlier Assemblages, OIP 61, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Back to text

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Note 2

Kelly-Buccellati, M. 2012, “Apprenticeship and Learning from the Ancestors. The Case of Ancient Urkesh” in W. Wendrich (ed.), Archaeology and Apprenticeship, Tucson: University of Arizona Press, pp. 203–223; Kelly-Buccellati, M. 2019, “Emulation as a Strategy of Urkesh Potters and Its Long Term Consequences”, in Caucasian Mountains and Mesopotamian Steppe. Festschrift in honour of Rauf M. Munchaev’s 90th Birthday, Moscow: ИАРАН, pp. 355-361. Back to text

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Note 3

Kelly-Buccellati, M. 2010, “Mozan/Urkesh in the Late Chalcolithic Period”, in J. Becker, R. Hempelmann, and E. Rehm (eds), Kulturlandschaft Syrien - Zentrum und Peripherie - Festschrift für Jan-Waalke Meyer, AOAT 371, Munster: Ugarit-Verlag, pp. 261-290. Back to text

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