FACEM - provenience studies on pottery in the central mediterranean

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About Facem

We are glad to present the sixth release of FACEM of December 6th, 2016. It focuses on transport amphorae of the Bay of Naples, on the analyses of Italian terra sigillata and on pottery from Monte Iato in Sicily.


Archaeological Objectives of the Project

The identification of the provenance of ancient pottery is one of the most important topics of current pottery research as the place of origin of a certain object can be used as an indicator for cultural contacts, economic exchange, or change in political power, to mention only a few. Whereas for some classes the origin of an object can easily be determined by decoration or by potters’ stamps, these possibilities do not exist for undecorated pottery. In recent decades, suitable instruments for addressing this problem have been developed both on theoretical and practical levels, resulting in a classification of pottery according to the fabric [1]. These collections of fabrics however, remain normally restricted to the respective teams of excavations or museums, with each of them creating a system of their own. Exchange of expertise between colleagues or correlation of the various systems until now therefore remained restricted to an informal level depending mostly on personal contacts.

The project Facem = Fabrics of the Central Mediterranean intends to create a coherent system of fabrics for the Central Mediterranean based on production sites that have been identified by archaeological arguments and/or archaeometric analyses, comparing samples either with pottery of secured or probable provenance (e.g. decorations that can be attributed to ascertained workshops, potters’ stamps, or wasters of pottery workshops). Also the frequency of a fabric on one site can be an argument that has, however, to be reconsidered carefully. Thus when using the database you should keep in mind that Facem does not or only to a minor degree present results of archaeometric research, but primarily those of an archaeological method of pottery classification, using as distinctive feature the quality of the sherd, the fabric, instead of decorative or morphological criteria. The discussion of the results of this archaeological classification and their comparison with conclusions drawn from archaeometric analyses are therefore to be seen as two different, though equally important approaches.

For the publication of these investigations we have chosen a web-based information system to avoid problems normally connected with the publication of large collections of fabric data in conventional print-form. Whereas a printed book, once it has been published, cannot be changed or added to, and potential errors cannot be amended, a web-based publication is intended to grow continually as it hopefully will be enlarged by fabrics and/or production centers defined by colleagues at further sites.

Verena Gassner

Beginnings and first release of Facem

The project started in the context of Magna Grecia from research on pottery of the 5th c. BC, carried out at Elea/Velia, a Phocaean colony on the Tyrrhenaen coast. Soon it became evident that the careful classification of the material according to fabrics resulted in a large collection of fabrics that could not however, be attributed to secured production sites. Therefore, together with the geologist Roman Sauer (Vienna) and with Giovanna Greco from the Dipartimento di discipline storiche Ettore Lepore, Università Federico II, Napoli (Italy), we initiated a project of sampling important sites in Southern Italy, and to an extent Sicily, that enjoyed the kind help of many Soprintendenze from the region. In this project we succeeded in defining the characteristics of the productions of a series of important colonies on the Ionian coast of Italy, like Sybaris, Caulonia, Locri and the Southern Calabrian region (‘Rhegion/Zankle area’) as well as some other productions that have not been localised yet, but can be attributed to Calabria with high probability. On the Tyrrhenian side, we have data for the local production at Elea, Poseidonia, and the gulf of Naples, including the island of Ischia (Pithekoussai) [2]. Naples evidently is of particular importance as the area developed into one of the most important production sites for pottery in the Hellenistic period, producing the so-called Campana A ware [3]. Recently, an important production of wine, made visible by the production of Graeco-Italic amphorae, has been proposed for the region as well [4]. Our database for Sicily is still weak, but includes Naxos, Messina, Himera and Palermo [5].

In addition to these production sites in Italy, we have been able to distinguish the characteristics of other production centres through the analyses of samples from Elea/Velia that could be attributed to specific regions or sites by archaeological considerations. Most important are Athens, defined by fabrics of black glazed ware corresponding to those of Attic black or red figured pottery, and Corinth in Greece, taken from samples of amphorae of the type Corinthian A, the petrographic characteristics of which are described in detail by Whitbread [6]. In the Ionian-Adriatic region, comprising part of the Epirote coast as well as the gulf of Taranto in Italy, we could define an important centre, most probably to be identified with Corfu. This hypothesis was strengthened when in 2001 we succeeded in sampling material from excavations at Butrint in Albania, just opposite to Corfu as the local/regional fabrics corresponded very much to those we thought to be produced at Corfu [7]. The evidence for pottery production on the Albanian coast was supplemented recently by amphora material from Apollonia [8].

