Fabric Research and Analysis
I. Direct Investigation of Sphakia Survey Pottery
Jennifer Moody developed a form of fabric analysis during her work in the Khania Archaeological Survey Project (Moody 1985, 1987). Since then she has adapted it for use on other projects, such as the Sphakia Survey. Other archaeologists employ a system similar to Moody's; see for example the work of Haggis and Mook (1993) for their survey in the Kavousi area, also on Crete. Many people have now contributed to fabric analysis done for the Sphakia Survey, such as Pamela Armstrong who is undertaking a scientific study of Byzantine fabrics (Armstrong and Hatcher 1998). We have also benefited from a handbook on Roman pottery fabrics (Tomber and Dore 1998).
The initial stages of fabric analysis are basically a form of geology, on a very small scale. Sherds from many sites are analysed, using a handlens (macroscopic examination). The sherd's condition, shape, size, texture, manufacture, colour, hardness, and inclusions are recorded on a special form. The catalogue form shows the complete list of information; take a look at the record for a Prehistoric sherd from Troulos (4.44). Petrography -- the microscopic examination of thin sections, in this case of pottery -- can be used to confirm the identification of inclusions; you can also look at the petrographic record for the same sherd.
Eventually it is possible to group sherds in terms of larger fabric families, which include smaller fabric groups, as shown on the list of fabrics. The distribution of fabric groups and fabric families can be shown on a distribution map. For example, the list states that Fabric Group No. 6, Silver-Spotted Blue Ware, belonging to the Siltstone-Claystone Fabric Family, occurs only in eastern Sphakia. It is used in the Late Minoan III - Early Iron Age, though some pieces may be Middle Minoan. This fabric is also known from the site of Monastiraki, and from sites in the Ag. Vasilios Valley, both just to the E of Sphakia, as well as from even farther E (Vrokastro and Malia). The pattern of distribution of this fabric group suggest further questions: are the fabrics from the two areas, Sphakia/Ag. Vasilios and Vrokastro/Malia, identical or not? In either case, what further work could help to locate the place or places where the actual pottery was made?
Fabric Group No. 7, Hamburger, belonging to the Mixed Metamorphic Family, also occurs in eastern Sphakia, but seems not to be known outside the eparchy. It is used for Minoan tripod cooking pots and other large vessels such as pithoi. Many sherds in this fabric come from Region 8. True clay is geologically rare in Sphakia, but at a site in Region 8, we have seen earth with suitable looking inclusions, and we have wondered if it was a possible 'clay' source for the Hamburger fabric used for these pots. We found several Minoan potter's discs at this site, suggesting that some pottery was certainly produced within Sphakia (though not necessarily this fabric).
Some sherds are immediately datable because they belong to a specific ware whose date was already known, such as African Red Slip (in our table as FINE/MEDIUM FINE FABRICS: Orange Gritty Glitter Ware). These are called index sherds (for example, a plate rim from Ag. Eustratigos, 8.38).
Some sites seem to have had only one chronological phase; our dates for these target sites are based on known pottery shapes and wares. Target sites such as Ag. Eustratigos (8.38) are useful because the fabrics not already known can be assumed to belong to the same chronological phase. This assumption can then be tested at other sites.
In some cases we have been able to compare our material with pottery from the few sites excavated in Sphakia. One example of this is the Graeco-Roman material from the cemeteries at Ag. Roumeli, which we examined briefly with the kind permission of Drs Y. Tzedakis and Melpo Pologeorgi.
By looking at index sherds and target sites from the same chronological phase, it is possible to get an idea of which wares are chronologically linked, and to suggest suites of associated fabrics.
The final stage is to suggest a date for specific fabrics and sherds.
II. Other Information for Pottery Analysis, including Fabric Analysis
Excavated ancient potters' quarters can provide information about where and how pottery manufacture was organised. Examples are known at Corinth (Greece), for various wares of the Archaic and Classical periods (Stillwell 1952; Salmon 1984: 33 with site plan; 101-116; Sparkes 1991: 8-13); and at Phocaea (Turkey), for Phocaean Red Slip, formerly late Roman 'C' Ware (Hayes 1972, 1980, 1997).
