Study of Early Pottery Workshops in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Near East Around 6,000 cal. BC

By: Ingmar Franz, Freiburg University, George A. Barton Fellow

The goal of my project was an in-depth survey of the literature focusing on early pottery production in the Neolithic and Early Chalcolithic periods in the Eastern Mediterranean Basin and the Near East. The well-organized Albright library provided the opportunity for me to find almost every source I needed. Discussions with the fellows at the institute were also fruitful and contributed to the success of my project.

In the first weeks at the Albright, I realized that although textile and basketry production is seen by scholars as an important technology during the Neolithic period, they have not looked at the connection to pottery technology. Unfortunately, I could not find any Neolithic pottery workshops in the Levant and Mesopotamia, but I did find two well documented pottery workshops from the Early Chalcolithic and the Late Bronze Age in Syria at Tell Kosak Shamali (~5000 cal. BC) and Tell Sabi Abyad (~1200 cal. BC). This indicated that the remains from Çatalhöyük West (~ 6000 cal. BC) were the oldest pottery production contexts in the region discovered so far. Due to the lack of pottery workshops, the focus of my research shifted to looking for evidence of basketry and plaster vessel (“white ware”)  production, both of which can be seen as the predecessor or bridge to pottery technology. A third very interesting and still mysterious artifact category is the so-called “sling missiles,” which are found at many Neolithic and Chalcolithic sites in Mesopotamia, and which are comparable in size and shape to the unfired clay balls from Çatalhöyük West.

With this shift of interest, I collected a great deal of data for my research, registering basket and textile remains from the Naḥal Ḥemar Cave; impressions of basketry and mats on pottery from Tell es-Sultan, Sha’ar Hagolan, Munḥata; remains of plastered storage installations from Tell es-Sultan; plastered human statues with basket or wattle impressions on the interior from Tell es-Sultan, Ain’ Ghazal and from every major site at which data existed throughout the Pre-Pottery and Pottery Neolithic periods and onwards; including basketry and textile production like bone awls, needles, shuttles, and spindle whorls. Concerning plaster vessels, it turned out that most of the objects from Tell Ramad, Yiftaḥ’el, and Labwe were from the Pottery Neolithic period and, therefore, occur together with pottery. This shows that plaster vessels actually could be unfired pottery like the pieces found at Çatalhöyük. Clay “sling missiles” are known from many sites in Mesopotamia. Although they are mostly found in domestic contexts, they are interpreted as “sling missiles” because they look like date-shaped lead sling missiles used by slingers in Greco-Roman antiquity. Consequently they are seen as evidence for early warfare in human history (e.g. ~6000 cal. BC at Hacılar or ~3500 cal. BC at Hamoukar). In fact, they consist of sun-baked clay which has been rolled by hand when the clay was still wet. Considering the domestic contexts in which they were found, the “sling missiles” seem more like collected raw material for clay seals or pottery.

My research showed that “white ware” and “sling missiles” are still quite mysterious and not well studied finds which could be seen as remains of pottery production. Only archaeometric material analyses and direct comparison with results on pottery technology, which I do with my research on the pottery technology at Çatalhöyük, will help unravel this mystery. Due to the sparsely available data on pottery production I realized that I have to look at the early stage of pottery technology which ranges ca. from 7000-5000 cal. B.C. in the region to finally understand the developments around 6000 cal. BC.

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