by John Strong
July 7, 2011
I’m back to talking about pottery again—woo-hoo! My last entry was about collecting bits of rims and bases. Now, I want to talk about processing these rims and bases.
First, lowly supervisors, such as myself, create a pottery bucket every time they want to control the data coming out of a particular piece of soil, a specific place in the excavation. So, if you take down a wall, you collect the pottery from it (yes, in this instance, even the body sherds). But even better, you collect the sherds underneath the wall, or, if possible, on a surface right next to a wall. These could perhaps date a wall to within 25 years.
Every day, then, buckets and buckets of pottery are brought back to camp. At our peak, the Tel Gezer excavation was saving about 80 buckets of pottery per day—which meant that on the tel we would sometimes run short of buckets in which to hold the pottery we were collecting. Then supervisors start hording buckets and getting greedy. Excavations can be interesting studies in sociology and human nature.
When the pottery comes back to camp, it soaks for a day, and then it is washed by volunteers—usually everyone’s least favorite activity. Still, volunteers crowd around buckets, talk about movies, embarrassing experiences, or—whatever—and the work gets done.
Then, the buckets are read by the directors of the excavation. This is, for me, “crunch time” as a supervisor, because it is when I tell the directors where a bucket came from, and thus, we learn about the date and activities of a particular piece of soil. For example, if we turn up a lot of sherds of Iron Age I (1200-1000) store jars in a particular place, we start to think certain things about how that space at that place in the tel and at that elevation was used in the Iron I period.
For me, then, I need to be able to point to a spot on a top plan from where a basket of pottery was collected. And if I can’t provide that information, that data is lost, and I have failed in my record keeping duties. On the other hand, every opportunity to fail is also an opportunity to succeed—so I view this as “Show Time”! I have found that the best way to succeed is to find the boxes of washed pottery, line them up, have my notebook opened to the right page, and don’t speak unless spoken to.
Having glorified the high drama of pottery reading, it should be noted that for the directors who read the pottery, this can be a rather tedious task. And so, while I have to be on my best behavior, pottery reading has been known to deteriorate into singing of 1960s favorite hits, an old “war-story” or two, or even an occasional cat nap. It’s all a part of the process.