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Hittite Pottery and Potters:
The View from Late Bronze Age Gordion

By Robert C. Henrickson

Hittite pottery varies widely in quality, with publication usually directing more attention to the finer types. Late Bronze Age Gordion in western central Anatolia has recently yielded several probable pieces of Hittite pottery. The most striking was a zoomorphic vessel, a barrel rhyton, found on the floor of a Late Bronze Age structure. Its distinctive micaceous reddish color and well-burnished finish suggest that it was probably an import. Other possible imports included a jar rim and jar shoulders with stamp seal impressions, although the recovery of a clay stamp seal indicates some local use. The great majority of Hittite pottery, however, is plain ware with simple, standardized shapes, cursory finishes, and no decoration.1 Study of vessel and rim shapes and stylistic analysis of finer pieces document links among sites, thus delineating the broad distribution of Hittite Late Bronze Age pottery, including Gordion.

Pottery, either as vessels or more commonly as innumerable sherds, is probably the most common artifact recovered in excavations. Pottery vessels are not just objects; they are the end-product of the interactions of raw materials, culture, and technology. Shape, size, forming and finishing methods, organization of production, and properties of the raw materials are all interrelated. A technological approach to the seemingly unpromising plain ware pottery can yield a wide range of information which the much rarer fine ceramics may not. Much of the ancient potter's craft can be reconstructed, even without recovering actual workshops or tools, thus providing information on the ancient economy.

The long-term German excavations at the Hittite capital at Hattusa-Bogazköy, directed until recently by P. Neve, have provided copious data from the Hittite heartland and shed light on many aspects of the Hittite material culture. Excavations at other sites in central Anatolia, such as MasŸat Hüyük and Alaca Höyük, have further documented the ceramic assemblage.2 Stylistic analysis of the shapes has shown that the pottery tradition extends over a remarkably broad area in the Late Bronze Age, including such sites in western central Anatolia as Gordion (Mellink 1956; Gunter 1991; Henrickson 1993, 1994) and Yanarlar (Emre 1978), Porsuk in the south (Dupré 1983), and Korucutepe (Van Loon 1980) and NorsŸuntepe (Korbel 1985) to the southeast.

Here I would like to take a hinterland perspective on this widespread ceramic tradition, examining the Hittite impact on the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1400-1200 bce) ceramic assemblage at Gordion, then a small settlement on the edge of the empire. My approach will emphasize technology, since reconstructing the ancient potter's craft not only provides insight into the local economy but also better defines the strength of the Hittite impact on the local material culture.

Sherds, Vessels, and the Ancient Potter's Craft

Pottery sherds and vessels retain many residual traces which permit reconstruction of the ancient potter's craft, including the forming and finishing sequences for individual vessel types and sizes. Each forming and finishing method leaves characteristic residual traces, both within the fabric and on the surfaces.3 Studies of traditional potters and replication experiments have established correlations between such residual traces and original forming and finishing methods. Combined with technical approaches from materials science, forming and finishing sequences for individual types and sizes of vessels can be reconstructed.(4)

Although each stage of manufacture may obscure or obliterate evidence left by previous ones, this does not always happen. In addition, each stage tends to have somewhat more superficial effects than the previous one. Secondary forming may add, alter, or replace traces left by primary forming both in the fabric and on the surfaces. Finishing, such as smoothing, tends to leave marks on surfaces. Thus, although residual traces may result from any stage of production, most on surfaces will come from later, finishing rather than forming stages, while those within the fabric will tend to derive more from primary forming, perhaps later altered by secondary working.

Choice of forming methods is dependent on both vessel form and size, as well as materials and local technology. Making any vessel usually involves combinations of various forming and finishing methods.(5)

How a vessel breaks provides evidence for how it was made, since the characteristics of the breaks themselves, and their overall patterning on the entire vessel, are related to specific forming methods. For example, throwing on a potter's wheel leaves a spiraling internal ridge ("wheelmarks" or "throwing marks") and consistent diagonal orientations of inclusions ("temper") within the clay fabric. Breaks tend to spiral upward and outward from the base. Multi-piece construction methods, such as coil or slab building, leave weaknesses where separate pieces of clay joined. Breaks therefore tend to follow construction joins, since these are not as strong as the clay body itself. A periodic spacing of horizontal breaks suggests coiling. Indeed, surfaces of the individual coils are often recognizable in the horizontal and vertical cross-sections left by breaks. In the clay fabric itself, patterning of texture (such as orientation of tempering particles) provides information as to specific forming techniques used. For example, repetitive circular patterning within vertical section of the vessel wall indicates coiling (Rye 1981; Vandiver 1987: App. III; Henrickson 1991).

