Scientific Approaches to Archaeological Ceramic Analysis: A Practical and Theoretical Introduction

Intensive Short Course

Thin Section Petrography of Archaeological Ceramics

Course Description

This 10-day intensive course delivers a solid practical and theoretical introduction to the scientific analysis of pottery and other ceramics within archaeology. It provides in-depth training in the principles of thin section ceramic petrography and its role alongside instrumental geochemistry, X-ray diffraction and scanning electron microanalysis in the interpretation of pottery provenance and manufacturing technology.

The course demonstrates, via published case studies and practical exercises on real archaeological assemblages, how scientific data on provenance and technology can be used to tackle archaeological questions such as trade and exchange, the organisation of craft production, tradition and identity.

The course introduces participants with an arts or science backgrounds to ancient ceramics and their use within archaeology, before covering the range of potential analytical tools that can be applied to their interpretation.

Scientific Approaches to Archaeological Ceramic Analysis (training course)

Eight of the ten days will be spent training participants on the versatile, affordable technique of thin section ceramic petrography, starting with the principles of polarising light microscopy, optical mineralogy, geological petrology, then moving on to cover the wide range of compositional signatures and features of ceramics under the and the microscope by examining reference material from across the globe.

The complimentary approach of ceramic geochemistry is also introduced in detail via lectures and practical work, including instrumentation, data processing and statistical grouping, as well as the principles of provenance determination. A single day will be dedicated to the role of the scanning electron microscope in archaeological ceramic analysis, and X-ray diffraction, thus providing participants with a well-rounded introduction to the main scientific approaches applied to ceramic analysis within archaeology.

Scientific Approaches to Archaeological Ceramic Analysis (training course)

Upon completion of the course, participants should have attained the key knowledge and practical skills required to undertake masters dissertations and doctoral research projects in scientific ceramic analysis. Key learning outcomes are an appreciation of the role of ceramic analysis in archaeology and specific skills in the interpretation of ceramics in thin section.

The course consists of 10 one-hour lectures and 10 three-hour laboratory classes, which follow daily themes (see below). A fieldtrip on Sunday 9 April offers participants an opportunity to examine rocks and clay resources in the field and links the geological and archaeological portions of the course.

Scientific Approaches to Archaeological Ceramic Analysis (training course)

The course will be taught by Patrick Quinn, Senior Research Fellow in Ceramic Petrography at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, a geologically-trained archaeological scientist with 20 years experience in ceramics research and teaching. Patrick is the author of a key textbook on ceramic petrography and has applied it alongside other techniques of ceramic analysis to a wide range of projects from many parts of the world.

UCL Institute of Archaeology houses extremely well equipped scientific laboratories for the analysis of ceramics and other artefacts, including SEM, microprobe, XRF, XRD, FTIR and optical microscopy. It has a long tradition of research and teaching in archaeological materials science including ceramics.

Course Dates

Scientific Approaches to Archaeological Ceramic Analysis (training course)
  • Easter 2017 course: 3-14 April


Registration fee for the course is £600 for EU participants, £800 for non-EU participants and £1000 for participants from industry. There are limited places for the course and participants will be taken on a first-come, first-served basis. No bursaries are available for attending the course.

To register or enquire about the course, contact Patrick Quinn


The course will take place at the UCL Institute of Archaeology in Gordon Square. UCL is located in the historic Bloomsbury area of London, a short walk from St Pancras International Train Station and close to the heart of London’s West End shopping and entertainment district. Accommodation is not included in the registration fee, but a range of accommodation can be found close to UCL, including affordable hotels and budget hostels.

Course Schedule

  • Mon 3 April - Introduction to Archaeological Ceramics and their Analysis. Optical Mineralogy
  • Tues 4 April – Igneous Rocks, their Classification and Identification in Thin Section
  • Wed 5 April – Sedimentary Rocks, their Classification and Identification in Thin Section
  • Thurs 6 April – Metamorphic Rocks, their Classification and Identification in Thin Section
  • Fri 7 April – Clay, Soil and Weathering. Introduction to Ceramic Petrography. Composition and Grouping
  • Sun 9 April – Ceramic Raw Materials in the Field
  • Mon 10 April – Characterisation of Ceramics in Thin Section
  • Tues 11 April – Interpreting Ceramic Provenance in Thin Section
  • Wed 12 April – Reconstructing Ceramic Technology in Thin Section
  • Thurs 13 April -–Instrumental Geochemistry of Archaeological Ceramics
  • Fri 14 April - Scanning Electron Microscopy and X-Ray Diffraction Analysis of Archaeological Ceramics

 Key Course References

  • MacKenzie, W. S. and Adams, A. E. 1994. A Colour Atlas of Rocks and Minerals in Thin Section. Manson Publishing, London
  • Pollard, M., Batt, C. Stern, B and Young, M. M. 2007. Analytical Chemistry in Archaeology. Cambridge Manuals in Archaeology. Cambridge University Press.
  • Quinn, P. S. (Ed.) 2009. Interpreting Silent Artefacts: Petrographic Approaches to Archaeological Ceramics. Archaeopress, Oxford.
  • Quinn, P. S. 2013. Ceramic Petrography: The Interpretation of Archaeological Pottery & Related Artefacts in Thin Section. Archaeopress, Oxford.
  • Rice, P. M. 1987. Pottery Analysis: A sourcebook. University of Chicago Press.

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