image/svg+xml127XII/2/2021INTERDISCIPLINARIA ARCHAEOLOGICANATURAL SCIENCES IN ARCHAEOLOGYhomepage: http://www.iansa.euA Return to the Wheel: Rethinking Experimental Methodologies for the Study of the Potter’s WheelChase A. M. Minos1*1The Cyprus Institute, Science and Technology in Archaeology Research Centre (STARC), Athalassa Campus, 20 Konstantinou Kavaf Street, 2121, Aglantzia, Nicosia, Cyprus1. IntroductionRecent scholarship concerning the analysis of pottery-forming techniques has argued that the tool, in this case the potter’s wheel, is not a signifcant variable afecting the results of analyses on macroscopic traces. However, in the words of Van der Leeuw (1993, p.240), “techniques cannot be studied in isolation, but should [rather] be seen as the arena of mediation between what is materially possible or impossible”. Therefore, any investigation into wheel-making techniques cannot exist without analysing the wheel: including its mechanical, physical, and even experiential properties.For my research, experimental archaeology was combined with the analytical tool of chaîne opératoire to interpret the potter’s wheel and conical cups from Crete during the Middle to Late Bronze Age when the wheel was introduced, and the technology developed (c. 2200 to 1500 BCE). The chaîne opératoireapproach was utilised in order to understand and isolate making techniques on the wheel in the production sequence and subsequently for investigating the choices made in terms of techniques and wheels (Dobres, 2000; van der Leeuw, 1993; Roux, 2019). This was then teamed with an archaeological experiment aimed at assessing the variable of the wheel type. Situated between actualistic and scientistic (Outram, 2008), the experiment was designed to incorporate accurate materials (clay) with hypothesised techniques, and pottery wheels propelled by mechanical, electronic or human input.The conical cup was chosen as the ideal vessel as it was perhaps the most ubiquitous pot from the Bronze Age on Crete, found in a wide range of contexts from “palaces” to domestic, funerary and ritual spaces (Gillis, 1990a and 1990b). Moreover, their simple, open shape and small size means that they require fewer gestures for forming and shaping on the wheel than a taller or closed shape. Their production also embodies the major technological and societal changes happening during the Bronze Age, such as urbanisation and craft specialization (Schoep, 2004, p.262; 2006, p.54; Tomkins and Schoep, 2012, p.6; Weiner, 2011; Hamilakis and Sherratt, 2012; Choleva, 2012; 2018; Christakis, 1996). As such an unassuming vessel type in terms of aesthetics and manufacture, the fact that this complex and highly specialised technology of wheel-making technology Volume XII ● Issue 2/2021 ● Pages 127–142*Corresponding author. E-mail: chase.minos@outlook.comARTICLE INFOArticle history:Received: 1stFebruary 2021Accepted: 4thNovember 2021DOI:’s wheelBronze AgeCreteexperimental archaeologychaîne opératoireABSTRACTResearch into the study of wheel-making techniques has grown, but studies of the tool or the wheel and its properties have remained understudied or considered insignifcant until recently. In order to develop this research, the wheel and its practicalities, such as the physics, should be incorporated more into research of making techniques. Through the application of chaîne opératoireand experimental archaeology, this research questioned whether diferent wheel types produce diferent macroscopic traces on pots produced by the same technique. There are several results presented here that can shed light on the way archaeologists should investigate and understand early wheel potting, in particular the physics of rotation, which has received minimal attention as a result of a predominance for researching techniques over the tool (the wheel). The application of this research is used to better understand pottery and potter’s wheels from their adoption and development during the Middle Bronze Age on Crete, c. 2000 to 1500 BCE. A revision of experimental work and methodologies is combined with archaeological experimentation in order to help clarify not only how tools such as the wheel were used but subsequently what roles these craftworkers played in past societies.
image/svg+xmlIANSA 2021 ● XII/2 ● 127–142Chase A. M. Minos: A Return to the Wheel: Rethinking Experimental Methodologies for the Study of the Potter’s Wheel128trickled down to or, perhaps, began with the manufacture of these vessels is a testament to their importance.Observation of macroscopic traces from replica pots produced by the author were used to help inform interpretation of how conical cups of a specifc period (Late Minoan IA, c. 1500 BCE) from an assemblage in the South Corridor of the Minoan Unexplored Mansion (MUM) in Knossos, were manufactured on the wheel (Popham, 1984a; Figure 1). The MUM is a large complex located west of the palace of Knossos. Once connected to the Little Palace via a bridge (Hatzaki, 2005), the MUM yielded a number of fnds related to industrial activities, including incredibly fne pottery, potter’s wheels, as well as large amounts of bronze working materials (Popham, 1984; Christakis, 2019). This particular assemblage contains pottery dating to the Late Minoan IA of Bronze Age Crete, during which conical cups had reached a standardisation in shape, size and manufacture that was not seen in previous phases (Hatzaki, 2007, p.167). The MUM pottery in general remains heavily selected, and as a result the conical cups that were chosen to be kept tended to be complete cups, with only a few being broken.The experiment presented in this paper was designed to assess three diferent wheel types following three techniques that scholars have previously suggested were possibly in use during the Late Minoan IA period (cf.Jefra, 2011). The method by which a wheel rotates and the mechanical components which enable rotation can afect traces left on pottery. While an electric wheel provides stable rotation with a motor, a kick or stick wheel delivers rotation through non-motorised means. From this observation, the experiment was designed to isolate the specifc variables of how non-motorised wheels rotate and what efects the physics of their rotation have upon macroscopic traces left on pottery. The results suggest that the variable of the wheel, and more specifcally the nature of its rotation, should be more seriously reconsidered as a factor that afects macroscopic traces left on pottery.In this paper I briefy review the current state of knowledge, highlighting the origins of the disparity between studies of the technique and tool, and how they have afected scholarship. Next, I consider the evidence for the wheel on Crete and discuss their characteristics before detailing the experiment conducted at the Centre for Experimental Archaeology and Material Culture (CEAMC) at University College Dublin. A few key results will be presented and then discussed with aspects of the wheel that might be considered within the context of Cretan archaeology, skill from the perspective of the experimenter and the ancient potter, and pottery technologies.1.1 The study of wheel techniques and toolsMany of the new methodologies for studying pottery technology were developed during the 1980s and promoted the importance of techniques over the tool. They were founded upon on archaeological and ethnographic research by scholars such as Anna Shepard (1956), Hélène Balfet, and others working in places such as Crete (Thrapsano and Margarites; Franchet, 1917; Xanthoudídes, 1927; Hampe and Winter, 1962), the Maghreb in North Africa (Balfet, 1965; 1984), the Netherlands (Van der Leeuw, 1976a) Pakistan (Rye and Evans, 1976) and India (Roux and Corbetta, 1989). Indeed, Sander Van der Leeuw noted in 1993 (p.243) that few scholars had conducted comparative research between forming techniques, with the single exception of Balfet in 1965 and 1984. Yet, it is possible that Van der Leeuw himself is one of the few scholars of the time to discuss and explore the mathematics as well as physics of rotation in his Studies in the Technology of Ancient Pottery (1976b).By the later 1980s, this research coalesced into studies in which the individual potter became the subject of analysis, and his or her techniques became the variables.