image/svg+xml181XII/2/2021INTERDISCIPLINARIA ARCHAEOLOGICANATURAL SCIENCES IN ARCHAEOLOGYhomepage: http://www.iansa.euHow the Uruk Potters Used the Wheel. New Data on Modalities and Conditions of Emergence of the Potter’s Wheel in the Uruk WorldJohnny Samuele Baldi1*1CNRS, UMR 5133 Archéorient, 7 rue Raulin, 69365 Lyon, France1. Introduction1.1 Urbanisation and potter’s wheel: from myths to current questionsAccording to a traditional historical perspective, the spread of the potter’s wheel in Mesopotamia – and especially in the southern Alluvium – occurred in the 4thmillennium BCE (Abu al-Soof, 1985; Lloyd, 1948; Laneri and di Pilato, 2000; Butterlin, 2003). This conviction – the result of a linear and teleological vision of history (and essentially of Western history – Childe, 1929) – ofered a coherent theoretical and historical framework. This perspective on the potter’s wheel matched well with a perception of techniques as neutral human endeavours devoid of specifc sociocultural meanings and largely dictated by environmental and functional constraints. As “extra-somatic” strategy of adaptation, a technique – and especially a new one – was assumed to physically respond to the socio-economic goals to overcome the limits imposed by the environment. Therefore, it was rational to associate the difusion of a new disruptive technology with another crucial innovation emerging in 4thmillennium Mesopotamia, namely urbanization (Mellowan, 1970; Algaze, 1993). The stereotype considering wheel-made pottery as the result of wheel-throwing on the so-called fast wheel imbues the potter’s wheel with a series of alleged intrinsic techno-functional attributes enabling efciency, standardisation, and intensifcation in pottery production (Haller, 1932; Kalsbeek, 1980). The frst cities were considered as social containers gathering large numbers of inhabitants supposedly sharing the same ceramic needs, to which specialised craftsmen necessarily had to respond, in a new, standardised way, with a large-scale production: bevelled-rim bowls (henceforth BRBs – Lloyd and Safar, 1943; Beale, 1978).However, recent studies on the potter’s wheel by Valentine Roux (1994; 2003a; 2009; 2012) and other scholars (Roux and Corbetta, 1989; Roux and Courty, 1995; 1997; 1998; Roux and Mirischedji, 2009; Berg, 2006; 2007; 2008; 2011; Jefra, 2011; 2013; Roux and Jefra, 2015; Choleva, 2012; 2018; 2020) have overcome environmental and economic deterministic views on techniques, while knowledge on 4thmillennium BCE Mesopotamia has also advanced considerably (Rothman, 2002; Wright, 2001; Volume XII ● Issue 2/2021 ● Pages 181–199*Corresponding author. E-mail: jsb.arch@gmail.comARTICLE INFOArticle history:Received: 29thJanuary 2021Accepted: 8thSeptember 2021DOI: words:potter’s wheel difusionUrukLate Chalcolithicsouthern Mesopotamianorthern MesopotamiaTell FeresQara DaghABSTRACTThe phase and the ceramic materials that, in Southern Mesopotamia, go under the label of “Uruk” (after the toponym of the site in southern Iraq) have traditionally been considered the origin for the development of the potter’s wheel in the Near East, according to a perspective that associated the emergence of the potter’s wheel, the “mass” production of the so-called bevelled-rim bowls and frst urbanization. According to recent excavations and ceramic studies it is now clear that this was a narrative based on a priori convictions. However, even if under very diferent socio-technical conditions, it is true that the potter’s wheel made an early appearance in Southern Mesopotamia within the Uruk cultural sphere, and then developed in a widespread and discontinuous way in the Uruk network. Based on recent ongoing feldwork data from Syria (Tell Feres) and Iraqi Kurdistan (Logardan and Girdi Qala), ceramic analyses have taken into account new criteria to identify the use of the potter’s wheel. This paper outlines the chronological and socio-technical scenario behind the adoption of the potter’s wheel in the Uruk world, picturing the peculiarities of this cultural environment, as well as the parallels with the emergence conditions of the potter’s wheel in northern Mesopotamia and other areas of the Near East.
image/svg+xmlIANSA 2021 ● XII/2 ● 181–199Johnny Samuele Baldi: How the Uruk Potters Used the Wheel. New Data on Modalities and Conditions of Emergence of the Potter’s Wheel in the Uruk World1822014; 2016; Pollock, 2001; Frangipane, 2001; 2002; 2018; Schwartz, 2001; Strommenger et al., 2014; Butterlin, 2003; 2018). The southern sector of the plain, occupied by the cultural entity called Uruk (from the eponymous site), is no longer essentialised as the only cradle of social complexity (Butterlin, 2009a; 2009b; 2013; Baldi, 2016a; Iamoni, 2016). For decades, much attention has been paid to the specifc organizational features of the independent but equally ancient path to complexity that was developed by the proto-urban formations of northern Mesopotamia (Frangipane, 2009; 2010; 2018; Rothman, 2002; Balossi-Restelli, 2019; Stein, 2001; 2002a; 2002b; 2005; 2012; McMahon and Crawford, 2015; McMahon, 2020). Even the geographical boundaries between these two spheres of infuence are no longer regarded as a key factor: “North” and “South” are generally referred to as synthetic labels, evocative categories of diferent social and organisational systems, but equally hierarchical and far from separate from each other. Clichéd historical reconstructions of the frst urbanisation are now completely outdated (Ur, 2010a; 2010b; Algaze, 2018; Benati, 2018; Skuldbøl and Colantoni, 2016; 2018; Emberling, 2015), as also the assumption that bevelled-rim bowls were wheel-thrown (Goulder, 2010; Helwing, 2014). However, one fact remains true: in Mesopotamia, the potter’s wheel was frst adopted in the 4thmillennium BCE. The focus of current archaeological research is rather on diferences, parallelisms, and connections between north-Mesopotamian Late Chalcolithic (henceforth LC) polities and southern Uruk proto-cities (Marro, 2010; Nannucci, 2012; Butterlin, 2018; D’Anna, 2019; D’Anna and Jauss, 2015). This aims at explaining how reciprocal contacts happened in terms of social dynamics and management mechanisms framing phenomena such as exchanges, conficts, migrations, acculturations and shifting cultural frontiers on the basis of respective political economies, identities and ethnicities (McMahon, 2016; Minc, 2016; Minc and Emberling, 2016; Wright, 2016; Balossi-Restelli et al., 2018; Renette et al., in press). Recent literature explores the culture contact between northern local inhabitants and southern Uruk immigrants starting from the so-called Uruk “colonial expansion” (Stein, 2001; 2002a). Actually, the south-Mesopotamian Uruk difusion has nothing colonial about it (Baldi, 2016b) and is rather a phenomenon of demic and cultural spread (Figure 1), implying the foundation of enclaves, villages and, lastly, Uruk cities in the North and Iran (Stein, 2005; Wright, 2016). The adoption and difusion of the potter’s wheel is taken into account within this context of intense North-South cultural exchanges.The appearance of the wheel-coiling technique in the early 4thmillennium northern Mesopotamia has recently been documented and compared with archaeological and ceramic evidence from the 5thmillennium Levant (Baldi and Roux, 2016). On the other hand, with respect to the Uruk cultural sphere, it is essential to answer two basic questions:1. What is the chronology and social context of the emergence of this new technique within the Uruk communities?2. Furthermore, in the framework of the culture-contact between north-Mesopotamian and Uruk people, was the wheel adopted by the Uruk potters as a result of a borrowing, as a local novelty spreading to the North, or rather as an independent innovation characterised by specifc features?