a self-absorbed travelogue

Ceramics

Chapter 19: I’m Back, Megobrebo!

Well, I’m back. Not just back on the blogosphere, but I’m also back in Georgia preparing for my second season of field work. This time around I’m here for only 6 months, but its going to be jammed packed with Colchian archaeological goodness. The blog I kept last year was really helpful in organizing my thoughts and forcing me to think about my experiences here. This year I hope to continue my self-absorbed ranting while at the same time adding a second blog into the mix.  I know, be still your heart.

The new blog will be entirely about my project at Vani and will allow me to keep those interested informed about the work we’re doing. This will of course allow this space to be used for all the inane musings for which I have become famous. I will send out a link to the new blog once it is up and running. I was encouraged to keep a project blog by my friend, Alice Wright, who keeps a pretty good one herself.  Check it out: http://gardencreekarchaeology.wordpress.com/2012/03/04/first-week-back-gcap-2012/

With that out of the way, I can now get down to the business of talking about myself and Georgia. I arrived back in Sakartvelo on leap day, and I have been staying at a guesthouse near the city center. Since my arrival, I have been organizing my move to Vani and working on a paper on Colchian pottery. Progress has been made on both fronts. My original plan was to leave for Vani on March 8th (this Thursday), but I have been informed that there are 14 cm of snow on the ground there. It’s hard to survey with that much snow on the ground, and the current temperature would make working at the museum slow and uncomfortable. So, I think I will postpone my trip for a few days and continue to work with the materials here in Tbilisi.

I apologize for not having any pictures to post. I have not been the shutterbug I usually am. This will change! Hope everyone out there is well. I promise that future posts will have more substance and more pretty things to look at (mostly me, unfortunately). Until next time, be excellent to each other!

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Chapter 14: In which I finally start talking about work

Due to a combination of laziness and intermittent internet signal, I have not updated you all on the state of my research in some time.  A significant part of my research relies on ceramic analysis, that is the collection, classification and analysis of pot sherds.  Currently I am working at the Otar Lordkipanidze Centre of Archaeology, which is located approximately five blocks from me on the same street on which I live.  In the fall, we were given a room on the first floor adjacent to the garage area.  The room was a good size and had a large table making it easy to spread out ceramics.  On the negative side, it had an ancient refrigerator that rewarded those who opened its door with a smell that triggered a pre-vomit reflex (watery mouth, abdominal convulsion and a sweet acidic taste at the back of the throat).   We have since moved into the interior of the center.

I thought it would be good to give a quick overview of the process we are using through the magic of digital imagery.  The pottery we have been working with in Tbilisi is from our excavations at Shuamta, a site located to the west of Vani.  Ceramics were separated by stratigraphic unit, placed in bags and labeled.  Some initial analysis of the ceramics was done in the field, but no typological study had been carried out.  At the end of the season these ceramics were transported to Tbilisi for storage.  It was in this state that I found them when I arrived in September.  So without further adieu: Behold, the reality that is archaeology!

Step 1:  Pick a bag, read the tag

The tags record the date the pottery was excavated, the trench from which it was excavated and the stratigraphic unit (in this case #1).  On the tag it also tells how many total bags of pottery belong to this unit (here it says there are a total of four).  This particular bag held all of the clearly diagnostic sherds from the unit.  Diagnostic sherds are those which allow use to assign a type to the fragment, and ideally a date as well.  Generally speaking, rims, handles and bases are the most common diagnostic fragments.  To this may be added decorated pieces or those with a particularly unique technique for production.  Ultimately, whether a fragment is diagnostic or not depends on the pottery assemblage that is being studied.

Step 2: Spread the fragments out on a table

Once the fragments are spread out, we begin the process of grouping like fragments together.  Depending on what is included in the assemblage, these groups can be based on form, decoration, fabric, etc.  It is a visual exercise and can be compared to separating puzzle pieces before putting the puzzle together.

Step 3: Reconstruction

Here is a picture of my colleague Sulkhan Kharabadze looking for joins in the pottery.  Finding joins is not always a necessary step, but my Georgian colleagues insist on reconstructing all the fragments possible before moving to the actual coding of the ceramics.  Having separated the fragments earlier into groups is extremely helpful in finding joins.  Many of the breaks we find were from excavation (i.e. they are new breaks).  I hope to address this issue when/if we are able to carry out excavations this/next summer.  Once joins are identified, we glue them together.

Sulkhan is incredibly adept at finding joins.  Here is a base he reconstructed.

Step 4: Re-Grouping

Once it appears the majority of joins have been made, the pottery is again categorized, this time as the first step in analysis.  As far as I know, there is no typology of the pottery of the period we have been studying (8th-early 6th BCE). There are general trends which allow us to establish these dates, but no firm typology.  I am currently producing one, but being that it is my first typology, it is slow going.  Here the pottery is divided from top to bottom into rims, shoulders, handles, bases and body sherds.

Step 5: Coding

Callipers: the real bullwhip of archaeology.  Once the organizational issues are out of the way, it is time to code ceramics.  Important measurements of each fragment are taken and recorded in a spread sheet.  I have also developed a number code for surface treatments and fabric description.  As of now it appears that ceramics from this period vary in fabric and surface due to irregular firing techniques.  Inclusions are universally similar and there are no clear patterns of variation in surface color and biscuit color.  I am currently seeking out whole vessels stored by the various museums in Georgia to supplement the material we have excavated.  These vessels will help me understand the dominant forms of the period as well as understand if there is regional variation in similarly dated assemblages.  Once all the coding is done, we can put it through a statistical program and begin to understand patterns in the data.

There is so much I am doing that makes me feel out of my depth.  It’s one thing to read and think about the right way to do things, it’s another to actually try and implement good practice.  I will simply continue to do my best.