2020 November - Archaeological Approaches to the Study of the Potter’s Wheel

Co-organised by
University of Amsterdam (NL)
University of Hradec Králové (CZ)

The recent past has witnessed a flowering of scholarship explicitly addressing the way that individuals, communities, and societies responded to the introduction of the pottery wheel. In region after region, period after period, existing potting traditions were adjusted, altered, supplanted, or otherwise changed as potters negotiated with the different practices that this technological device enabled. To date, however, discussions of the integration of rotational potting have been largely seated within geographically- and/or chronologically-focused literature. This conference provides a forum for scholars to discuss their work with colleagues, and will facilitate the development of a research network of shared interest which bridges those geographic and chronological divisions. The organizers welcome paper proposals from any context in which the potter’s wheel was adopted, and conference sessions are divided into three themes.

Theme 1

The first theme is centred on questions of the mode of research. As yet, there is no reliable, objective methodology for identifying the ways that the potter’s wheel was utilised in pottery forming sequences. This is in turn exacerbated by the rarity of robust sampling and acquisition of statistically significant data which might better accommodate questions of technological variability and technological development. Different approaches have been used to identify and describe vessels formed with rotation, relying on evidence such as traces viewed at the micro, meso, and macro scale, as well as through xeroradiography, CT scanning, and 3D visualisation to name a few. This evidence may or may not be supported by a body of experimental work or replicative potting. The inclusion of this theme in the conference sessions will allow for a dialogue to emerge regarding standards of practice in documentation, presentation, and terminology when describing the evidence.  

Theme 2

Beyond the foundational level of interpretation and documentation of evidence is the second theme, which addresses our approaches to understanding the evolution of wheel potting techniques. Each archaeological context in which these questions are asked is formed of its own particular context based on social, economic, and cultural spheres, which defined the character of the interplay between device capabilities and potting practices through time. How then can we capture the character of the innovation and clarify the driving forces behind its spread and evolution? In the case where a particular evolutionary scenario is proposed, what is the nature of the evidence used to support it? Is the likelihood of lasting technological change predicated on certain societal conditions? 

Theme 3

The final theme of the conference extends beyond the boundaries of the archaeological record, and privileges the knowledge and experience of people negotiating technological change, whether through ethnographic accounts or first-hand descriptions of change within a crafting context. Examples which can provide detailed insights into the anatomy of this innovation are especially encouraged. These narratives are often used as the basis for archaeological interpretation, and by emphasizing their importance as a central theme, a better understanding may be reached of emerging technologies as a process occurring within a complex social system

Further information and updates about the conference can be found at: https://potterswheelconference2020.wordpress.com

Please note that we are actively encouraging presenters to prepare for an all-digital conference, and contributors who cannot travel to Amsterdam (even if travel restrictions are lifted by November) will be able to make presentations through either livestreaming or pre-recorded presentations. The official language for the conference is English, so non-English presentations will be accommodated by adding English subtitling to pre-recorded presentations. We wish to ensure the widest possible participation through overcoming travel restrictions/costs as well as language barriers, and we encourage potential speakers to contact us to discuss arrangements for participation support. 

Organizers: Caroline Jeffra, Richard Thér, Chase Minos and Roeland Paardekooper

COVID-19 contingency plan

Like many conferences planned for 2020, we have been assessing the way that research and travel may be impacted due to the coronavirus pandemic. The organizers of Archaeological Approaches to the Study of the Potter’s Wheel have been working to create contingency plans. At present, the conference will proceed as planned. Given that the dates are in late November, we hope that there will be enough time for life to begin to return to normal. If this is not the case by mid-summer, then we will start putting the contingency plans into action.

We have also decided to create a second call for papers. In this round, we will be accepting abstracts through the end of May. If you submitted an abstract within the first round and wish to make changes then you may feel free to do so. We will be circulating the second call for papers in the coming week.

