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Gómez-Bach A., Becker J. and Molist M. (eds.) 2018. II workshop on Late Neolithic Ceramic in Ancient Mesopotamia: Pottery in context. Barcelona: Museu d’Arqueologia de Catalunya (Monografies del MAC 1). 231 p.

Martin Godon
p. 156-158

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1With its 19 articles written by 31 researchers, divided between four thematic parts, this book is the final presentation of the communications delivered in Barcelona and Empuries at the occasion of the “Second workshop on Late Ceramic in Ancient Mesopotamia”.

  • 1 See the review of this book, by J.S. Baldi, in Paléorient 44.1, p. 167-168.

2This workshop, held in October 2015, was the second of a series of three: the first one was held in Brno and Rejvic in 2012, edited by W. Cruells, I. Mateiciucová and O. Nieuwenhuyse, and published in 2017 by Oxbow Books under the title Painting pots – Painting people: Late Neolithic ceramics in Ancient Mesopotamia.1 Following this path, a third “International workshop on Late Neolithic pottery from the Ancient Near East”, organised by R. Özbal, M. Erdalkıran and Y. Tonoike was held in Antalya last March 2019. So, with this second volume already published and the third on its way, one can appreciate the well-oiled organisation of these workshops, from the call for papers and international events to the quick delivery of their results in the shape of colloquial monographs.

3Accordingly, readers concerned by the period between the 7th to the 5th millennium BC in Mesopotamia will eventually find many interesting new data and interpretations in this book. At large, the chronology includes Halaf and Ubaid periods, from the early phases to late ones as well as their different local variations. Thus, Hassuna and Samara cultural phases are also cited throughout the book.

4The book itself is a standard A4 portrait format with a soft cover encasing 231 black and white pages. The inking process is rather weak when it comes to detailed figures and photographs but to its credit, only a mere 30 € should be spent to acquire its hard copy while the Archaeology Museum of Catalonia gives already access to a free download of its handy digital PDF version. Such open data policy is worth mentioning while some publications in our field of research are definitively not affordable by individual’s researchers, even less so for students. The preface, signed by J.M. Rueda Torres, director of the Catalan Cultural Heritage Agency, shed light on the convergence of institutional efforts to improve archaeological researches. This book, as the first monograph of the Catalonian Archaeological Museum (Monografies del MAC) bears the evidence of such welcomed support.

5The editing is good and makes it easy to read through a well-planned division between the texts and large figures. The introduction by the scientific editors unveils the structure of this threefold workshops project, which the reader should keep in mind as, otherwise, the content of this volume may not seem well-balanced regarding the quite ambitious title. Nineteen articles are divided between four parts: a first one focused on methods of investigations, a second related to chronology and archaeological sequences regarding pottery developments, a third dedicated to “manufacture and techniques” and the last one, more conclusive, proposing contributions related to “networks and identities”. One can see that the subjects are manifolds and wide and, as often with this type of exercise, it is difficult to identify a logical framework between the articles. Similarly, some articles are difficult to classify in either of the parts as they cover both methodological and chrono-cultural issues. But do not misunderstand my words, because this is the lot of most workshops covering both large geographical areas and a wide time span. Indeed, if one look at the archaeological sites mentioned in the articles, their geographical repartition does show an over-representation of Syrian sites, especially with five occurrences related to Tell Halula. Again, this asymmetry is explained by the threefold type of workshops, and one can be assured to find more Northern Mesopotamian examples in the coming third monograph following the Antalya last workshop. Accordingly, to comment on the geographical range, one should wait for the three workshops publications and take them as a whole. Following new archaeological programmes like Tell Nader excavation (C. Beuger and K. Kopanias) or Shahrizor regional survey (O. Nieuwenhuyse), Northern Iraqi studies are increasing while Iran (F. Hole), South Eastern Turkey with some fifty Hatay sites surveyed (M. Erdalkiran) and Turkish Amuq/Hatay (R. Özbal) corpus are still under-represented, mainly for geopolitical reasons out of the editors reach. Even last century excavation’s corpus like Ashur can be analysed again in the light of new knowledge (C. Beuger). But the impressive corpus described by the above-mentioned authors shows that Northern Mesopotamia is definitively not a peripheral area during the Halaf and Ubaid Periods. Moreover, by getting out of the core region of Northern Syria where chrono-cultural typology was first settled, the more muddled pottery terminology becomes, while the question of cultural areas, depending on typology and styles, is difficult to grasp (C. Bréniquet and B. Robert, S. Amirov). Thus, the difficulty to match on a large geographic area and from site to site’s pottery typological identifications such as of “Dark Faced Burnished Ware”, “Red Washed”, “Red Slipped”, “Red Ware”, “Bichrome Ware” (E. Gabrieli). This is not to speak of decors classification and interpretations, as underlined by F. Hole.