Similarly, ancient texts make it clear that potters routinely made decisions about the production of different fabrics, and that these fabrics were distinguished by the people using the vessels; see for example the a third century A.D. papyrus from Oxyrhynchus in Egypt, which discusses the precise arrangements for leasing premises for pottery manufacture (Cockle 1981).
Until World War II, most village communities in the Aegean still used ceramic vessels for almost all cooking, eating, storage, and transport, as well as for some 'industrial' purposes such as beehives or raki production. Archaeologists were quick to realise that traditional pottery could provide parallels for the ancient world. Thus when Xanthoudidis (1927) was studying Minoan potter's discs, he included, as an analogy, an ethnographic account of their use by contemporary potters from Thrapsano, working in the Knossos area. More recently Voyatzoglou has recorded more details of the Thrapsano pottery system (1974, 1984); and Christakis (1996) has once again used Thrapsano potters as part of a suggestion that Minoan pithos-makers were also itinerant (See also a video on pottery production at Thrapsano: Kohout and Betancourt (1999)). .
Casson looked at island pottery in the 1930s, and discussed the economics of pottery production and distribution, chiefly by sea. He published a memorable photograph of a sailing vessel with its cargo of stamnoi on the dock at Chalcis in Euboea (Casson 1938; 1951: plate, b). Continuing in the same tradition, Blitzer recorded traditional pottery-making in Kentri near Ierapetra (1984). She also produced a major ethnoarchaeological study of the koroneiko, a large storage vessel made on the Greek mainland in the 19th and 20th c., from manufacture to distribution to use, again as an analogy with pottery exchange in the late Bronze Age Aegean (Blitzer 1990; and cf. the work of Vallianos and Padouva for 19th - 20th c. pottery on Crete). Scholars also draw on other pottery traditions to suggests possibilities (Freestone and Gaimster 1997).
Scientific analyses have become part of pottery analysis and can be extremely useful for fabric work (Riley 1983, again with reference to Minoan pithoi; Jones 1986; Tzedakis and Martlew 1999). Experimental archaeology (making ancient pots using local and other clay sources, trying different firing techniques) can also play a role: Vitelli (1987) was able to answer a number of questions about the Neolithic pottery from Franchthi Cave as a result of the experimental work that she and her students did. In terms of research design for the study of pottery, archaeologists now routinely look at all stages in the life of ancient ceramic vessels, from production, to transport and exchange, to consumption, as Blitzer did for the koroneika (Day, Wilson, Kiriatzi 1997).
By the time we began our fieldwork in Sphakia, most people routinely cooked over gas, rather than an open fire. The adoption of metal saucepans, which can be used on both, has meant that ceramic cooking-pots (tsoukalia) are no longer used In the later 1980s, piped water came to the village of Anopoli; we saw the last use of the water jars (stamnes), which were set on purpose-built stamnostates to accommodate their rounded bottoms. Nonetheless it has been possible to talk to people about the relatively recent past when more, and more different, ceramic vessels were used in Sphakia, as elsewhere on Crete. We have therefore asked people in Sphakia about the pottery they used (where it was made, how it was distributed, etc). Among other things we learnt that at least one archaeological site was 'mined' for ancient coarseware sherds, which were used to line the traditional ovens built on or next to houses! We have collected earth from a possible clay source in Sphakia (see above, on the Hamburger fabric) and hope to attempt some experimental replication ourselves.
Sphakia we have talked to contemporary potters, such as Kostas Dandolos
(making pithoi in Margarites in 1986;; and Christophoros Sklavenitis,
who makes modern versions of Byzantine sgraffito ware in Khania, and has
done research of his own on local pottery traditions (short section on
this in the Survey video, Nixon and Price 1995;
References for Pottery Analysis
Armstrong, Pamela and Helen Hatcher 1997. 'Byzantine and Allied Pottery,
Phase 2: Past Works on Materials Analysis and Future Prospects', in Materials
Analysis of Byzantine Pottery,
The Sphakia Survey: Internet Edition, University of Oxford 2000
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