HS2431: Ceramics in Archaeology

School Archaeology
Department Code SHARE
Module Code HS2431
External Subject Code F400
Number of Credits 20
Level L6
Language of Delivery English
Module Leader DR Ben Jervis
Semester Double Semester
Academic Year 2015/6

Outline Description of Module

Pottery is one of the most ubiquitous artefacts recovered from archaeological sites. This module will provide students with the skills required to undertake an analysis of a ceramic assemblage through a mixture of practical workshops and lectures. The course will cover the various stages of pottery manufacture and how we are able to identify these archaeologically and offer opportunities for experimental work to allow students to gain a greater understanding of the processes of ceramic production. The course will also cover how archaeologists go about using ceramics to understand site formation processes and date archaeological sites. Students will be required to work with a ceramic assemblage and produce a report, allowing them to learn and put into practice data handling and presentation skills.

On completion of the module a student should be able to

  • Understand the significance of ceramic studies within the context of the archaeological discipline.
  • Be able to demonstrate the importance of ethnographic and cross-cultural comparison in the understanding of archaeological ceramics.
  • Be equipped with the skills required to record and analyse a ceramic assemblage from an archaeological context.
  • Understand the relationship between ceramics and the interpretation of archaeological sites.
  • Have a broad background understanding of the scientific techniques which can be used in the further analysis of ceramics.
  • Appreciate the standard of work required to undertake analysis in accordance with professional best practice.
  • Be able to present technical data relating to archaeological ceramics in an appropriate written format.

Additionally, students will have the opportunity to develop analytical and presentation skills and to apply quantitative skills learnt through this module and other modules taken as part of their degree.


How the module will be delivered

11 x lectures (1hr)

7 x practical sessions (1hr)

2 x seminar (1hr)

Plus additional lab practical time for the undertaking of coursework.

Skills that will be practised and developed

  • Skills associated with the practical analysis of archaeological ceramics, including the identification of Skills associated with the practical analysis of archaeological ceramics, including the identification of inclusions, forming and firing techniques.
  • The compilation and presentation of quantitative and qualitative data.
  • Oral presentation skills.
  • Time management and teamwork.
  • Competence in laboratory based archaeological work,
  • Comprehension of the problematic and varied nature of artefact based evidence.
  • The ability to plan, deliver and disseminate a discrete piece of archaeological research.
  • The gathering and analysis of secondary archaeological data.

How the module will be assessed

The module will consist of 2 major assessed elements. The first will be an individual essay which will require students to explore the relationship between ceramic studies and the archaeology of a particular period and/or region. The second will be a pottery report on a small assemblage of material. This will be produced in accordance with professional best practice. Although the reports themselves will be an individual piece of work, students will work on their assemblage in groups and will also be guided through the various stages of analysis as they progress through the course.

In addition students will be required to produce a short reflective report on their experience of practical pottery making. This will allow them to reflect upon the lessons learnt during this experience and how it might enhance their understanding of archaeological ceramics. 

Assessment Type   %Contribution       Title                                 Approx date of Assessment

Summative                        50                 Essay                                   End of Semester 1

Formative                          N/A               Presentation 5 minutes          Week11

Summative                        50                Pottery report (2,000 words)    End of Semester 2

Formative                          N/A              Short reflective report             Upon completion of experimental element 

                                                                                                         of course


The opportunity for reassessment in this module -Resubmission of assignment by end of summer exam period.




Assessment Breakdown

Type % Title Duration(hrs)
Written Assessment 50 Hs2431 - Essay (2,000 Words) N/A
Report 50 Hs2431 - Pottery Report ( 2,000 Words) N/A

Syllabus content

1          Why Study Pottery?

2          The Chaine Opératoire

3          Science and pottery

4          Resource procurement 1: Clay

5          Resource procurement 2: Temper

6          READING WEEK

7          Introduction to fabric analysis

8          Forming techniques

9          Describing form

10         Decoration

11         Trade: Student presentations


1          Firing

2          Ceramic Use

3          Introduction to Medieval Pottery

4          Producing a pottery report

5          READING WEEK

6          Quantification

7          Quantitative Methods

8          Work on pottery report

9          Work on pottery report

10         Work on pottery report

11         Taphonomy and Deposition

Essential Reading and Resource List

Jervis, B. 2014, Pottery and Social Life in Medieval England, Oxbow.

Quinn, P. 2013, Ceramic Petrography: The interpretation of pottery & related artefacts in thin section, Archaeopress.

Arnold, D. 1985, Ceramic Theory and Cultural Process, Cambridge University Press.

Neff, H. 2005, Ceramics in Archaeology: Readings from American Antiquity, Society for American Archaeology.

Gibson, A. 2002, Prehistoric Pottery in Britain and Ireland, Tempus.

Miller, D. 1985, Artefacts as Categories: A Study of Ceramic Variability in Central India, Cambridge University Press.

Peacock, D. 1982, Pottery in the Roman World: An  Ethnoarchaeological Approach, Longman.

McCarthy, M and Brooks, C. 1988, Medieval Pottery in Britain, AD 900-1600, Longman.

Costin, C. 2000, ‘The Use of Ethnoarchaeology for the Archaeological Study of Ceramic Production’, Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 7(4), 377-403.

Medieval & Later Pottery in Wales (journal).

Medieval Ceramics (journal).

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