Pottery Production and Exchange Networks in Ancient Arabia and the Near East

Because of its intrinsic properties, multiple functions and sheer bulk of retrieval, pottery is one of the most important artefacts found on ancient sites.

The research group promoting the project Pottery Production and Exchange Networks in Ancient Arabia and the Near East focuses on an interdisciplinary archaeological, archaeometric and technological study of ancient ceramic assemblages from Western Asia.

The goal is obtaining increasing libraries of data both on the organization of production of pottery and distribution of the repertories through different areas. These databases provide measurable, comparative references on whole chaîne opératoires of manufacture and inform our reconstructions of the ancient exchange networks throughout the wider region.

Our primary investigations verge on fingerprinting an assemblage, previously known as “Midianite Pottery” now called “Qurayyah Painted Ware”, using the material stemming from the exceptional context of pottery workshop-cum-firing kiln excavated by the University of Vienna in Qurayyah, NW Arabia. This material will be analyzed together with the pottery found in Tell Kheleifeh, Southern Jordan, which is part of the holds of the Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East.

The adopted research methodology integrates examinations at macro-, meso- and microscopic level: (1) non-destructive, macroscopic technological examination; (2) thin section petrography under the polarizing microscope to reconstruct the raw material procurement patterns and the paste preparation modes and (3) Neutron Activation Analysis (NAA) to characterize the chemical composition in terms of trace and rare elements, which are very sensible indicators of provenance. Also potential sources of raw materials sampled in Qurayyah are being analyzed. All these investigations will allow us to assess the level of technological specialization and standardization and gain a better understanding of the productive and economic organization of hitherto scarcely known desert oases in the Bronze Age.

Establishing through identical analytical methods and standards the petro-chemical fingerprint of the vessels produced in Qurayyah and Tell Kheleifeh will generate an unprecedented reference database for ceramic provenance studies for the region and period under study. Moreover, when confronted with published archaeometric evidence, our ground data will allow us to identify within Levantine assemblages which vessels were produced in Qurayyah and exported to regions as far away as Amman in Jordan in the north or Al-Ula in Saudi Arabia in the south and beyond.


The achievement of both objectives will shed light on aspects never systematically investigated before, such as the form and degree of craft organization (e.g. within family and tribes at a household level, individual workshop industry or for export production) and the structure of exchange networks involving raw materials, manufacturing techniques (e.g. introduction of the potter’s wheel), finished vessels, ideas and people.

The research group intends to develop interdisciplinary peer-reviewed publications and grant applications for the analysis of different ceramic assemblages throughout the Western Asiatic and Eastern Mediterranean region.


Members of the Faculty of Historical and Cultural Studies at the University of Vienna:

  • Marta Luciani (Department of Prehistoric and Historical Archaeology, Speaker of the Research group)
  • Irmgard Hein (VIAS and Institute of Egyptology)


in Cooperation with :

  • Paul Donnelly (Chau Chak Wing Museum, University of Sydney)
  • Pamela Fragnoli (Österreichisches Archäologisches Institut, Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften)
  • William Gilstrap (Center for Materials Research in Archaeology and Ethnology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
  • Joseph A. Greene (Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East, Harvard University)
  • Philipp Hoelzmann (Institute of Geographical Sciences, FU Berlin)
  • Johannes H. Sterba (Atominstitut, TU Wien)