In ancient societies without a writing system to help us decipher them, we rely on material culture, what is left behind, discovered, unearthed. Fascinating stuff, but what do we do with it? How do we extract the information we need to understand old civilizations? The hard sciences, new technologies, social theories, as well as looking at actual traditional societies keeping alive the old ways of manufacturing for example, all kick in to build an interpretation framework. For example, identifying what is local or not is crucial to help pattern interaction systems and interpret socio-cultural, economic or political relationships. the concept of “local” in ceramic analysis, when no direct evidence of production exists - no kiln found, no workshop - must be approached with the analysis of the ceramic composition but also with the knowledge of how traditional potters in Africa, America, Asia, work. Where and how far do they get their material, which factors influence their production, how do they live? We must take into consideration the concepts of production styles, technological communities and the construction of identity to enlarge our views. Welcome to archaeology, ceramics analysis and the world of traditional potters.
The way a potter or community of potters produces ceramics is influenced by the society they live in, the culture, economics, politics, social ties, and of course the materials they use and the technology of production. This web of factors will be examined as each class focuses on a different aspect of production while looking at country or region of the world. I will soon open a course at Deep University, titled A Deep Approach to Ceramic Production and Traditional Practices. The classes combine PPTs, readings, videos, blogs and media reviews, which will allow students to gain a cross-cultural perspective and a larger vision about ceramics and the people who produces them.
Based on my work, as archaeologist, ethnographer, and ceramologist - that is, a person who analyzes ceramics-, this course will give you a tour of ceramic practices around the world, a window into how potters work and live. Along the way you'll learn about the raw materials the potters use, clay and tempers, where they get them, how they prepare them. Then there are the ways pots are formed, by hand or on the wheel, and of course how they are fired. This course will serve as a complement to another course on Ceramic Analysis for those who want to get into the scientific study of the ceramics, their mineral and chemical components, mainly to understand ancient technologies and assess provenances for archaeological materials. To better interpret these 'hard science' analyses, it is essential to have a basic understanding of the work of the potter, and the many factors affecting manufacture.
This Ceramic Production and Traditional Practices course relies on ethnographic and ceramic studies. It is interactive and flexible as you can decide in which order you want to proceed and what documents you decide to review to enhance your studies. The aim is to help you extend your knowledge about ceramics, and stimulate a reflection on traditional productions and the life of the potters. It offers an excellent source of information for research and teaching. For archaeologists, the course presents comparative scenarios to interpret the archaeological data and understand better ancient ceramic productions.