zaterdag 9 april 2011

A sherd story

Muti washing sherds
There is obviously something going on between archaeologists and sherds. To the lay eye, our profession seems obsessed with broken pots. But is it really so? And what do we do with them anyway?
The problem with traces of human activities is that they tend to decay and disappear quite quickly. Wood rots, metal corrodes, even bone can disappear under the action of acid soils. But ceramic survives quite well, even in difficult environments. Besides, as pots don´t have a very long lifetime, the usual household needs lots of them and leave a sort of ceramic print of its habits and status. Hence, pottery analysis is an essential component of any archaeological excavation.

A sherd collection
Pottery sherds are first collected layer per layer, washed, dried, sorted, counted, weighted and photographed.  After that, some of them are selected, numbered, drawn, measured and described one by one. The description focuses on shape, technique and ornamentation. This part of the work is done by the archaeologists during the excavation. The final analysis, however, will be carried out later by a ceramic expert, the ceramologist. 

Mai-lin and Patrick discussing the
orientation of a sherd
It is too early to draw final conclusions, but a quick look at the ceramics from Bukit Gombak already gives interesting results. The Chinese ceramics found on the site show that the hill was used from the 13th-14th century onward. The quantity and variety of the local ceramics confirm that the place was a settlement. The distribution of the ceramics seems also to indicate that the (wooden) buildings that made up this settlement were concentrated in the south and on the northern plateau, but not at the top of the hill (although postholes have been discovered there, the lack of pottery suggests a different type of use). Strangely enough, the eastern slope has yielded a material quite different from the other areas excavated until now, with a very large number of sherds with cord mark

The end of the excavation is approaching, but the heaps of sherds awaiting study suggest that the sherd story is just beginning.

Sekar measuring a sherd

Dayat´s drawing