Institute of Archaeology


Interpreting Pottery

This course offers an in-depth assessment of the archaeological and anthropological potential of ceramic-based studies.


As a team-taught course, it will include both the handling of materials and the discussion of case studies. Particular emphasis will be laid upon pottery production, trade and consumption, and the role of ceramics and potters within society.

Aims of the course

This course will introduce students to a wide range of techniques used in pottery studies, a consideration of the research questions that ceramic research can be used to address, and a concern for the appropriate reporting of ceramic research. More specifically the course aims:

  • To introduce students to the technology of pottery making from clay selection to firing with reference to archaeological and ethnographic examples as well as student practicals.
  • To question the practice and purpose of diverse approaches to pottery processing, classification and analysis.
  • To explore the ways in which archaeological evidence of pottery production, trade and use can be studied and interpreted.
  • To critically examine the development of pottery studies in archaeology.


Upon successful completion of this course, students will, among other things:

  • Be familiar with the physical processes of pottery production and be able to give careful consideration to the social context within which it takes place.
  • Have an overview of recent archaeological approaches to the collection, analysis and interpretation of ceramics.
  • Be able to evaluate the relevance and applicability of various methods of ceramic analysis used the in archaeological units, museums and similar institutions in relation to wider archaeological research questions.

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of the course students should be able to demonstrate/have developed:

  • The ability to read and listen to a range of different approaches to a topic and to write a reasoned argument as to why they favour one or more of these.
  • Begun to develop the observational skills needed to identify the form, surface and fabric of pottery and critically consider what this may mean in relation to the production or life history of the pot.
  • The ability to observe, or read about, analytical procedures and critically reflect on how these procedures and their presentation affects the interpretation of data.

Teaching Methods

Teaching for the course is through formal lectures, seminars, artefact handling sessions, and laboratory visits. The course consists of ten two-hour sessions. These usually start with a one hour lecture introducing a research theme and will either be followed by a practical that aims to introduce students to the techniques of pottery making and archaeological analysis, or a further lecture and seminar session taking a research topic to greater depth and discussing the essential reading for that week. These varied formats are combined in order to provide you with a broad introduction to appropriate literature, the opportunity to engage actively in debating these issues yourself, the chance to handle clay and see the effects of different techniques and to compare this to the evidence from archaeological pottery. Seminars have weekly recommended readings, which students are expected to have read ahead of the class, so that they are be able to follow and actively contribute to discussion. 

Course information

For registered students


  • Running in 2020-21