Anthropology 418
Spring 2024

Last modified 2/29/24. Refresh browser to see the latest changes below. Click here for a PDF version.

Professor Vin Steponaitis

  • Office: Alumni Building, Room 108
  • Hours: Tuesdays 3:30-4:30, and by appointment
  • Email:

Course Description:  This course focuses on ancient ceramic technologies and how they can be reconstructed archaeologically. Methods related to the study of ceramic technology are stressed. Students who take this course will learn how traditional potters made their wares, and how archaeologists recognize which techniques were used from the traces left on the finished products. Students will also learn the basic archaeological methods of describing vessel shapes, reconstructing vessel functions, and determining the chemical composition of ceramic materials. The course is intended for serious students of archaeology (undergraduate or graduate) and anyone interested in ancient ceramic technologies. There are no prerequisites.

Course Structure:  There will be two meetings per week. In general, each topic will be covered with one or more lectures, followed by a lab designed to give you some practical experience. There will also be three field trips scheduled on Saturdays (see tentative dates below). Class sessions will be informal, hopefully with lots of verbal give-and-take. You will also select an independent project, on which you will present an oral report and write a paper (10-15 pages, double-spaced). The schedule may change and readings may be updated as the semester proceeds (see statement on "Spring 2022 Course Delivery" below).

Meeting Times:  The course meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11:00-12:15 pm, in Alumni 404.

Course Requirements:  In addition to the assigned readings, requirements include periodic lab assignments (30%); a project prospectus, progress report, and oral report (10%); a term paper based on your independent project (30%); and a final exam (30%).

Course Attendance:  Class participation is essential. If you must miss class, please tell me in advance if you can. If you can’t, then please contact me as soon as possible afterwards. If your absence is for a valid reason per UNC’s policies or other unavoidable circumstances (in my judgment), you will either have the opportunity to make up any work that was missed or have that work excused, at my discretion. For each absence that has no valid reason, a make-up is not guaranteed and I may reduce your final grade by one step (e.g., an A will be reduced to an A-).

Course Syllabus and Bibliography:  Click here for a PDF version of the course syllabus, which in turn draws readings from the course bibliography. Not all the readings listed in the bibliography are required. The bibliography can be used as a resource in formulating and pursuing your term paper project.

Course Web Site:  This web site contains not only all the information in the course syllabus, but also downloadable versions of all the lab exercises. It will be updated as the semester proceeds.

Course Schedule

1/11     Introduction
1/16-2/22     Ceramic production: principles and reconstruction [project prospectus due 2/12]
2/27-3/7     Vessel function: analysis of shape and use-wear
      [Spring break]
3/18-3/21     Vessel function: 3D modeling [project progress report due 3/21]
3/26-4/11     Chemical and mineral characterization [project progress report due 3/24]
4/6     Organization of production
4/18-4/30     Student projects: oral reports
5/3     Paper due (4 pm)
5/7     Final exam (12 pm)


  1. Building a Pot [PDF]
  2. Identification of Manufacturing Processes [PDF]
    • Vessel description form [DOC]
  3. Identification of Temper and Decorative Technique [PDF]
    • Vessel description form [DOC]
  4. Critical Points in Vessel Profiles [PDF]
    • Critical points and vessel sections [PDF]


  1. Preparing clay [YouTube]
  2. Building pots [YouTube]
  3. Firing pots [YouTube]


  1. Traditional potters' wheels [PDF]
  2. Throwing a pot; paddle and anvil finishing [PDF]
  3. Particle orientations and building methods [PDF]
  4. Munsell Navigator [Web]
  5. Munsell system 1 [PDF]
  6. Munsell system 2 [PDF]
  7. Munsell system 3 [PDF]
  8. Critical points and vessel sections [PDF]
  9. Vessel and Rim profiles [PDF]
  10. Rim profiles [PDF]
  11. Rim diameter template [PDF]
  12. Mineral inclusions in Moundville pottery
  13. Portable X-ray Fluorescence spectroscopy (pXRF)

Field Trips

  1. Wheel Throwing and Kiln Firing: Saturday 2/17 [Details]
  2. Coiling and Open Firing: Saturday 3/2 [Details]
    • Clay testing handout [PDF]
    • Clay testing form [PDF] [DOC]
  3. Cooking in Unglazed Pots: TBA

Honor Code:  Students are expected to adhere to UNC's Honor Code. In particular, you must refrain from “lying, cheating, or stealing” in the academic context. If you are unsure about which actions violate that honor code, please see me or consult the web (

Generative AI Usage Guidance:  Use of generative AI in your coursework is based on the following principles: (1) AI should help you think, not think for you. Use these tools to give you ideas, perform research (in compliance with point 2 below), and analyze problems. Do not use them to do your work for you, e.g., do not enter an assignment question into ChatGPT and copy the response as your answer. (2) Engage with AI technologies responsibly, critically evaluating AI-generated outputs and considering potential biases, limitations, and ethical implications in your analysis and discussions. (3) You are 100% responsible for your final product. (4) You are the user; if AI makes a mistake and you use it, then it’s your mistake. (5) The use of AI must be open and documented. (6) The use of any AI in the creation of your work must be declared in your submission and explained. Details on how to source your AI usage are explained below. For more information go here.

UNC Class Attendance Policy:  As stated in the University’s Class Attendance Policy, no right or privilege exists that permits a student to be absent from any class meetings, except for these university approved absences: (1) authorized university activities; (2) disability, religious observance, or pregnancy; and (3) significant health condition and/or personal/family emergency. See the UNC Class Attendance Policy for details ( Also see the "Course Attendance" requirements above.

Accessibility Resources:  Accessibility Resources and Service (ARS) receives requests for accommodations, and through the Student and Applicant Accommodations Policy determines eligibility and identifies reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or chronic medical conditions to mitigate or remove the barriers experienced in accessing University courses, programs and activities. ARS also offers its Testing Center resources to students and instructors to facilitate the implementation of testing accommodations. See the ARS website ( for contact information or connect by email (

Counseling and Psychological Services:  UNC-Chapel Hill is strongly committed to addressing the mental health needs of a diverse student body. The Heels Care Network website is a place to access the many mental health resources at Carolina. CAPS is the primary mental health provider for students, offering timely access to consultation and connection to clinically appropriate services. Go to their website ( or visit their facilities on the third floor of the Campus Health building for an initial evaluation to learn more. Students can also call CAPS 24/7 at 919-966-3658 for immediate assistance.

Title IX Resources:  Any student who is impacted by discrimination, harassment, interpersonal (relationship) violence, sexual violence, sexual exploitation, or stalking is encouraged to seek resources on campus or in the community. Reports can be made to the Office of Equal Opportunity & Compliance online ( or by contacting the University’s Title IX Coordinator (Elizabeth Hall, or the Report and Response Coordinators in the EOC Office ( Confidential resources include Counseling and Psychological Services and the Gender Violence Services Coordinators ( Additional resources are available online (

Back to top