Pottery Processing

by Evelyn Feldman

We pack up the site for the day around 1:00, but the day’s work is not over yet; after a delicious lunch at Stavroula’s, the 25-ish minute car trip back to Dilesi, and a break during siesta, the hottest period of the day, the whole group goes to work again at 5:00 pm for pottery washing. The only exceptions are on Saturdays, when we skip pottery washing and start the weekend early (saving the unwashed pottery and bones for an extra big work load on Monday) and on this past Thursday the 19th, when we started right when we got back and worked through siesta. That experience made me truly appreciate the mid-day break, as it was much, much sunnier and hotter in the courtyard where we work at 2:30 than it is at 5:00.

There are other things going on besides pottery washing too. There are also bones that need to be washed, which we all do, and a small group of students with lots of knowledge of osteology go through already-washed bones and process them in mysterious ways. Lately many students have also been helping the supervisors to process the pottery, including myself. Last week, Sara Daruvala and I worked together as a team to process pottery sherds from Morgan’s trench. 
This means grabbing a bag of some of the already-washed pottery from one or two days earlier and laying it all out in a pile on a table in the courtyard. Together Sara and I go through it and sort it into various categories: fine-ware, medium-ware or coarse-ware; painted or unpainted; and what part of the vessel it is from, such as a body sherd or a handle or part of a base. This part of the process usually takes quite a while, depending on the size of the bag we selected, and afterwards we count the different categories, weigh them, and record all the numbers on special sheets made for this purpose. 
The teamwork is especially helpful to have, because it’s not always easy to tell what category something should go into. Though Sara and I work twice as fast going through a bag by sorting together, the real triumph of our team is being able to ask questions of each other. “Medium or fine-ware?”; “is that paint?”; “does this look like a handle to you?”;  “isn’t this a rock?” The first two questions are the most common, and usually if we can’t make a decision alone, we can at least make one together.
The part I find most difficult is definitely deciding what category of coarse, medium, or fine something should be in when it’s somewhat in between two categories. In that case, we have to look extra closely at inclusions, the larger chunks of things that are part of the sherd’s fabric. If there are more than just a small amount, it’s medium, and if there are a lot it goes in coarse. But it’s often difficult to see the fabric and inclusions very well, because the only place to get a good look is the edges of the sherd, and those are just a tiny slice sometimes; plus often they’re still a bit dirty–it’s very hard to get pottery perfectly clean. Then the dirt will look like inclusions, because dirt is lumpy, but it’s usually actually just dirt.
It’s really great getting to look at all the pottery when it’s clean and dry and getting to examine it so closely in order to sort it. I often notice things I normally might not have, and in general it’s an opportunity to examine great amounts of very old  and sometimes very beautiful pottery  as closely as I would ever like to. And last week, there was added enjoyment through the fact that on site I had also been working in Morgan’s trench. I got to examine and process lots of pottery that I myself had dug up. It has also provided an opportunity to be able to observe a change in the trench in a way that isn’t quite possible on site, when the pottery is still covered in dirt and when I am only one of many people adding to the pottery buckets; when processing, you get to see everything that’s there, after it’s been cleaned, and after processing for Morgan for a week, I feel like I was definitely able to observe a change in the types of pottery sherds Sara and I were processing as Morgan’s trench progressed to deeper levels.
It has been wonderful working with Sara and helping Morgan. I love how much I’ve been able to learn and experience from this job, and from the entire trip so far. 

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