Ceramic vessels were first made by prehistoric peoples over 15,000 years ago and pottery is one of the most common types of artifact found at recent archaeological sites in many parts of the world.
Often well-preserved, ceramics can be a potent source of information about the past. Even small fragments of pots can be studied by archaeologists to determine how ancient pots were made and used. More importantly, archaeologists can also also use ceramics to help date sites, and to reconstruct patterns of prehistoric economy, social organization and cultural contact across a region.
This Prehistoric Puzzles Ceramic study site introduces several aspects of ceramic artifact analysis that are important for archaeologists.
Variation: Pot designs vary from region to region, and change through time. What can archaeologists learn from this?
Technology & Function: How are pots made and used in Africa today, and how can archaeologists find evidence of ancient pottery manufacturing and use?
Attributes: How can pots be described and how do archaeologists reconstruct the attributes of whole pots from the small fragments preserved at sites?
Classification: How and why do archaeologists classify potsherds from a site into "types"?
Assemblages: How do archaeologists analyze collections of ceramics from a site, and compare such assemblages between sites? What are the goals of such comparative study?