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Understanding Archaeological Pottery - ARC00121M

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  • Department: Archaeology
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Gareth Perry
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

This module delves into the hidden depths of the humble pottery sherd. You’ll get to grips with archaeological pottery in new ways and explore a range of techniques that will open windows into the mind of the potter, enabling you to reconstruct how pottery was made and used in the past.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2023-24

Module aims

The module aims to:

  • Introduce the students to the processes involved in the manufacture of pottery and the social context in which production takes place.
  • Explore the ways in which archaeological evidence of pottery production and use can be studied and interpreted.
  • Provide a practical introduction to a broad range of scientific techniques used in the analysis of archaeological ceramics.
  • Use British pottery dating from the Iron Age to post-medieval periods to establish a basis for independent study of archaeological ceramics applicable to any region or period.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module the students should be able to:

  • Demonstrate an comprehensive understanding of pottery production and social context in which production takes place.
  • Evaluate critically the range of ways in which clay can be processed, vessels formed, decorated and fired and the analytical techniques which can be used to investigate and reconstruct these stages of production and the organisation of craft.
  • Evaluate the applicability and relevance of a range of scientific techniques and develop critiques of them to inform interpretations of pottery production and use practices.

Module content

Drawing on ethnographic and archaeological examples students are introduced to the process of pottery production and the social context in which it takes place. Through lectures and practical exercises, students will be guided through the methods available to archaeologists seeking to reconstruct and interpret pottery production practices. They will gain experience in interpreting surface characteristics, geochemical data, x-ray images and SEM microstructural analysis of ceramic, glazes and pigments to inform interpretations of raw material procurement and processing activities, forming procedures and firing regimes and use activities. By the end of the course students will have gained the basic skills that will enable them to plan and undertake independent research into potters’ production practice, selecting the most appropriate techniques and strategies to answer their research questions.


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Module feedback

Formative: oral feedback from module leaders

Summative: written feedback within the University's turnaround policy

Indicative reading

Hunt, A. 2016. Oxford Handbook of Archaeological Ceramic Analysis. Oxford: oxford University Press

Rice, P. 2015. Pottery Analysis: a sourcebook. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Rye, O. 1981. Pottery Technology: Principles and Reconstruction. Manuals in Archaeology 4. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.