Some production sites in the Northern and Eastern Aegean, like for example Samos, Ephesos or Chios, have been identified due to the specific form of amphorae and in comparison with published analyses or research carried out by Roman Sauer himself in that region [9]. Some rare, but clearly recognisable imports of amphorae from Massalia (micaceous type) to Elea/Velia, and samples from Ampurias allowed the definition of these production sites [10].

In the period under question, the Greeks of Magna Grecia and Sicily and the Carthaginians with their centre of Carthage on the Northern coast of Africa were connected by a complex system of political, economic and cultural contacts that resulted in a lively exchange of material goods. Thus, to concentrate only on the Greek part of this Mediterranean system seemed inappropriate and not in correspondence with the ancient realities. Luckily, collaboration with Roald Docter from Ghent University, Department of Archaeology, going back to the experiences at Butrint in 2001, can now complement this data with a wide range of samples of Punic pottery. Most important is a group of about 70 samples from Carthage, referring to local plain ware, local cooking ware and local transport amphorae from primary contexts of the Middle and Late Punic period from the settlement excavation at Bir Messaouda, site 2 (7th – 2nd c. BC) [11]. Until now, archaeometric analysis proving a provenance from Carthage are available basically for the Archaic ceramic classes of plain ware, red slip and bichrome ware [12].

The strong macroscopic similarity between the Archaic fabrics and the ones of the Middle and Late Punic ceramics (5th-2nd c. BC, plain ware and painted ware) suggests very clearly however, that the Carthaginian workshops were active up to 146 BC [13]. Recently, Boutheina Maraoui Telmini made a first tentative attempt to localise one possible ancient source of the raw materials used for the Carthaginian pottery issue [14]. Actually, we are working on the classification of the various fabrics that should be attributed to the area of Carthage and its surroundings.

Other important regions of the Punic sphere of influence are still in the phase of sampling. Sicily is present with samples from Palermo [15]. From Sardinia, samples have been included from Olbia [16] and from the Riu Mannu Survey in south-western Sardinia [17]. Samples from Malta have been provided from Zeijtun [18]. All these samples cover approximately the same date range as the Greek pottery.

This large bulk of samples, comprising pottery from the 6th to the 2nd c. BC, coming from Southern Italy, Sicily and Sardinia, the Albanian and the Iberian coast, from some important export centres of Greece and Asia Minor and from two key-sites of the Punic world, from Carthage and from Palermo, has been presented in the first release of FACEM of 6th of June 2011.

Verena Gassner

Second release of Facem (6th of December 2012)

The second release of Facem concentrates on pottery, produced in the Bay of Naples [19]. Thanks to the generosity and the engagement of our Italian partners and friends, most of all of the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei [20] we were able to study table wares and coarse wares from the site of Naples [21] and from the site of Cuma [22]. These investigations were complemented by studies of samples of Campana A from the consumption area, namely the site of Velia, and of terra Sigillata, stemming as well from the site of Velia and from a key-site for the study of Italian terra Sigillata, from the military camp of Haltern in Germany [23].

The methodological approach as well as the results of these studies on the pottery of Naples have been discussed in a workshop “Pottery Production in the Gulf of Naples. Wares, Fabrics and Raw Materials” hold at Vienna 4th-5th May 2012 [24]. In this second release we present the classification of fabrics of table ware and coarse ware, still summarized under the code B(ay of) Nap(les) as the interpretation of archaeometrial analyses is still going on [25]. Suggestions for possible provenances are however given in the respective papers.

Verena Gassner

Third release of FACEM (6th of December 2013)

The third release of FACEM focuses on ceramic finds – mainly transport amphorae – found at selected Punic sites in the Central Mediterranean. [26] The first focal point relates to the pottery production on Phoenician-Punic Malta. For this fabric study, stratified finds from on-going excavations at the Roman villa of Żejtun [27] have provided twenty-six samples from sealed, Middle Punic contexts dating to the 4th century B.C.E. These allow for the definition of several local fabrics associated with transport amphorae, coarse wares and handmade pottery. The Żejtun assemblage has been supplemented by further samples from recent stratigraphic rescue excavations at Rabat [28], from the southern part of the Tas-Silġ sanctuary [29] and from the Malta Survey Project [30]. Some Maltese amphorae fabrics have been identified at Pantelleria [31], Jerba [32], Carthage [33] and Camarina [34]. The distribution of Maltese transport vessels outside the archipelago will be discussed in detail in a forthcoming paper [35].

