Biblical Archaeology Review 42:5, September/October 2016

Archaeological Views: Pottery in the Computer Age

By Andrea M. Berlin

BAR readers know there is no place on Earth more intensively investigated archaeologically than the Levant. As a corridor between east and west, north and south, as well as the center of gravity for three major world religions, this region has lured scholars since the 19th century. Excavations have revealed the places behind the stories in the Bible and Qur'an: ancient temples, palaces, cities, farmsteads, workshops and graveyards. These same excavations have produced millions of artifacts, none more abundant than pottery. Now, two centuries of discovery later, all that pottery is both an incredible resource and an enormous problem.

Pottery is a resource because it makes human behavior visible. From the earliest agricultural villages through the early modern era, people have used clay vessels for almost every sort of activity: to store, prepare, cook and serve food; to hold perfume; to ship commodities; to burn oil for light; to contain or serve as votive offerings; and to help make the dead more comfortable in the afterlife. Pottery animates the places we excavate.

Pottery also offers analytical evidence for dating, production and exchange through an array of scientific techniques, including Instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis, X-Ray Fluorescence and petrographic thin-section.a More than a century of continuous excavation and study have resulted in a gold-mine of data—stylistic, stratigraphic, petrographic and elemental.

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