Anthropology 418
Spring 2019

Professor Vin Steponaitis

  • Office: Alumni Building, Room 108
  • Hours: Tu, Th 2-3, and by appointment (email or call 962-7748)
  • 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. 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. The schedule may change and readings may be updated as the semester proceeds.

Meeting Times:  The course meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 3:30-4:45 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%). Class participation is essential. It will be taken into account by reducing your grade 10% for each unexcused absence. If you must miss class, please discuss it with me in advance if possible. If this is not possible, then please contact me as soon as possible afterwards. In general, illness or unavoidable family obligations (like weddings) are the only valid reasons for an absence. Unless there are similar extenuating circumstances, missed labs must be made up within a week. There will also be at least three field trips scheduled on Saturdays.

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.

Honor Code:  Students are expected to adhere to UNC's Honor Code. Note that it is perfectly OK to collaborate on lab assignments, so long as the write-up is your own work.

Rice, Prudence (2015). Pottery Analysis: A Sourcebook. Second edition. U. of Chicago Press.
[Order from Student Stores]

Course Schedule

1/10     Introduction
1/15-2/19     Ceramic production: principles and reconstruction [project prospectus due 2/19]
2/21-3/7     Vessel function: analysis of shape and use-wear
  [Spring break]
3/19-3/21     Chemical and mineral characterization, part 1 [project progress report due 3/21]
3/26-3/28     Project time [open]
4/2-4/4     Chemical and mineral characterization, part 2
4/9     Organization of production
4/11     Project time [open]
4/16-4/25     Student projects: oral reports
4/30     Final exam (4 pm)
5/3     Paper due (4 pm)


  1. Identification of Manufacturing Processes [PDF]
  2. Identification of Temper and Decorative Technique [PDF]
  3. Building a Pot [PDF]
  4. Critical Points in Vessel Profiles [PDF]
  5. Field Tests for Clay Workability [PDF]
  6. Rim Diameters and Profiles [PDF]
  7. Petrographic Observation of Thin Sections [PDF]
  8. Elemental Characterization


  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 system 1 [PDF]
  5. Munsell system 2 [PDF]
  6. Munsell system 3 [PDF]
  7. Vessel and Rim profiles [PDF]
  8. Rim profiles [PDF]
  9. Critical points and vessel sections [PDF]
  10. Rim diameter template [PDF]
  11. Mineral inclusions in Moundville pottery [PDF]
  12. Portable X-ray Fluorescence spectroscopy (pXRF) [PDF]

Field Trips

  1. Wheel Throwing and Kiln Firing, Saturday 1/26 [Details]
  2. Coiling and Open Firing, Saturday 2/23 (postponed to 3/2) [Details]
  3. Cooking in Unglazed Pots, Saturday 3/2

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Last modified 5/5/19.