Medieval pottery in the Basque Country (VIII-XIII centuries)

September 26, 2005

This press release is also available in Spanish.

Nonetheless, to transform ceramic artefacts into items of historical knowledge, they need to have been previously transformed into reliable chronological indicators. Only after this phase has borne fruit, and aided by other material evidence, are we in a position to obtain information about past societies.

To start with, four aspects we consider to be of prime importance in ceramographological research were studied: the archaeological context, the criteria for quantification needed for statistical analysis, archaeometrical analysis and chronological analysis. The aim is to obtain reliable chronologies of the contexts from stratigraphical analysis, establishing relative sequences to which an absolute chronology may be attributed, whether from coins, radiocarbon analyses or historical data. In this way, we have the conditions to draw up a precise systematisation, and meeting our objective of making medieval pottery a chronological indicator that inverts the path in the manner of feedback and enables the dating of contexts from the artefacts themselves. The end result being sought here is the determination of the chronological context of the pottery finds by precise dating of the pottery artefacts.

With this aim, a systematisation model based on analysis has been drawn up for the various archaeological sites located in Alava and Bizkaia, in the Basque Country with stratigraphies positively identified as being from the VIII to the XIII centuries and which are relevant from a ceramographological perspective. In this way, we drew up a system in which we ordered and characterised the different collections of pottery found in the contexts studied, distinguishing successive levels of analysis, within a praxis that enabled the taking into account of technological, functional and morphological criteria.

On concluding this systematisation of the corpus of pottery and quantifying the artefacts, we classified all the material from a diachronic perspective, in such a way to enable the visualization, not only of the chronological seriation of the collections of pottery, but also their degree of incidence throughout the centuries and their context of usage. To this end, we based ourselves on the chronological references corresponding to each stratigraphic context, although without underrating the references obtained from the comparative analysis undertaken with other pottery collections in the area. This effectively involves the identification of various "groups of reference" or, what amounts to the same, the different collections of pottery that were manufactured in a specific period and geographical area.

After defining the chronological seriation of the pottery collections, we have to specify with which manufacturing process models they are associated, i.e. how the production process is organised and distributed. The models of production are usually intimately linked with different systems of distribution - in our case on a local, regional or superregional scale -, the determination for which laboratory archaeometric analysis (petrographical and mineralogical through X-ray diffraction and chemical analysis) proved fundamental. Moreover, we attempted to pinpoint the location of the centres of production using the aforementioned archaeometrical analysis, the archaeological evidence found at certain sites and documentary sources that tell us about their existence.

In any case, this last point should be taken as a starting one for the idea of pottery as a tool for historical knowledge, capable of providing information relative to human groups that produce and consume, thus providing, in a synthesis, the social history of pottery.

Elhuyar Fundazioa

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