The University of Southampton
Courses

ARCH3038 Pottery under the microscope: ceramic and lithic petrology

Module Overview

The study of pottery is central to archaeology as ceramics are always the most numerous finds from excavations and surveys. Pottery generally provides the main chronological framework into which the rest of the archaeological data is fitted and its study is at the cutting edge of a host of issues ranging from the ancient economy through to questions of identity and technology. This module provides an introduction to a number of scientific applications to pottery, in particular archaeological petrology. You will learn about some of the most common techniques for the analysis of different aspects of pottery and to understand how these techniques can enhance our understanding of past societies by means of a focus on food preparation, trade and exchange and technologies of manufacture. In particular, you will be shown how to make thin sections of potsherds and how to identify a range of some of the most common inclusions found within pottery fabrics using a polarising microscope. You will then put this information into practice and complete a petrological report on a group of archaeological potsherds under the supervision of the module co-ordinator.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• To familiarise you with a range of techniques for analysing pottery, with particular reference to the practice of ceramic petrology • To teach good laboratory practice, including health and safety, and laboratory skills such as making thin sections and correctly using petrological microscopes • To guide you in the choices available for scientifically investigating, characterising and sourcing pottery and ceramic objects, such as lipid residue, phytolith, spectroscopic and petrological analyses • To guide you in the process of interpreting petrological results in order to gain a greater understanding of ceramics by means of identifying the wide range of common inclusions that make up their composition • To base these practical lab skills within a framework of critical thinking and contemporary archaeological theory.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • The contribution made by spectroscopic, petrological and other approaches to the study of pottery, and the key literature on the subject
  • The use of technical equipment such as the polarising microscope
  • How to make and interpret thin sections
  • The range of minerals commonly found in pottery and their identification in archaeological samples.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Plan and implement a petrological research project
  • Evaluate, present and interpret archaeological data appropriately
  • Present results clearly in written and spoken format
  • Write a petrological report to a professional standard
  • Undertake specific laboratory-based activities and demonstrate understanding of appropriate behaviour in the laboratory environment
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Understand the role of materials science in the study of certain categories of material culture
  • Select and apply appropriate methodological approaches to the study of pottery
  • Critically evaluate publications in the field of archaeological petrology and other scientific analyses of ceramics.

Syllabus

This module provides an introduction to the skills and approaches of material science, in particular archaeological petrology. You will learn the most common practical techniques for the analysis of pottery, including how to make thin sections and how to interpret them using a polarising microscope. You will be taught to identify a range of the most common inclusions found within pottery fabrics, and to understand how these techniques can enhance our understanding of past societies by means of a focus on trade and exchange, and technologies of manufacture. You will complete a petrological research report under the supervision of the module co-ordinator.

Special Features

The module is strongly rooted in practical laboratory skills, and where possible students will be encouraged to take advantage of laboratory facilities beyond the discipline of Archaeology – for example other discipline laboratories across the university, and facilities at English Heritage, Fort Cumberland. The module will be an excellent addition to the CVs of those interested in a career as an archaeological ceramicist or finds specialist, or indeed in further scientific study or parallel, non-archaeological scientific career. The independent research exercise, and the production of a professional report, is key features of the module, allowing students to design and implement their own research strategies, and to investigate aspects of past material culture of particular interest to them.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: • One three-hour session per week, to comprise explanation followed by a practical session to demonstrate skills, discuss approaches and monitor progress • Self-guided work within the laboratories to embed skills learned during practical sessions, and to work on exercise material, both under informal supervision and independently. Learning activities include: • Preparatory reading before each practical session, and throughout the module • Self-guided laboratory work outside class time to progress project work • Oral presentation of exercise results (formative)

TypeHours
External visits3
Follow-up work60
Preparation for scheduled sessions14
Lecture11
Practical classes and workshops22
Completion of assessment task40
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Quinn, P. S. (2009). Interpreting Silent Artefacts: Petrographic Approaches to Archaeological Ceramics. 

Kerr, P. (1977). Optical Mineralogy. 

Quinn, P. S. (2013). Ceramic Petrography: The Interpretation of Archaeological Pottery & Related Artefacts in Thin Section. 

Kempe, D.R.C. and Harvey, A.P.(eds) (1983). The Petrology of Archaeological Artefacts. 

Martinón-Torres, M. and Rehren, T. (2008). Archaeology, History and Science: integrating approaches to ancient materials. 

Pellant, C. (1992). Rocks and Minerals. 

Cox, K.G., Price, N.B. and Harte, B. (1974). An Introduction to the Practical Study of Crystals, Minerals and Rocks. 

Bell, P. and Wright, D. (1985). Rocks and Minerals. 

Gribble, C.D. and Hall, A.J. (1992). Optical Minerology: Principles and Practice. 

Henderson, J. (2000). The Science and Archaeology of Materials: An Investigation of Inorganic Materials. 

Rye, O. S. (1981). Pottery Technology: Principles and Reconstruction. 

Rice, P.M. (1987). Pottery Analysis: A Sourcebook. 

Orton, C. and Hughes, M. (2013). Pottery in Archaeology. 

Assessment

Assessment Strategy

Assessments designed to provide informal feedback: • Progress in acquiring practical skills will be monitored by module coordinator, and you will have lots of opportunities to discuss your progress during class • You will discuss preparation for and implementation of your assignments, in particular the petrological study of your given ceramic assemblage, with the module co-ordinator. Accreditation for this module is compulsory. The formal written assessments will promote skills of analysis and critical thinking. They will also reinforce organisational, planning and writing skills

Summative

MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (3000 words) 40%
Report  (3000 words) 60%

Referral

MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (3000 words) 40%
Report  (3000 words) 60%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal

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