Institute of Archaeology


The Emergence of Craft Specialisation in the Near East

The Neolithic in the Near East was a social and industrial revolution.  Along with the emergence of agriculture and villages, there was an explosion of technological innovation.  In particular, a proliferation of stoneworking materials, techniques, artefact types and style took place.  Innovations in stoneworking included a new diversity in abrading tools,  stone beads, figurines and vessels.  This set the stage for other technological developments (plaster, ceramics, later metalwork). 

How quickly did these innovations result in craft specialization?  Were households producing their own stone artefacts, or were specialists emerging early on?  What do such artefacts tell us about Neolithic households and relationships between them? How did these new artefacts figure in craft production?  To what degree were choices of stone materials driven by symbolic concerns?  What do they tell us about art and agency?  How did stoneworking and trade in stone affect the emergence of Bronze Age civilizations?

Exploring such issues has not been possible in the past since archaeologists often have not recognized evidence for heavy stone tool manufacture or unshaped but used pieces such as abraded pigments which may have often been missed

The focus is on five major arenas of research

  • The expansion in stone beadmaking (see Personal Ornaments research project) 
  • The role of such tools in food preparation, commensality, cooking and dining in social life (see Commensality, Cooking, Dining and the Politics of Gastronomy research project)
  • Specialization in stoneworking.  At Catalhoyuk the new excavations have revealed unparalleled data on household variations in a major Neolithic village.  Data is now available on some 52 houses and evidence for specialization in stoneworking and other crafts is being explored.  At  Beidha, Jordan, toolkits from some 25 Neolithic houses have been found; patterns of stoneworking are very different.  Yet other patterns occur in seasonal hunting/herding camps (eg, Azraq-Jilat, Qadisha Valley).
  • The use of abrading tools in production of art works such as figurines and wall paintings.  Were these artisans specialists? Variations from house to house are yielding provocative answers.
  • Later developments in stoneworking in the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Ages.  Collaborations have been agreed with scholars working in Egypt, Lebanon and Syria (details forthcoming). 

Related outputs

Selected publications

  • Wright, K. I. 2008. Craft production and the organization of ground stone technologies. In Y. Rowan & J. Ebeling (Eds.), New Approaches to Old Stones: Recent Studies of Ground Stone Artefacts: 130-143. London: Equinox Archaeology Books.
  • Wright, K. I.  (in press)  Ground stone tools and technologies associated with Building 3 at Çatalhöyük (Chapter 16). In R. Tringham & M. Stevanovic (Eds.), House Lives: Building, Inhabiting, Excavating a House at Çatalhöyük, Turkey. Reports from the BACH Area, Çatalhöyük, 1997-2003: 16.1-16.14. Los Angeles: Monographs of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California at Los Angeles.
  • Wright, K. I., Tsoraki, C., Siddall, R., Ozbek, O., & Baysal, A. (in preparation) The abraded stone technologies of Catalhoyuk: craft production, food preparation and household specialization from millstones to sculptures. In I. Hodder (Ed.), Substantive Technologies from Çatalhöyük: reports from the 2000-2008 seasons: Los Angeles: Monographs of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California at Los Angeles.
  • Wright, K. I., Meskell, L., Nakamura, C., & Milic, M. (in preparation) Manufacturing technology and meaning in Near Eastern Neolithic figurines. (Manuscript in Preparation).
  • Wright, K. I., Cleere, D., Brown, S., & Siddall, R. (in preparation) Toolkits of the Catalhoyuk wall painters: questions of specialization, agency, and Neolithic artists. Manuscript in Preparation.

Public Conferences and Lectures (since 2007)

  • Wright, K. I. 2008. Lecture: Rethinking the analytical division between chipped and ground stone technologies. Manchester: Paper presented at the 6th International Conference on Pre-Pottery Neolithic Chipped and Ground Stone Industries, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK, 3-6 March 2008.

Public Engagement and Impact

  • An interactive website is planned to allow for public dissemination of this research to a wider audience.
  • The project is being carried out in collaboration with scholars from countries where studies of early stone technologies are only beginning.  For example, there has never been a study of groundstone technology in Lebanon and Karen Wright's own past research included the first-ever major study of such artefacts from Jordan. 
  • As a recognized pioneer of groundstone artefact research (see staff profile for pre-2007 publications), Karen's work has been widely cited for eg in discussions of the origins of agriculture, by scholars across the world (articles in journals American Antiquity 1994 (75 citations);  Levant  1993 (21 citations);  Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 2000 (37 citations)).
  • This research has led to invitations to work on Bronze Age projects directed by scholars from University of Cambridge, Yale University, and Lebanese University while international PhD students have come to the Institute to be supervised in this area.


  • UCL