Indigeneity and innovation of early Islamic glaze technology: the case of the Coptic Glazed Ware

Abstract

This study investigates how the technology of Coptic Glazed Ware (CGW) – which is one of the earliest examples of Islamic glazed pottery – was developed, allowing for an insight into the mechanisms that contributed to the making of early Islamic material culture. The range of technologies of 20 CGW samples recovered from different sites in Israel was reconstructed, based on the characterisations by thin-section petrography, optical microscopy, and scanning electron microscopy energy-dispersive spectrometry. Our results show that the samples were originated from Aswan, Egypt. The procurement of kaolinitic clay from local deposits to form the ceramic body and slip, as well as the preference of painting as the principal mode of decoration, represents a continuation of the local fine ware tradition (Egyptian red and white slip ware and Coptic painted ware). The use of lead glaze was more akin to the Byzantine glaze technology. The CGW technology is further distinguished by the use of a diverse range of colourants and how the coloured glazes were prepared. Although individual elements of the CGW technology display influences from preceding and contemporaneous pottery technologies, it was not until the production of CGW that all these elements were combined together for the first time, highlighting the innovative character of the CGW technology. We argue that such innovation was born out of a strong local fine ware tradition that was embedded in the landscape of highly specialized craft production, while stimulating by a desire to establish new identities and new material representations by the Arab-Muslim newcomers.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The Tel Aviv University excavations in Jaffa were directed by Alexander Fantalkin in 2000–2001. The final report is in preparation by Fantalkin and Taxel.

  2. 2.

    The IAA excavations in Yavneh were directed by Eli Yannai in 2010–2012. The final report is in preparation by Yannai and Taxel.

  3. 3.

    The Tel Aviv University excavations in Yavneh-Yam were directed by Moshe Fischer in 1992–1999 and by Fischer and Taxel in 2005–2011. The final report is in preparation by Fischer and Taxel.

  4. 4.

    The IAA excavations in Khirbat ‘Amra were directed by Gil Tahal in 1993–1994. The final report is in preparation by Noé David Michael and Taxel.

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Acknowledgements

This research was carried out with funding provided by the European Commission Horizon 2020 Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions Individual Fellowship 2016 (Grant agreement no.: 750904; Project acronym: GLAZE). We would like to thank Professor Ian Freestone for this expertise and insightful comments on the interpretation of the data used to reconstruct the CGW glaze technology. We are grateful to the directors of excavation, who have kindly granted us with the permission to sample the materials from their respective project. We are equally grateful to the Israel Antiquities Authority for granting us with the permission to extract and export the materials for further analyses. We would also like to thank Tom Gregory at the UCL Wolfson Archaeological Sciences Laboratories for his technical support, Catherine Kneale at the Pitts-River Laboratory for Archaeological Science, University of Cambridge, for the training on digital microscopy, and Emil Aladjem of the Israel Antiquities Authority for preparing Fig. 2.

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Appendix 1

Appendix 1

Table 7 Comparison of the published (Adlington 2017) and analysed value, mean, absolute error and relative error of Corning B and Corning C. ‘-’ represents value that is below the limits of detection

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Ting, C., Taxel, I. Indigeneity and innovation of early Islamic glaze technology: the case of the Coptic Glazed Ware. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 12, 27 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-019-01007-y

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Keywords

  • Glaze technology
  • Mediaeval ceramics
  • Early Islamic period
  • Egypt
  • Levant
  • Technological change