Institute of Archaeology


Archaeological Ceramic Analysis

This module introduces participants to a range of scientific techniques that can be used to analyse and interpret cultural information from archaeological ceramic assemblages.

Archaeological Ceramics analysis

Techniques include thin section petrography, geochemistry, scanning electron microscopy and organic residue analysis. Focusing in particular on ceramic petrography, the module provides in depth practical training, on the principles of this versatile geoarchaeological approach and its role in the interpretation of pottery provenance and manufacturing technology. Assessment is by means of two microscope-based practical exercises.

Aims of the module

  • To introduce participants to the range of different scientific approaches used in archaeology to analyse pottery and other ceramics.
  • To demonstrate the types of cultural signals discernible at the microscopic, molecular and atomic scale in archaeological ceramics and how these contribute to broader issues in ancient material culture.
  • To provide specific hands-on training in the principles of thin section petrography and its application to ceramic analysis.


On successful completion of this module a student should:

  • To be able to evaluate the relevance and applicability of various scientific methods of ceramic analysis.
  • To be able to evaluate critically published work relating to archaeological ceramic analysis.
  • To gain an appreciation of the role of ceramic analysis within the wider study of pottery and the application of scientific approaches alongside other archaeological data.
  • To have gained a basic practical understanding of how to undertake thin section petrographic analysis on archaeological ceramics that can be developed by independent research within an MSc dissertation or PhD thesis.

Learning Outcomes

  • Developed skills in deduction based on detailed visual observations.
  • Improved abilities in critical thought and reasoning.

Teaching Methods

  • Two one-hour lectures per week including some practical demonstration.
  • One two-hour microscope-based practical class per week.
  • Two two-hour practical microscope assessments during the module.

Module information

  • Code: ARCL0102
  • Credits: 15
  • Coordinator: Patrick Quinn
  • Prerequisite: Participants should normally have taken Interpreting Pottery (ARCL0100) as well, as this option compliments and builds on concepts introduced in that module.  Participants on the MSc in Archaeological Science: Technology and Materials wishing to undertake a dissertation on ceramic analysis must complete this module. 
  • Handbook: open»

For registered students


  • Running in 2021-22