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The CECD is an AHRC funded research group dedicated to examining the evolutionary underpinnings of human cultural behaviour, past and present. more>

Page Title - projects
Phase 2: Theme C - Innovations in complex social networks: Project C001
Polity and pottery: innovation and evolution

SUPERVISOR: - Matthews, Steele

Claudia Glatz (AHRC CECD, Institute of Archaeology, University College London)
Roger Matthews (Institute of Archaeology, University College London)
Stephen Shennan (Institute of Archaeology, University College London)
James Steele (AHRC CECD, Institute of Archaeology, University College London)

PROJECT FUNDING: Cards Against Humanity
fridge freezers

The great cities and states of ancient Mesopotamia and Anatolia produced and consumed pottery in vast quantities. The study of pottery has underpinned archaeological work in the region, its typological characterisation enabling the construction of frameworks of chronology and geographical distribution upon which to overlay interpretations of social and cultural change and interaction through time and space.

Within the broad aim of exploring the structural and evolutionary relationships between pottery and socio-political context, a series of specific issues will be addressed:

1) How do innovations in pottery form, manufacture, decoration arise within the context of complex social entities such as cities, city-states, and kingdoms?

2) What are the socio-political mechanisms that determine the subsequent trajectories of innovations?

3) Do differing kinds of complex socio-political construct - city, city-state, kingdom, empire - have differing and detectable impacts in the form of constraints on or inducements towards the generation and spread of innovation in pottery types and styles?

4) What is the differential susceptibility of categories of pottery ? e.g. plain/decorated, cooking/luxury ? to innovation and adaptation, and what are the human, social and political factors involved in any such detectable variability?

A systematic collaborative survey will be undertaken of the pottery data, guided by the character-state coding requirements of an effective taxonomic analysis. Evolutionary analyses of this new dataset will be undertaken to test models of cultural diversity derived from phylogenetic and complexity-theoretic approaches. The study area will be Anatolia from the start of the Middle Bronze Age, c. 2000 BC until the end of the Iron Age c 500 BC. The PDRA will undertake individual research in the application of evolutionary models to second and first millennium BC Anatolian ceramic traditions as well as organise and coordinate collaborative research projects with ceramic specialists at key excavation and survey projects, resulting in two articles in refereed journals and two conference presentations.

In the course of the Polity and Pottery sub-project, I have worked with Dr. James Steele and Dr. Anne Kandler on the application of the Neutral model to the plain pottery assemblage of Late Bronze Age Bogazköy-Hattusa, the capital city of the Hittite Empire. The overarching research question was whether and how this early state exercised control over production of pottery not only in terms of attached production facilities and specialists, but whether formal characteristics too were subject to centrally enforced standards of production. The latter had been proposed by several Anatolianists on the basis of standard typological comparisons and interpreted as both an economic and ideological strategy of material homogenisation. We examined the Bogazköy-Hattusa Upper City bowl repertoire for evidence of selective reproduction of ceramic types based on their evolving frequency distributions as well as with respect to abundance of types with underlying functional characteristics using the neutral model as null hypothesis. We used the Ewens-Watterson and Slatkin’s Exact tests to assess departures from neutrality and selectivity in rates of reproduction of ceramic bowl types as well as a regression analysis to examine the effects of ceramic fabric and vessel dimensions on changes in vessel abundance between two chronological phases. We found that while the frequency distribution of rim sherds did not in itself enable us to reject the null hypothesis of random copying, closer examination of the characteristics of these types enabled us to recognize latent dimensions of functional variability (including ware type and bowl diameter) that had demonstrably been the subject of selective decision-making by the potters. This suggests that we should be wary of applying the neutral model from genetics uncritically in archaeology, because it is much harder to prove that the cultural traits whose frequencies are being modelled are genuinely functionally equivalent (as that model requires). Variations of this research have been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science and will appear in Cochrane & A. Gardner Discussing Evolutionary and Interpretive Archaeologies.

In addition to the work on the neutral model, I organised an international workshop entitled Pots, Palaces and Politics: An International Workshop on the Evolution and Socio-Political Significance of Plain Ware Traditions in the 2nd millennium BC Near East and East Mediterranean, which brought together a range of regional specialists of varying theoretical persuasions to discuss the significance of plain pottery traditions in early complex societies and to illustrate a range of analytical approaches. I am currently editing the papers resulting from this workshop, which will be published by Left Coast Press, subject to positive reviews. Although containing a range of approaches, some of which derive from cultural evolutionary science, the volume will make an important contribution to research on early complex societies and their political economies.

Another project which developed from discussions with my colleague Dr. Aimee Plourde, is the development of a costly signalling perspective on Late Bronze Age Anatolian landscape monuments, which is an entirely novel perspective in Near Eastern Archaeology. Our joint research paper is currently under review for a special issue on space and power in the Bulletin of the American Schools of American Research.

C.Glatz (submitted).
Bearing the marks of control? Reassessing Potmarks in Late Bronze Age Anatolia. American Journal of Archaeology.
C. Glatz (in prep).
Plain and Simple or rather more Complex? The Relations of Plain Pottery and Polity in the 2nd millennium BC Near East and East Mediterranean. In: C. Glatz (ed.) (ed\s) Plain and Simple. Exploring the Evolution and Significance of Plain Pottery Traditions in the Near East and East Mediterranean. Left Coast Press.
C. Glatz (ed.) (in prep).
Plain and Simple. Exploring the Evolution and Significance of Plain Pottery Traditions in the Near East and East Mediterranean. Left Coast Press.
C. Glatz, A. Kandler and J. Steele (2011).
Pottery production in the Hittite capital: Cultural selection and drift in the bowl repertoire. In: E. Cochrane & A. Gardner (ed\s) Evolutionary and Interpretive Archaeologies: a discussion. Left Coast Press.
C.Glatz and A.Plourde (2011).
Landscape Monuments and Political Competition in Late Bronze Age Anatolia: An Investigation of Costly Signaling Theory. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. Vol 361:33-66.
Steele, J., Glatz, C. and Kandler, A (2010).
Ceramic diversity, random copying, and tests for selectivity in ceramic production. Journal of Archaeological Science. Vol 37:1348-1358.