The second focal point of our present study is on the presentation of local ceramic fabrics from Pantelleria. During its whole occupation, this small volcanic island in the middle of the Sicilian Channel depended heavily on agricultural commodities imported from abroad. Stratigraphical data from the recent excavations on the Acropolis of S. Teresa (see [31]) provide clear evidence for locally produced pottery from the second half of the 7th century B.C.E. onwards, even while the well-known Pantellerian Ware was exported principally during the Middle and Late Imperial period.

The third focal point falls within the framework of our project “Economic Interactions between Punic and Greek Settlements in the Southern/Central Mediterranean (late 7th-4th BCE),” using evidence from the transport amphorae (see [26]). We focus on the fabric identification of imported amphorae found at selected Punic sites. At this present stage of the project, we have increased our sampling of mainly western Greek, but also Sardinian fabrics. For that purpose we selected about 160 samples from Pantelleria (see [31]), Carthage (see [33]), Segesta [36] and Lilybaeum [37]. This assemblage has been complemented by unpublished materials from Ghizène on the northern shores of Jerba [38], from Malta [39] and from Selinunt [40] which significantly expand our geographic range. The results of our present research are discussed in detail in Carthage Studies 7 [41].

Furthermore, we are pleased to include within this update two contributions by M. Fourmont and G. Montana concerning the pottery kilns of quarter FF1 of Punic Selinunt, which anticipates, in fact, the primary topic of the next release of FACEM, namely the amphorae fabrics of western Sicily.

Corrigenda: Finally, we decided to add the field “changes of previously edited data” to the database (on the index card “object data”) which serves the purpose to report any kind of modification or correction of previously edited data.

Babette Bechtold

Fourth Release of FACEM (6th of June 2015)

    The main focus of the fourth release of FACEM [42] lies on the detailed edition of the amphorae fabrics of Punic Sicily, that is to say the productions of Solus, Panormos, Motya, Lilybaion and Selinus. Our research is based on archaeometric [43] analyses and archaeological fabric studies of about 400 samples, mainly from transport amphorae, but also from coarse wares from both the production sites [44] themselves and several other sites of the area of influence of Carthage, located in North Africa [45], on the islands of the Sicilian Channel [46] and in Sicily [47]. Moreover, the assemblages of Sicilian-Punic amphorae from selected consumption sites such as Entella, Grotta Vanella/Segesta, Monte Porcara (Palermo) and Pizzo Cannita (Palermo), all located in the hinterland of the productions centres mentioned above, will be presented in detail.

Finally, it was possible to attribute one of the unidentified Punic fabrics already published in the data base of FACEM to the Lilybaion group.

    Secondly, within the framework of the present update we publish some new amphorae fabrics from outside western Sicily, such as a couple of Late Punic fabrics from Utica and more fabrics from the CdE region / area of Málaga/Almería.

    The third focal point is on the presentation of new evidences for the production of pottery and ceramic building materials at Velia, including the results of archaeometric analyses. Specifically, we discuss the dia-chronic occurrence of local glazed and coarse wares, transport amphorae, ceramic building materials and bricks.

Babette Bechtold

Fifth release of FACEM (6th of December 2015)

The fifth release of FACEM [48] is focused on the edition of the module 'petrography' designed by CHC [49] Salzburg for the publication of data derived from thin-section analysis by polarizing microscope. This new supplementary tool extends the database of FACEM to the discipline of archaeometry. It enables users of FACEM to add petrographic data to the already existing description structure of a given ceramic sample, combining the results of independently conducted research strategies, namely archaeology and archaeometry.
Specifically, within the framework of the fifth update we present the scientific outcome of thin-section analysis [50] undertaken on 96 samples referring most of all to Punic transport amphorae, but also to selected plain ware items, all used for the archaeometric characterisation of amphorae productions of Punic Sicily published in the fourth release of FACEM of June 2015 (see above). In detail, the new module offers the petrographic data which were employed for the determination of the fabrics of Solus, Panormos, Motya, Lilybaion and Selinus.

Babette Bechtold

Sixth release of FACEM (6th of December 2016)

The sixth release of FACEM complements the contributions of the second release of December 2012, focussed on the pottery production of the Bay of Naples, by adding data about transport amphorae (Gassner – Sauer 2016) and by publishing the analyses of terra sigillata found at Velia. These analyses comprise sigillata produced in the area of the bay of Naples, but also from Arezzo and Pisa (Schneider – Zabehlicky 2016) [51].