The complexity of production organization varies widely. Characteristics of the assemblage-the number of types of vessels, their variability or standardization, and methods of forming and finishing-offer clues to the organization of production. Specialist potters tend to use potter's wheels, among other tools, producing large numbers of relatively standardized simple shapes and sizes; common wares tend to have simple finishes (Peacock 1982:12-51; Van der Leeuw 1977; Rice 1991; Costin 1991).

Technological analysis of pottery, focusing on methods of production, thus opens new areas of study: reconstruction of an ancient craft, recognition of culturally distinctive "technologies," assessment of technological sophistication, and nature and degree of technological transfer or acculturation between ceramic traditions. These afford insights into the ancient economy and society, such as identification of organization of production and specialist craftspeople.

Late Bronze Age Gordion

R. Young dug small soundings into the Bronze Age levels on Gordion's main mound, and Mellink excavated part of a Hittite cemetery (Young 1966, Mellink 1956; see also Gunter 1991). Building on these earlier excavations, the recent Yassihöyük Stratigraphic Sequence (YHSS) excavations, directed by M. M. Voigt in 1988-89, have enhanced our understanding of Late Bronze Age Gordion. The Late Bronze Age strata (phases YHSS 9-8) consisted of trash strata covered with a meter thick layer of clay derived from decayed mudbrick (YHSS 9) into which large storage pits and a cellar more than a meter deep were cut (YHSS 8). On the soft ashy floor were masses of broken pottery (Voigt 1994). Parallels to Bogazköy and other Hittite sites (see below) indicate that YHSS 9-8 date to ca. 1400-1200 bce (Henrickson 1993, 1994; Voigt 1994; Gunter 1991). Although its size and nature are unknown, Gordion was likely a rather small settlement-a village or small town-as were all other known Late Bronze Age sites in the region (Voigt 1994; Sams and Voigt 1989).

Gordion Late Bronze Age (YHSS 9-8) Pottery Industry

The Gordion Late Bronze Age assemblage is notable for its standardization and overall simplicity. Standardization is pronounced in the distinctive repetition of production sequences for individual vessel types and sizes and in the clustering of vessel sizes. The simplicity and limited number of vessel forms, rim profiles, and generally rather cursory finishing all suggest that ease and speed of production were important considerations.

Three broad ware (fabric) categories may be distinguished. Variation among them primarily involves differences in clay preparation and methods of manufacture and finishing. Color ranges from creamy-white through tan or buff to reddish-orange to brown. Common ware (87-90% of all sherds recovered) has a rather dense paste with variable amounts of medium grit temper (usually <0.2 mm in diameter). Fine ware (1-5%) has no visible temper. Cooking ware (5%) has a less dense paste with large amounts of medium grit and voids from burnt-out chaff temper. Red slip or paint is found on 3-4% of the common and fine wares.

The Late Bronze Age potters used the potter's wheel, turntable, and a variety of hand-forming methods, in varied combinations. Production sequences for individual vessel types varied with vessel size. Most vessels thrown on a potter's wheel, aside from shallow rounded bowls, tended to be small, with a maximum diameter 20 cm. Forming larger vessels usually involved various combinations of hand-building techniques, often coiling.

Secondary forming, mostly on a turntable, was common. The bodies of medium and large vessels were altered, such as by scraping, then regularized and smoothed on a turntable. Rim forming and finishing were simple. Bowl rims were usually simply rounded and smoothed. Jar and pot rims were formed either by everting and folding down the lip or by adding some clay to thicken and strengthen it. The base of most small and medium bowls and jars was rounded by trimming, probably on a turntable.

Overall finishing usually consisted of simple smoothing; few true slips are identifiable. Most of the "slips" are actually "self-slips" resulting from wet-smoothing which concentrates fine clay particles on the surface. Decoration usually consists of red slip or painted bands. Some jars have rather inconspicuous, isolated vertical burnish strokes.

The common and fine ware pottery was well-fired, yielding a hard fabric which tends to fracture along sharp linear breaks. Experimental refiring of YHSS 8 sherds indicate that the common and fine buff wares were fired at 800-1000ÁC, a temperature high enough to imply use of kilns. Cooking ware was fired at a lower temperature (<700ÁC), perhaps in the open (Rye 1981:96-122).

