Alice Hunt

And I Called Them Assyrians: An Archaeological and Archaeometric Analysis of Neo-Assyrian Palace Ware

My doctoral research is a synthetic archaeological and archaeometric analysis of Assyrian ‘palace ware’ to evaluate its social function and semiotic value throughout the Neo-Assyrian empire. Social function is elucidated through analysis of formal and fabric characteristics, informed by archaeological context. Social function is differentiated from practical function by referring to those characteristics, tangible or immaterial, which describe the relationship between the vessel and its cultural audience. Semiotic value is measured through the perpetuation or modification of palace ware’s social function, evidenced by changes in formal and fabric characteristics and archaeological context of ‘palace ware’ in Assyria proper and outside Neo-Assyrian provincial boundaries.

Definitional criteria for palace ware are established using vessels from Assur, Nineveh, and Nimrud through the statistical analysis of formal attribute measurements and manufacture behaviours (chaîne opératoire) revealed using radiography, thin section and electron microscopy, and levigation and firing experiments. These criteria are used to evaluate ‘palace ware’ from Dur-Katlimmu, Guzana and Tushan in Assyria proper and Tel Jemmeh in an unincorporated territory.

Palace ware ‘provenance’ is evaluated using neutron activation analysis, ceramic petrology and cathodoluminescence of quartz inclusions. Palace ware chaîne opératoire and provenance are used to differentiate the movement of vessels, technology and ideas, and potters throughout the Neo-Assyrian empire.

Cathodoluminescence of quartz is developed as a technique for the geological grouping of archaeological ceramics. Experimental work explores the effect of firing temperature on luminescence behaviour of quartz and establishes the baseline homo- and heterogeneity for quartz from the same deposit.

My research contributes to our understanding of Neo-Assyrian imperial function and perception in the provinces and unincorporated territories, particularly the ongoing conversation about ‘Assyrianisation’. This work also provides concrete definitional criteria and resolves the practical and social function of palace ware. Another valuable contribution is the development of cathodoluminescence for archaeological science applications, specifically the geological grouping of ceramics.

Funding organisation

  • Smithsonian Institution
  • Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, U. S. Department of State
  • Gay Clifford Bursary for Outstanding Women Students
  • UCL Graduate School
  • UCL Institute of Archaeology


 Educational background

  • BA in Archaeology, Hamilton College, 1997
  • MAT in Ancient Near Eastern Languages and Literature, Fuller Theological Seminary, 2005
  • MSc in Technology and Analysis of Archaeological Materials, UCL Institute of Archaeology, 2007

Publications: (peer reviewed only)

Hunt, A. (2012). On the Origin of Ceramics: moving toward a common understanding of ‘provenance’. Archaeology Reviews from Cambridge 27(1).

Hunt, A. (2011). Assyrian Palace Ware Definition and Chaîne Opératoire: Preliminary Results from Nineveh, Nimrud and Assur. In M. Martinon-Torres and C. R. Cartwright (eds.), From Craft to Science: Proceedings of the 10th European Meeting on Ancient Ceramics, held 10-13 September 2009, British Museum. Oxford, Archaeopress.

Martinon-Torres, M., I. C. Freestone, A. Hunt & Th. Rehren, (2008). Mass-Produced Mullite Crucibles in Medieval Europe: Manufacture and Material Properties. Journal of the American Ceramic Society 91(6), 2071-2074.

Conference Papers and Invited Lectures:


“ Cathodoluminescence (CL) of Quartz as a Method for Archaeological Ceramic Provenance”. 11th European Meeting on Ancient Ceramics, Vienna. September 2011.


“Quartz, Carination, and Assyrian Occupation: The ‘Palace Ware’ from Tel Jemmeh”. Department of Anthropology Lecture Series, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. December 2010.

“The Assyrians at Tel Jemmeh: Archaeology, Architecture, and Artefact”. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem. June 2010.

“Assyrian Palace Ware: Production and Meaning in Iron Age Levant”. 7th International Congress on Archaeology of the Ancient Near East, London. April 2010.


“Assyrian Palace Ware: Definition, Chaîne Opératoire and Archaeological Implications”. 10th European Meeting on Ancient Ceramics, London. September 2009.

  • Spherulite in a ceramic matrix: indicative of dung tempering. Thin section image taken in XPL; field of view equals 1.7 mm
  • Cathodoluminescence image of a sedimentary quartz grain with diagnostic hydrothermal quartz overprint (orange rind) and zircon (bright blue).
  • Radiography indicating vessel formation on the wheel. Note the inclined orientation of the voids

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