6C. Bréniquet and B. Robert’s work on anthropomorphic potteries shows also the limit of typologies when faced by limited contextual data and a lack of evidence related to their uses. Directly related to their anthropomorphic pottery type 3a, I would add Köşk Höyük example, in Southern Cappadocia, and the Thessalonians example coming from Nea Nikomedeia (Papathanassopoulos 1996; Perlès 2001; Öztan 2007). There are astonishing similarities for such distant potteries, at least for the heads represented on the necks. Indeed, along such typological classifications and symbolic interpretations, ethnographic researches on anthropomorphic potteries manifold usages would be welcome. The same can be said for the so-called Husking trays, well identified by O. Nieuwenhuyse in his many publications and also at Tell Nader’s Late Hassuna sequence by C. Beuger and K. Kopanias and at Chagar Bazar (A. Gómez-Bach and W. Cruells). Eventually, series of tools made out from sherds or in ceramics are too frequently discarded as “pottery”. The ceramic strainers, very well described in this book (A. Hanzelková and M. Wilding), are most frequently discards, when spotted, as “miscellaneous” or “others” in pottery classifications.

7In such respect, I wonder: isn’t it a ceramic potter’s rib hidden between Tell Halula’s Halaf painted sherds on the book cover photograph?

8The strength of this book is to compile both the questions and the clues to answer them. As such, the exercise is, indeed, successful. Different analytic ways are presented; using archaeometry, typology or technological processes, while underlining the need of detailed contextual analyses, as exemplified at Chagar Bazar and Tell Halula Sector 30 (J.M. Faura and M. Molist). Uses of pottery are questioned using new tentative methods to extract lipids from sherds (A. Breu et al.) or the crucial role of cooking and related pots embedded in cultural behaviours (R. Özbal), while typological features like horizontal applied bands are interpreted as possible handling systems (T. Odaka). Offshoots from pottery bodies are mainly classified as decors or handles, grips of some kinds when particularities as pierces knobs are analysed as suspension systems. For the described horizontal bands, I would also suggest considering such “hatchway coaming” as a lid locking system to keep the clamping rope from going upward. In this line of thought, petrography applied on so called imported pottery from Halaf sites, tends to show that local clays were involved, making obsolete previous inter-pretations of inter-cultural exchanges based on these very potteries (J. Becker et al.). However, one would like more conclusive explanations concerning the Late Halaf Tell Halula Red Ware’s expeditious petrographic study (A. Gómez-Bach et al.). A clear and concise review of archaeometric methods and tools is provided by C. Moulhérat et al., pushing the old X-Ray techniques to new scanner technologies with their expanding possibilities both for 3D rendering and spectrometric analyses. Pottery technology, “chaînes opératoires, Near Eastern pottery analysis’s poor relations, are gladly welcomed in this book with S. Calvao et al., a contribution on Tell Halula Pre-Halaf pots focusing with care and convincingly on the darkest side of pottery production: the manufacture techniques. Also, Tell Halula’s team lead, by M. Molist (A. Wardeh et al.), presents a thorough experim-entation protocol on decors technologies, which could have been supported by a broader bibliography on the subject.

9To conclude, one can only congratulate the editors for the quality of this book, knowing that it is only one part of a broader work based on three international workshops. Accordingly, this book will take its entire dimension when it will be unified with the two others, the last being expected for 2020. The whole series will be essential, unavoidable for scholars working on Near Eastern Neolithic. Not only for the ceramic side of it but for the up-to-date chronologies and interpretations backed-up by a gathering of the essential references. And after the series is completed, should it end? One would like to see a fourth book, or a complete chapter in the next one, with the participation of the three workshops scientific editors, to take the best of what they achieved and propose a synthesis. Indeed, a lot of data will be available to create common geographic maps unifying the many sites cited so far, to propose chronological charts and clear cultural areas definitions. No way around, this book and the workshop series will be the basement for further researches when, eventually, peace will triumph over distress, so that life could reclaim its rights in Syria.

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Bibliographie

Öztan A.
2007 Köşk Höyük: Niğde-Bor Ovası’nda Bir Neolitik Yerleşim. In: Özdoğan M. and Başgelen N. (eds.), Türkiye’de Neolitik Dönem. Yeni Kazılar, yeni bulgular: 223-226. Istanbul: Arkeoloji ve Sanat Yayınları.

Papathanassopoulos G-A. (ed.)
1996 Neolithic culture in Greece. Athens: Museum of Cycladic art Athens, Nicholas P. Goulandris Foundation.

Perlès C.
2001 The Early Neolithic in Greece: The first farming communities in Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (Cambridge World Archaeology).

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Notes

1 See the review of this book, by J.S. Baldi, in Paléorient 44.1, p. 167-168.

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Martin Godon, « Gómez-Bach A., Becker J. and Molist M. (eds.) 2018. II workshop on Late Neolithic Ceramic in Ancient Mesopotamia: Pottery in context. Barcelona: Museu d’Arqueologia de Catalunya (Monografies del MAC 1). 231 p. »Paléorient, 45-1 | 2019, 156-158.

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Martin Godon, « Gómez-Bach A., Becker J. and Molist M. (eds.) 2018. II workshop on Late Neolithic Ceramic in Ancient Mesopotamia: Pottery in context. Barcelona: Museu d’Arqueologia de Catalunya (Monografies del MAC 1). 231 p. »Paléorient [En ligne], 45-1 | 2019, mis en ligne le 08 septembre 2021, consulté le 13 juillet 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/paleorient/620 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/paleorient.620

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Martin Godon

Institut français d’Études anatoliennes, Palais de France, Nuru Ziya sok 10, 3443 Beyoglu, Istanbul – Turkey

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