The Sociology of Pottery in Ancient Israel

by Gloria Anne London
The Sociology of Pottery in Ancient Israel
Gloria Anne London
Journal of the American Oriental Society
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 Reviewed work(s): The Sociology of Pottery in Ancient Israel by Bryant G. Wood In a book dealing with the sociology of pottery, one anticipates learning about the organization, institution, and development of that sector of society that produces pottery for use and distribution throughout the society as a whole. This slim and costly volume addresses some of these concerns. The perspective of the pottery industry Wood presents will be acceptable to most biblical archaeologists in that he describes Bronze and Iron Age pottery as made on the outskirts of cities by men who mass-produced wares of a high technological level to serve the needs of a largely urban population. The "technology seems to remain unchanged throughout the Bronze and Iron Ages", and the industry was a sophisticated organization at times under royal jurisdiction, much like other craft production. However, the archaeological remains are sufficiently ambiguous to allow an alternate perspective of the pottery industry, the society, the people, and their material culture, especially since "we lack good examples of urban industry production". The pottery industry may have been a rural activity, not only in times of reduced urbanization, as Wood suggests, but during most periods. Wood treats the ceramics industry as a stable monolithic entity, yet technological studies of the manufacturing techniques of pottery demonstrate the coexistence of different technologies as well as significant changes throughout the Bronze and Iron Ages. Early Bronze II and III Age wares from Tell Yarmuth display diversity of materials and techniques which imply a heterogeneous ceramics industry (London 1988). If the pottery achieved the high technological level Wood describes, why was so much painted pottery imported? Why are the native wares so thick? If potters ranked among royal craftspeople, why did they have such a low status as Wood suggests? Wood relies on ethnographic data to infer a low status for potters, but is it appropriate to transfer the present day status of traditional potters to their ancient counterparts (McGovern 1989: 4)? If pottery was a sophisticated and highly valued product of royal potters, and "consumers undoubtedly placed a high value on cooking and eating vessels", why are metal kitchen containers mentioned in dowries, but not the ubiquitous clay pots (London, Egoumenidou, and Karageorghis 1989: 18; Roth 1991)? Price lists of clay pots indicate that they were inexpensive containers which were as replaceable as they were breakable. It is archaeologists who value pots and sherds.  Since pottery manufacture involves naturally occurring materials (clay, water, pigment, and wood) the environmental constraints on pottery production are an initial consideration, yet one Wood avoids. Although he suggests that ancient potters, who cut down trees for fuel for fire pots, might be in part responsible for deforestation, potters deserve praise as environmental conservationists. They use alternative fuels to fire pots which have little other use, such as pine cones, dried straw, or dung (London 1981: 194). Further evidence of energy conservation is the dark gray core of many Bronze (London 1988: 122) and Iron Age wares (Franken and Kalsbeek 1974: 65). Rather than indicative of "poor firing," the darkened core reflects the potters' control over the fire and fuel preservation. Instead of wasting fuel to fire the clay a single color throughout the wall thickness, the potters chose to fire wares to the point at which they were serviceable and useable. The result is functional pottery fired with a minimum of fuel. Many of the points raised by Wood warrant further testing, such as the uniformity of wares as evidence of their mass-production. What is the quantitative evidence of uniformity? What is meant by "local production"--made at the site, near the site, or not too far away? According to neutron activation analysis, Wood notes that since pottery from Tell el-Hesi and from smaller adjacent settlements is the same, this "supports the contention that the majority of the pottery of satellite villages was produced at the urban center". But the reverse, i.e., rural production, is equally possible. In contrast to the unified, unchanging, monolithic reconstruction Wood creates, the ancient ceramics industry was complex, diverse, and amenable to significant changes (London 1988: 124; 1989: 71). If one studies the pottery itself to learn how the pots were made, their diversity implies that large scale production lines may have been in operation at times, but for most of antiquity, pottery was a rural craft involving men, women, and children who made pottery for use in their own homes and sold wares to the non-pottery producing segment of society. Why deny the role of women in the industry, as others (Walz 1985) suggest? There is direct evidence of their participation in the craft (London 1987; and see Meyers 1988 for the role of women in ancient Israel). Ancient potters changed their technologies, forms, and finishes over the years to meet the needs of their clientele, although on the short time scale they exhibit the conservative tendencies common to most people in all aspects of life throughout time. Wood uses ethnographic data from various societies, but avoids demonstrating their applicability to Bronze and Iron Age research. Recent studies of potters in the region are omitted (e.g., Rashaya of the Potters, 1983). Wood argues against a significant lag between pottery used in villages versus urban settings. If decorated imported pottery of the type found at big tells was brought to Deir Alla and other small communities, then he expects to find there the latest, most up-to-date normal wares. But people in all villages and towns probably made more effort to acquire imported artifacts than to own the latest model cooking pot. Can one expect contemporaneous sites of different functions, sizes, and locations to provide identical ceramic assemblages? Franken correctly assumes that there will be different mechanisms operating at sites of different sizes and that it is inappropriate to expect to find identical artifacts at sites of differing functions within any single archaeological period. The material culture of contemporaneous urban and rural centers differs, both today and in the past (London 1989a: 42). Thus Wood raises valid questions, but the data gathered here do not always provide decisive answers. REFERENCES Franken, H. J., and J. Kalsbeek. In Search of the Jericho Potters: Ceramics from the Iron Age and from the Neolithicum. Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1974. London, G. A. "Dung-tempered Clay." Journal of Field Archaeology 8 (1981): 189-95. -----. "Cypriote Potters: Past and Present." Report of the Department of Antiquities, Cyprus (1987): 319-22. -----. "The Organization of the Early Bronze II and III Ceramics Industry at Tel Yarmuth." In Yarmouth I: Rapport sur les trois premieres campagnes de fouilles a Tel Yarmouth (Israel), ed. P. de Miroschedji et al. Pp. 117-24. Paris: Editions Recherche sur les Civilisations, 1988. -----. "On Fig Leaves, Itinerant Potters, and Pottery Production Locations in Cyprus." In Cross-craft and Cross-cultural Interactions in Ceramics, ed. P. E. McGovern, M. D. Notis. Ceramics and Civilization IV, ed. W. D. Kingery. Pp. 65-80. Westerville: American Ceramics Society, 1989. |= London 1989~ -----. "A Comparison of Two Contemporaneous Lifestyles of the Late Second Millennium B.C." Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 273 (1989): 37-55. |= London 1989a~ London, G., F. Egoumenidou, and V. Karageorghis. Traditional Pottery in Cyprus. Mainz: von Zabern, 1989. McGovern, P. E. "Ceramics and Ceramic Interaction: A Theoretical Framework, with Prefatory Remarks." In Cross-craft and Cross-cultural Interactions in Ceramics, ed. P. E. McGovern, M. D. Notis. Pp. 1-11. Westerville: American Ceramics Society, 1989. Meyers, C. Discovering Eve. Oxford: Oxford University, 1988. Rashaya of the Potters. Tel Aviv: Museum Haaretz, 1983 |Hebrew~. Roth, M. "The Dowries of the Women of the Itti-Mardukbalatu Family." JAOS 111 (1991): 19-37. Walz, C. "Ethnographic Analogy and the Gender of Potters in the Late Cypriote Bronze Age." Report of the Department of Antiquities, Cyprus (1985): 126-32. COPYRIGHT 1992 American Oriental Society 

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