The second focal point of the present release is the presentation of pottery and fabrics from the Monte Iato (Russenberger et al. 2016; Schmidt 2016) [52].

Verena Gassner & Babette Bechtold

What is a Fabric?

The method of definition and description of fabrics was developed by D.P.S. Peacock and others in the 1970s and drew largely upon the geological sciences. Since then it has become well established in pottery studies though its application still may vary at different sites.

According to the definition given by C. Orton, P. Tyers and A. Vince the visual nature of a fabric depends on

  • the natural composition of the clay
  • the effects of the handling of the clay by the potter when producing a vessel or object
  • temperature and atmosphere during the firing phase
  • the post-depositional conditions of the environment

Samples, sharing similar characteristics discernable on a clean break by visual examination with the naked eye or by using a binocular microscope, are defined as a fabric or fabric type. These characteristics are carefully documented in a standardized description which allows the identification to be reproduced and should facilitate the attribution of a sample to one fabric. On Facem, this detailed and standardized description is given for each sample under the item ‘fabric description’. Unlike other colleagues, we do not include the surface treatment in the criteria for the definition of a fabric, though it is described.

Where possible, the established fabrics should be the result of the analysis of a consistent number samples, the characteristics of which are congruent or present only minor differences due to the variability of the natural raw material. The specimen, on which these characteristics can be seen best, is consequently chosen as representative or reference sample. Whenever possible, other specimens are attached to this representative sample. They are basically characterized by the same features as the reference sample, showing slight variants for example in color of the sherd, size and frequency of particles etc.

For the verification of a fabric defined by microscopic analysis, a sufficient number of samples should be analyzed archaeometrically. The degree of certainty or probability of the identification and the nature of the argumentation is given under the item ‘certainty of arguments’. Further information can be obtained from short texts for each fabric that try to explain the most important differences of varying fabrics and the sampling strategy underlying this definition.

Finally, a production-site is mostly represented by several fabrics that share the general characteristics, but also show minor differences. This might be due to the existence of several workshops using different working methods as well as different raw materials, but also to changes in the working technique over the course of time.

Fabric Codes

Each fabric is provided with a tripartite alphanumeric code, which includes information on the production site of the fabric and the ware to which the sample was allocated to. This code follows a standard form, consisting of the abbreviations of the site or region of production, the ware the fabric belongs to, and a consecutive number. For example the fabric code “CAR-A-1” belongs to a fabric-type of a transport amphora from the production site of Carthage.

The ware designations of the Facem database are developed with the aim to enable the integration of all objects manufactured from clay. [53] While ware classifications are always certain (with only the designation sometimes being a matter of discussion), the site or even region of provenance of a fabric is not, often still being under discussion. Therefore, we decided to indicate the certainty of the archaeological or archaeometrical arguments with “certain”, “quite certain”, and “not certain”.

Some fabric-types, which go with traditional wares or special shapes, which were regarded as (common) imports in various discovery sites and go along with the local production, were also included in the database even if we have not been able determine their provenance up till now. Their provenance is preliminarily coded as “Ig(notum)”, sometimes adding the ware designation as further information, like “IG-Pun-A- x” for an unknown fabric of a Punic amphora.

The Method of Description of Fabrics in Facem

The description of a fabric in FACEM consists of a short verbal characterization and a standardized description of the matrix and the visible inclusions, documented on the fresh break, and carried out under the binocular microscope. This system is basically very close to the standardized methods proposed by D.P.S. Peacock and C. Orton. [54]

The description based on visual examination includes the color according to the Munsell Soil Color charts, [55] the hardness of the sherd, the structure of the break, and the inclusions large or glittering enough to be visible to the naked eye.

