8th Experimental Archaeology Conference abstract – Gandon et al.

A Cautionary tale: experimental evidence for ceramic shape uniformity through culturally distinct motor traditions

Enora Gandon, Reinoud J. Bootsma, John Endler & Leore Grosman

Computerized Archaeology Laboratory, Institute of Archaeology, Mt. Scopus, 91905, Jerusalem, Israel

The shape uniformity in ceramic assemblages is classically interpreted as a sign of cultural uniformity e.g. the same production site. Indeed, in a traditional organization of production, potters produced vessels that fit into cultural prototypical shapes. Potters would have culturally inherited specific gestures which are adapted for the production of cultural shapes and also guides the potters’ ability to reproduce an unfamiliar shape. Here we question this hypothesis, inviting expert potters from two distinct cultural settings (France and India) to reproduce a common simple model shape (a sphere). We quantified the number and durations of the hand positions utilised by the potters. In addition, we geometrically characterized the vessels produced to assess their degree of similarity. From the total of 62 different hand positions identified, 44% were culture-specific and only 27% were shared across cultures (29% were idiosyncratic). Yet, this cultural difference on the operational aspect of the skill did not give rise to noticeable differences in the
geometrical features of the vessels. In other words, the French and Indian motor traditions lead to an equivalent outcome, i.e. shape uniformity. This equivalence of distinct motor traditions introduces a cautionary caveat to the relation classically established between the uniformity of ceramic shapes and that of cultural groups. The question remains to know if this motor equivalence appears for more complex and cultural ceramic shapes.

Gandon, E., Coyle, T., submitted. From the potters’ workshop to the cultural prototypical shape: An experimental approach. Journal of Anthropological Science.

Gandon, E., Bootsma, R.J., Endler, J., Grosman, J., submitted. How can ten fingers shape a pot? Evidence for equivalent function in culturally distinct motor skills. PLos ONE.

Gandon, E., Casanova, R., Sainton, P., Coyle, T., Roux, V., Bril, B., Bootsma, R.J., 2011. A proxy of potters’ throwing skill: ceramic vessels considered in terms of mechanical stress. Journal of Archaeological Science 38, 1080-1089.

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