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Mr Michel De Vreeze

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Research Topic

Ceramic data and narrative of the Bronze Age Levant.


This research forms an interdisciplinary collaboration between the departments of Archaeology and Anthropology funded by a Social Science & Health Interdisciplinary Scholarship. The study will incorporate specific case-studies on ceramics from the Bronze Age Levant in a wide geographical and temporal framework (Euphrates to southern Levant, 3600-1200 BC). The research will incorporate phylogenetic methods-such as cladistics-which are borrowed from biology and have been successfully applied to the study of material culture in recent anthropological and archaeological case-studies.

Pottery has played an important role in Levantine Bronze Age archaeology from its incipience. Initially, it was mainly used as a tool to identify subsequent cultural periods in time. These divisions were based on stratigraphical sequences in tell excavations and sequences in tomb assemblages, and incorporated an implicit framework that treated pottery styles as examples of actual cultures. Throughout the years, Levantine archaeology has compiled large datasets of such ceramic information resulting in numerous publications. These datasets largely follow this similar approach that treats ceramic styles by period and focuses on distinct styles as related to certain cultures. Syntheses of the Levantine ceramic record have involved the formulation of such regional styles in ceramic repertoires, which treated ceramic styles as rather fixed entities in time. Yet throughout these works, many researchers have acknowledged the large presence of continuity in the ceramic record throughout the Bronze Ages.

Generally defined, cladistics is a method that classifies things on the basis of the sequence by which they diverge from a common ancestor. This focus on ancestral relationships can be related to processes in cultural transmission of material culture. In our case, this comprises traditions in ceramic production. By applying cladistics and related methods, it is hoped that we can quantify and specify the way ceramic traditions were transmitted in time and space throughout the Bronze Age Levant. This would ideally incorporate the full chaîne opératoire of ceramic production, as this sequence in production forms the basis of variation introduced in the ceramic record, and relates directly to the choices a potter needs to make. Yet, for this study, we depend largely on processed ceramic data. Hence, the goal of this research is twofold:

1) An evaluation of the way we process ceramic data, and the implicit and explicit choices that are made in the collection and presentation of this data. How does the way we collect ceramic data limit our possibilities to quantify and qualify the transmission of different ceramic traits?

2) By using phylogenetic methods which focus on the difference in transmission of ceramic traits, we hope to quantify certain processes in Levantine ceramic production that are identified in the Bronze Age ceramic record. Above all, we hope to reconstruct more fluid patterns of transmission in the ceramic record that relate to the actual continuity in ceramic traditions, and to distinguish the difference in which particular traits in pottery production are transmitted in the Bronze Age Levant. This will hopefully result in a better understanding of the different ways pottery developments relate to other social-cultural developments in this area and period.

Research Groups

Department of Archaeology

  • Prehistory of Eurasia Research Group