The second part of the fabric description is done with the help of a binocular microscope. We first distinguish between the sherd’s matrix and its inclusions. The matrix defines the body of the sherd, which may contain grains that are smaller than 0.01 mm that are not clearly distinguishable or identifiable even under a microscope. Optionally, the general description of the fine grained clay matrix, which has not yet been standardized, e.g. the matrix may show a fuzzy, white spotted appearance (obviously remains of calcium carbonates), may also be included. Visible inclusions cover voids as well as temper. The coarser components of the sherd, i.e. grains larger than 0.01mm, are either added by the potter as temper or, in most of the cases, are already part of the clay. Voids are caused either by air bubbles within the clay or organic temper that has fallen out. The percentage of voids and of temper as a whole has up till now been estimated with the help of comparison charts. [56] The maximum and minimum values are quoted as an indication of the size of particular voids and grains. The individual voids are described by giving their form, using the comparison chart published by Courty et al. 1989, [57] and their maximum and minimum values. The measurements are taken by means of the scale inside the ocular of the microscope and quoted in millimeters. The sorting of the temper is given based on the comparison chart published in Orton et al. 1993. [58]

When describing the individual inclusions/grains of the temper, we must take into consideration the fact that it is not possible, even for an experienced archaeologist, to identify and correctly denominate the individual particles through optical microscopy. All the non identifiable grains are classified by their color. The description for each type of inclusion includes its frequency, according to a five-step scale (singular, infrequent, frequent, very frequent, riddled with), the shape of the grain and its rounding, determined with the aid of comparison charts, [59] and finally its minimum and maximum length. Only a limited number of minerals can be recognized and are thus listed in the database. The most common particles, quartz and feldspar, are not distinguishable by optical microscopy and therefore simply summarized under quartz and may occur in different colors. Among the other inclusions it is only possible to identify mica, for which we can distinguish white (muscovite, silver glittering) and dark (golden glittering, biotite) mica. Red and black iron oxide concretions, which appear frequently in clays, may assume a rusty, opaque appearance. If their identification is not certain, those particles are described as reddish or black inclusions. Calcium carbonate particles are usually discernable by their softness (easy to scratch or even destroy with a needle). Carbonate-pseudomorphoses are originally carbonate particles, the core of which has dropped out during the firing process, leaving usually well rounded inclusions resembling white-rimmed voids. Foraminifera are basically carbonate-pseudomorphoses as well, being the calcareous shells of protozoa appearing frequently in marine clays. Since their remains are difficult to distinguish from common carbonate pseudomorphoses, particularly when they do not display a significantly well rounded and circular shape, they are only described as such if they can be identified with certainty based on their shell like character. Their characteristic shapes may provide important evidence as to the provenance of the clay.

Verena Gassner – Maria Trapichler

Photographic Documentation

The fracture of each sample is documented by a digital photo illuminated with two armed light guides in 3–4 standardized magnification in consideration of the fact that larger augmentations deliver a smaller part of the sherd. The 8 × magnification provides an impression of the whole sample, and is much like the image obtained with a simple magnifying glass. These images should be suitable for users making comparisons with their own samples using a magnifying glass. The 16 × and 25 × magnifications are intended for examining singular inclusions, in addition to 40 × magnification for all the particularly small grained fine wares. Taking in account the different sizes which are possible on the screen, each photo is provided with the appropriate scale. Accurate colors are guaranteed by carrying out a white balance, provided the user has calibrated their computer screen accordingly. The actual photos were taken with the stereomicroscope Leica MZ 3 and the adapted camera Leica Microsystems DFC290 with the calibrated data base Image Access. The photos are stored in tiff format.

Silvia Radbauer – Maria Trapichler

How to Contribute to FACEM

One of the advantages of a web-based publication is the possibility to change or add further information, allowing the data base to grow continually and to enlarge the quantitative basis and the quality of its data. Thus we are looking forward to future contributions of colleagues for defining further production centers.

To secure that the norms of standardized documentation are observed also in the future we would like to ask you to respect the following rules:

  • Samples should be taken from pottery items that can be defined by ware and vessel type, preferably coming from secured contexts.
  • We are most interested in samples that help to define a production center. You should explain the reasons for your identification in a short paper and/or add records of the archaeometric analyses.

    Please only send samples after you have assured that you have the official permit of the responsible authorities for doing so.

  • When you decide to send us samples, please note that they should have a average size of 1 × 2 cm or larger to be representative. We will then photograph and describe them for publication.
  • If you are not able to send samples, but want to contribute to Facem nevertheless, there is the possibility to send photos of your own. These photos must however follow the instructions given above to make sure that they allow the comparison of different samples. If this condition is not fulfilled, unfortunately we are obliged to reject the publication of the sample(s).
  • We also accept papers concerning topics directly related to our research issues like the pottery production of a site. The articles can be delivered in English, German, French & Italian. The papers will be accepted after passing the review of the Advisory Editorial board.

We look forward to your contributions!

Verena Gassner


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