Forming Sequences for Individual Vessel Types(6)

Let us now turn to how some of the common vessel types were made and what this information has to offer. Although no complete examples of the medium to large types were recovered, pieces were adequate to determine methods of manufacture. All have parallels at Hittite sites.

Small fine ware bowls. In YHSS 8, small shallow bowls with a rounded bottom and slightly carinated or rounded profile were thrown on a potter's wheel using a fine paste. When leather-hard, the exterior of the base was shaved and smoothed to yield a rounded bottom and uniform wall thickness. Sagging or flexing due to thin walls often resulted in slightly irregular shapes. Many have a rim diameter of 17±1 cm, standard within the margin of error for measuring diameters from sherds. Parallels, which seem to have been thrown but may not be as fine in ware, are found at MasŸat Höyük and Bogazköy.

Small fine ware 'Welt Bowls'. In YHSS 9, fragments of at least several small rounded bowls embodied a unique method of decoration. Small cylindrical pellets (diameter 2-3 mm) of clay were forced into the sides of the bowl from the exterior. On the interior, these pellets produced bumps or welts, while on the exterior their flat ends were concealed by smoothing.

Small conical bowls. Small, shallow conical bowls with flat bases were thrown using a common ware paste. The base retains marks left by the string used to free the bowl from the potter's wheel.

Medium bowls with rounded base. The forming sequence for medium-sized shallow, rounded bowls (diameter 26-32 cm, with diameters tending to cluster at 26 and 32 cm) is similar to that for fine ware. Each was thrown, dried to leather-hardness, inverted, and the base trimmed on a turntable to yield a rounded exterior profile. Careful examination of the exterior surface usually identifies residual scraping scars in the basal area, although final smoothing has usually removed most; near the rim ridges left by throwing survive. Breaks tend to spiral outward from the center to the rim, suggesting throwing on the potter's wheel. Rim forms tend to become even simpler from YHSS 8 to YHSS 9.

Alternative forming methods were occasionally used. Distinctively different patterns of breakage indicate that one rounded base bowl made with a slightly coarser fabric than usual was molded and the rim finished by the addition of a single strip or coil of clay its perimeter.

Medium conical bowls with flat bases. Although the same general size and only slightly deeper than the previous type, medium sized conical bowls (diameter 26-32 cm) were handbuilt rather than thrown. Relatively thick sides were butted onto a heavy slab base; adding coils or strips of clay which were drawn them upward and outward completed the sides. The rim, entire interior, and upper exterior were smoothed, probably on a turntable. The base exterior remained poorly finished, sometimes retaining grit or chaff impressions from the surface on which it had rested. These flat-base bowls were thus not simply rounded profile bowls whose bases had not been trimmed but rather the product of entirely different forming approach.

Jars. Jars have narrow necks, heavy rounded or slightly triangular folded rims, rounded sloping shoulders, and handles attached at the neck and shoulder. Two types are common at Gordion: 1) thin-walled jars of small to moderate size and 2) larger jars with tapered cylindrical bodies and pointed bases.

The small to medium size thin-walled jars were probably thrown on a potter's wheel, judging from the thin walls, throwing ridges on the interior of the shoulder, and sometimes diagonal compression ridges on the interior of the neck resulting from constricting the shoulder to form the neck. Their overall thinness yields relatively small pieces, with lower bodies and rounded bases difficult to identify and reconstruct.

The large tapered cylindrical jars with pointed base, usually have strong "throwing marks" on their interior. They were, however, built from at least three separate components: 1) rim/neck/upper shoulder; 2) main body; and 3) lower body and base. The general forming sequence is reasonably clear. Patterns of breaks and texture variations and voids in the fabric demonstrate the use of coiling or piecemeal construction, on a turntable, for primary forming of the walls of the main and lower body. Parallel breaks correspond to joins between clay elements in the wall. The upper shoulder/neck piece was perhaps formed separately and attached to the main body, or built onto the upper edge of body. The shoulder was consolidated and the neck diameter reduced on a turntable, leaving "wheelmarks" inside the shoulder and compression ridges inside the neck, and the handle added finally.

