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A technical approach to pottery production in Attica during the Historic period: Use of raw materials and processing techniques over time.

Principal Researcher: Artemi Chaviara (Thetis Authentics LTD, Greece)


The work focuses on the study of the black glaze decoration technique of archaic and classical attic pottery, mostly known as the “iron-reduction technique”. This is the oldest ceramic decoration technique in the Mediterranean, and relies on the use of ferruginous clay slips (1) fired under reducing conditions at top temperature. The best output of the technique was achieved during the 6th-4th cent.B.C. with the production of the black figured, red-figured and fine black-glazed (BG) Attic pottery.

The aim of this research is to achieve a direct analytical comparison of archaeological BG ceramic sherds with modern BG specimens, produced in the laboratory following the original process of the iron-reduction technique. The analytical methodology comprises mainly non-destructive techniques such as micro-PIXE (2) and XRF (3) SEM/EDX (4) used on selected samples in order to characterise the microstructure and the chemical composition of the glaze related to the particle size and the firing process.

The archaeological samples used in this study are well-documented fragments, dated from the 7th-3rd cent.B.C., coming from recent excavations in the area of Acropolis and Keramikos and the wider area of Attica. The laboratory BG specimens are produced with the use of clay samples, collected from Attica during geological surveys. The necessary geological and topographical information for those landscape investigations, withdraw from a mix-mapping process combining historical, contemporary and digital maps as well as available technologies such as the Google Earth application and image processing software.

This is the first time that ancient and modern BG ware produced by the same process are compared in terms of trace-elements, addressing the long standing archaeological question on sourcing of the raw materials-clays used for the attic-pottery decoration. Additionally, the research aims to provide new data on special decoration techniques (5) of Athenian vase-painting while dealing with authenticity matters taking into account weathering effects and decay mechanisms of BG.

1 Clay suspensions in water.
2 The proton induced X–ray emission technique combined with a scanning ion microprobe
2 The proton induced X–ray emission technique combined with a scanning ion microprobe
3 X-ray florescence spectroscopy
4 Analytical Scanning Electron microscopy / Energy Dispersive X-ray
5 The relief line, the coral red and the added red/purple.