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Flint Dibble 🍖🏺📖 @FlintDibble
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This thread is about archaeological artifacts and how we think about them. Heck the first step is to even figure out what to name them. I’m gonna pull out two examples: Athenian ceramic vessels and Paleolithic stone tools to think about “what’s in a name?”
Archaeologists have to deal with all kinds of artifacts. Usually they’re even just fragments of an artifact.

To be honest, a lot of times we can’t really identify these artifacts or how they were used. But, we’ve gotta call them something
Sometimes it seems easy. Take a look at the ceramic objects in the image below. What would you call these objects? And unless you’re already familiar with Greek ceramics, I bet there’s one that you aren’t sure what to call it.
I’m sure you all correctly identified the plate, the bowl, and the jug. But how many of you knew that the vessel on the right is called a hydria? It’s ancient Greek for “water vessel.”

Check out the Attic vase-paintings below and you’ll see why archaeologists chose this name
The Greeks were so #meta (=term from Greek) that they painted fountain scenes with hydriai on a hydria. It’s like you could watch yourself fetch water as you waited in line to fetch water

But did the ancient Greeks call these specific water vessels hydriai? Does it matter?
When we don’t use an English name for a Greek vessel, we substitute some ancient Greek term. Most of these come from a lengthy discussion of ceramics in Athenaeus Bk 11. But it’s not like he had a fancy scaled drawing of pots to show us what he thought each term meant
In fact, the Greek term hydria is a term used for millennia for a water vessel. In Athens, the ancient coarseware water vessel that we call the hydria stops being produced in the 4th c BC
But the term didn’t stop being used. It simply meant “water vessel” and could have applied to all the vessels below. Instead us archaeologists need to be looking at what “types” of water vessels are found where and when
My research into water vessels dropped in the bottom of wells shows that in Athens the norm through the 5th century was that many different vessels were used in these wells. All of the types in the previous tweet were common.
However by the 4th century BC, only one type – the simple jug – was used, as the other water vessel shapes disappear from wells & elsewhere in Athens

My guess is that plentiful water, from newly built fountains, wells, and cisterns made using a jug the simplest option
And while all the iconography, both on vases and in marble, shows the importance of the canonical “hydria” shape. These vessels slowly disappear, first in coarse common fabrics and then in finer decorated fabrics

We have to look at artifacts and where they’re found
So, there’s dangers in taking ancient terms and iconography and applying them simplistically to artifact types. Surely then we’re at an advantage when we go even further back to the deep prehistory of the Paleolithic

This way, we can use terms more carefully, right?
OK. Let’s look at some stone tools. What would you call these artifacts?
Not so bad right? Arrowhead, blades, a point & a scraper?

But what about when there’s more variation w/in a single tool type?

Let’s take scrapers, a common tool of the Middle Paleolithic. Check em out, think about characteristics & come up w/ a name for each: a ___ scraper
Archaeologists have keyed in on the location of retouch as an important variable to consider. The retouch represents an activity taken to resharpen & strengthen a sharp edge by nicking off small flakes along it. Knowing that check out these scrapers again and think of names
I’m sure you all got this right!

The single scraper has retouch only on the lateral side
The double scraper has retouch on both sides
The convergent scraper has retouch from both sides converging on the far distal end
The transverse scraper has retouch on a broad distal end
OK, now we have names and drawings of different scraper types. Let’s make something meaningful of them, right?

Different sites have more single scrapers and others have more convergent scrapers (proportionally). But what does that mean?
As Gordon Childe once said: We find certain types of remains – pots, implements, ornaments, burial rites and house forms – constantly recurring together. Such a complex of associated traits we shall call a … “culture.”
So, yeah... these different assemblages of scrapers at different Middle Paleolithic sites must represent different Neandertal “cultures.” Right?

That’s what archaeologists thought for a while, but let’s think abt mechanics of stone tool resharpening (reduction) using retouch
Check out these arrowheads. All found at the late Pleistocene Brand Site in Arkansas.

Each arrowhead has been assigned to its Dalton type but ordered based on how much it’s been reduced in order to rejuvenate the sharp edges
Many stone tools aren’t “tool types” representing intentionally crafted finished products. Instead arrowheads and scrapers change from tool type to tool type

They aren’t ideal artifact types representing a culture, rather they reveal the process of resharpening- like pencils
We can’t be satisfied by identifying an artifact w/ its name telling all. We must consider where we find artifacts (“context”) and processes of re-use & discard

In Roman houses we often find pierced amphorae upside down. They weren’t used for wine or oil but as urinals!
The research on Athenian ceramics comes from my MA thesis @ClassicsUC and my re-look at pottery in Agora XII (Sparkes & Talcott @ASCSApubs)

The lithic research is from Harold Dibble’s scraper reduction model published in @J_F_Archaeology and in J of Arch Method & Theory
Today is Harold’s birthday

If you enjoyed this thread, I’m asking you to please chip in a bit and donate in his honor to memorial funds set up to help archaeological students. See the thread below for more info and links

Happy birthday Dad!

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