Bringing the base to a point must have been one of the very last steps in the entire vessel production sequence. Two techniques seem to have been used. Vertical ridges left by compression indicate that squeezing or "choking" brought the bottom of the jar to a point. The absence of any evidence for smoothing over the interior compression ridges indicates pointing the base was a very late stage in production. A second forming technique, also used for somewhat more rounded bases, involved successive additions of small strips or coils of clay to gradually close the open base.

Cooking pots. Cooking pots were rather baggy wide-mouthed handmade vessels with rounded bases, slightly enlarged rounded rims, and vertical loop handles. The fabric was noticeably coarser and somewhat more friable than for other vessels, due to use of much greater amounts of chaff temper. The lower body may be been formed in a mold, but the sides were built by coiling. As might be expected with a cooking pot, the interior surface is better smoothed than the outer, probably on a turntable.

"Vats" and large storage vessels. Given the relatively small size of sherds recovered relative to vessel size, the overall shapes remain uncertain. The long, parallel, horizontal breaks, and joins visible in broken edges of sherds, demonstrate that coiling was the primary forming method. Surface marks again suggest secondary forming and finishing on a turntable. The base of a large jar clearly shows the construction method using layers or slabs of clay.

The Potter's Craft at Gordion

Although the limited area of Late Bronze Age architecture excavated is modest, the pottery assemblage does suggest some economic complexity at Gordion. Simple profiles, limited number of vessel types, tight clustering of sizes, cursory finish, and general simplicity of most attributes-in short, its standardization-all suggest large-scale production by specialist potters. Two jars had "potter's marks" incised on their shoulders before firing, although their meaning remains unclear (cf. Gunter 1991:pl. 26.493, 28.517-521).

Neutron activation analysis of both Gordion Late Bronze Age pottery samples and clays from the Sakarya River banks adjacent to the site has demonstrated that most have very similar chemical compositions. Therefore, much of the Late Bronze Age pottery must have been made at or near Gordion; it clearly is not imported from another area (Henrickson and Blackman n.d.). Since the nature of the assemblage suggests professional potters and relatively large-scale production, output would have far exceeded the modest needs of the small Late Bronze Age settlement at Gordion. Contemporary settlements in the area were also small, so the potters must have been supplying at least several of them as well. Pottery thus provides the best evidence for some regional economic complexity at present; the limited area of Late Bronze Age strata excavated at Gordion have yet to yield much other evidence for local economic complexity (Voigt 1994). The pottery suggests the presence of at least one group of specialist craftspeople. In such an economy, other specialists might be expected. Pottery provides information we otherwise lack, or have yet to recognize. Closer study of other types of data may well yield similar results.

Gordion and the Hittites

The Hittites dominated central Anatolia; Gordion lay on or near the imperial periphery. The basic types of vessels in the Late Bronze Age assemblage at Gordion are well-known from imperial Hittite sites (see above; Henrickson 1993, 1994; Gunter 1991). Gordion's assemblage seems to be a simplified version of the basic Hittite assemblage. All major vessel types found at Gordion are known at Hattusa, but Hattusa has others not found at Gordion. More important, the production sequences at Gordion are similar, if not identical, to those at the Hittite capital of Hattusa (Müller-Karpe 1988: Abb. 2-6). This is noteworthy since all of the vessel shapes involved could easily be produced using other combinations of methods. The replication of not only shapes but also forming methods demonstrates tha

t Gordion had strong connections to the Hittite ceramic tradition, since a potter's craft methods are less likely to change under outside influence than the vessel shapes produced. For example, during the Persian and Hellenistic periods at Gordion, local potters very carefully copied the shape and all of the details of imported Greek Black Glazed vessels but used their own, distinctly different local forming and finishing methods to do so (Henrickson 1993, 1994).

The broad stylistic and technological connections between Gordion common ware pottery and Hittite heartland assemblages traced above find further support in the several probable Hittite imports. Alaca Hüyük provides the best parallel for the zoomorphic rhyton, but fragments from Bogazköy provide further parallels, as do Late Bronze Age Porsuk and Ilica.7 The stamp seal impression with an unintelligible personal name in hieroglyphic Hittite on a storage vessel rim implies at least contact.8 The two jar shoulders with stamp seal impressions, particularly the one with the "signe royale," also have parallels at Bogazköy. The clay stamp seal with the "signe royale" motif allows for local stamping, but it is not enough to establish the presence of a Hittite official at Gordion. Further investigation is needed.