A high priority of the organization of this conference was, from the outset, to livestream presentations and encourage live participation in question-and-answer sessions by distant viewers as well. With this infrastructure in place, we are in a good position to convert the conference into an all-digital event. A number of other conferences scheduled for the spring have already taken this route, and we will follow these models.

We will be sharing updates on our page here, as well as through direct emails to speakers and participants. We hope to see you in Amsterdam, but if not we will see you online.


Tuesday, 24 November

12:00h (all times CET) Organizers’ Welcome

Inaugural Address by Prof. Sander van der Leeuw

Theme One

Traces of techniques – an experimental approach (N. Melko)
Quantification of the orientation of aplastic components of a ceramic body as the tool for the identification of the forming techniques utilising rotational kinetic energy: review of the current state of research (R. Thér and T. Mangel)
Web Application for Velocity Analysis of Hand-operated Wheel Replica (B. Neth and E. Hasaki)
Identification of the contribution of rotational movement in pottery forming sequence based on statistical analysis of surface (J. Wilszek and R. Thér)
The relationship between pore orientation and speed: an experimental approach (I. Berg)
A Return to the Wheel: Rethinking Experimental Methodologies in the Study of Early Wheel Potting (C. Minos)
Re-appraising the potter’s wheel in dynastic Egyptian and Sudanese sites (S. Doherty)
Widening participation in wheel-potting technique assessment (C. Jeffra)
Theme 1 Discussant Presentation (Prof. Carl Knappett)


Wednesday, 25 November

Theme Two

15:00h (CET) Day Two Welcome

How the Uruk potters used the wheel. New data on modalities and conditions of emergence of the potter’s wheel in the Uruk world (J.S. Baldi)
Examining Variability in Anatolian Early Bronze Age Hand-Made and Wheel-Made Pottery (A. Cercone)
Turning out the mould: tradition and innovation in the production of ration bowls in the ceremonial centre of Phaistos between the end of the III and the beginning of the II millennium BC (S. Todaro)
Different shades of Gray Minyan: dissecting an ‘iconic’ ceramic class of Middle Bronze Age, mainland Greece (A. Balitsari)
Southern vs. Northern Crete. Exploring diversity in the adoption of the potter’s wheel in Middle Minoan Crete (I. Caloi)
The introduction of the Potter’s Wheel in ancient Sudan (S. Doherty)
Is there only one type of potter’s wheel in Late Bronze Age Greece? (S. Prillwitz)
Pithos Production in the Late Bronze Age Southern Italy (F. Porta)


Thursday, 26 November

Theme Two

15:00h (CET) Day Three Welcome

Chronologies of a new mode of production: the spread of the fast potter’s wheel in Iron Age Iberia (1000 BC – 200 AD) (B. de Groot)
Wheel rotation on Early Iron Age and Archaic Naxian coarse wares: their context and evolution (X. Charalambidou)
Roman influences in the barbarian wheel-made pottery – what does it actually mean? (J. Rodzińska-Nowak)
Baltic ware in Latvia – a case for coexistence of different potting practises (A. Gunnarssone)
Old World methods, New World pots? The introduction of the potter’s wheel to the Spanish colonies of Concepción de la Vega and Cotuí (Dominican Republic 1495-1562) (M. Ernst and C. Hofman)


Friday, 27 November

Theme Three

15:00h (CET) Day Four Welcome

Reinventing the Wheel: Perpetual Innovation in Sinhalese Potter Assemblages (D. Winslow)
Many ways to turn a wheel: traditional use of the hand-wheel in modern Europe (R. Carlton)
As the Wheel Turns: the Globalized Evolution of Rotational Potting in the Anglophone Caribbean (P. Fay)
Re-made in disappearance, revisiting Aguabuena pottery making through discontinuity (D. Castallanos and F. Romano)
The potter’s wheel in the Chilean Central Valley a long-term perspective (J. García Rosselló)

Closing Remarks