Concluding Remarks

Gordion was apparently a small settlement near the periphery of the Hittite empire in the Late Bronze Age. Even there, however, the Hittites had a dramatic impact on pottery, a basic local industry. The methods and probable scale of pottery production suggest a regional distribution network for pottery. Looking at the plain pottery and its underlying technology both has clarified Gordion's Hittite connections and shown that the rhyton and stamp sealings on jars are one aspect of a much more pervasive phenomenon.

Vessel shapes and rim forms have long provided stylistic evidence for a connection between Gordion and the Hittites. The technological similarities in production methods and sequences imply a stronger, more fundamental craft relationship. The technological approach to the pottery assemblage has yielded both a reconstruction of the Late Bronze Age potter's craft at Gordion and shed light on the nature of the local economy.


The Gordion Excavation Project is sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania Museum. During 1988-1991, the project received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The National Geographic Society supported the 1988 season. In 1988-89, my work at Gordion was funded by the Committee for Field Archaeology of the Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto). Comments from M. M. Voigt, M. J. Mellink, E. F. Henrickson, and R. Gorny have improved the text; I am solely responsible for errors and matters of interpretation.


1 See in particular Müller-Karpe 1988 but also Fischer 1963; Orthmann 1963; 1984; Özgüç 1978; 1982.

2 For Hattusa / Bogazköy see Fischer 1963; Müller-Karpe 1988; Orthmann 1963; Seidl 1972. For MasŸat Hüyük see Özgüç 1978, 1982 and for Alaca Höyük see KosŸay and Akok 1944, 1951, 1973. 3 Noble 1965; Shepard 1968; Rye 1981; Vandiver 1987:App. III; Van As 1984, 1989; Henrickson 1991.

4 For studies of traditional potters and replication experiments see Hampe and Winter 1962, 1965; Matson 1974; Rye and Evans 1976; Rye 1981; Kramer 1985; see Longacre 1991 for bibliography. For technical approaches from materials science see Matson 1974; Kingery 1981; Kingery and Vandiver 1988; Kramer 1985; Vandiver 1988.

5 E.g., Güner 1988; Hampe and Winter 1962, 1965; Rye and Evans 1976; Reina and Hill 1978; Kramer 1985; Longacre 1991; Henrickson 1991.

6 Additional material on the forming sequences for individual vessel types can be found in the following sources. For small fineware bowls see Gunter 1991:fig. 12.212, 17.352; Mellink 1956:pl. 15d-l, 30a-b. For MasŸat Höyük see Özgüç 1982:pl. 46.1, 6 and for Bogazköy see Müller-Karpe 1988:Taf. 40; Fischer 1963:Taf. 102. 802, 803, 823-828, 835. For small fineware "Welt Bowls" cf. Gunter 1991:pl. 25.414. For small conical bowls see Müller-Karpe 1988:96, Abb. 6. Bogazköy provides parallels, see MüllerKarpe 1988:Taf. 41.N1a. For medium bowls with rounded base cf. Müller-Karpe 1988:Taf. 32-36; Fischer 1963:Taf. 95-96; Özgüç 1978:pl. 45.1, 3, 4; Özgüç 1982:pl. 46.2-4; fig. A.1-4, 37-42. For medium conical bowls with flat bases cf. Müller-Karpe 1988:Taf 29.S1d. For jars cf. Müller-Karpe 1988:Taf. 5-7, for forming methods of jars, cf. Müller-Karpe 1988: 32, Abb. 3; for parallels ibid. taf. 3; for pointing of bases cf. Müller-Karpe 1988:32, Abb. 3. For forming of cooking pots, cf. Müller-Karpe 1988:51, Abb. 4 (for parallels Taf. 9-11); Özgüç 1982:fig. D.25, E.1-2. For vats cf. Müller-Karpe 1988:Taf. 12-17, 27; 63 Abb.5.

7 For Alaca Hüyük see KosŸay and Akok 1973:80; pl. XXXIX, Al n. 102; cf. also pl. XXXVIII, Al n.90. For Bogazköy see Fischer 1963:Taf. 133.1278, 138.1335. For Porsuk see Abadie-Reynal et al. 1991:Resim 8. For Ilica see Orthmann 1967:pl. 16.

8 Güterbock personal communication to M. Voigt; cf. Güterbock 1980: Fig. 4 and Gunter 1991:pl. 24.381 and 29.532. Seals are also found on jar shoulders. Cf Seidl 1972.


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