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Ceramic Production and Distribution: An Integrated Approach.

GEORGE J. BEY III & CHRISTOPHER A. POOL (ed.). Ceramic production and distribution: an integrated approach. (Westview special studies in archaeological research). xviii + 342 pages, 66 figures, 27 tables. 1992. Boulder (CO) & Oxford: Westview Press; ISBN 0-8133-7920-2 hardback |pounds~43.50.

This volume contains a collection of archaeological and ethno-archaeological studies that focus on ceramic production and ceramic distribution. Geographically, the studies span the New and Old Worlds. The earliest temporal period represented is the 4th century AD Middle Classic period in Veracruz, Mexico (Pool & Santley; B. Stark). The latest period covered is the present, in the form of ethno-archaeological research among contemporary artisan communities in the Near East (Nicholson & Patterson) and Latin America (Arnold & Nieves; Chavez).

The case studies vary in scale and intensity from household-level production (Iroquois) and household industry (Basketmaker period Anasazi) to a manufactory scale, in the production of Roman amphoras (Will). Most of the case studies lie between household and manufactory, such as the Veracruz examples of La Mixtequilla (B. Stark) and the Tuxtlas (Pool & Santley) and the contemporary Raqch'i potters of the southern Peruvian highlands. Zubrow's study uses cross-cultural data from a variety of organizational forms to develop formal models of ceramic production.

The underlying assumption of the myriad analyses is that 'production and distribution are interacting components of economic systems and should be studied as such' (Pool, chapter 12, p. 275). Several themes reverberate through studies in the volume:

1 the identification of ceramic production (of varying scales) in the archaeological record;

2 the organization of ceramic production; and

3 the relation between consumer demand/consumption and production decisions.

Efforts to identify ceramic production in the archaeological record generally produce mixed results. State-level societies, in which production scale is sufficiently large to warrant permanent workshops and kilns, tend to yield more evidence for ceramic production that do smaller scale societies. However, Blinman & Wilson use innovative strategies in their study (chapter 7) to identify ceramic production evidence in small-scale agricultural societies. The Mesoamerican research reported in three of the volume's chapters (B. Stark, Pool & Santley and Feinman et al.) utilizes a wide range of techniques to identify ceramic production in the archaeological record.

Central to most studies in the volume is the organization of ceramic production: the scale, intensity, spatial extent and physical appearance of goods produced in different modes of production. Ceramic standardization looms large in such research, as several chapters (e.g. Allen; Arnold & Nieves) examine intensified production and the factors that conditions various forms of standardization. Observations made by Arnold & Nieves in this volume (and by others elsewhere, e.g. Arnold 1991; Rice 1991) on types of untested assumptions that underlie current standardization research are timely and valuable.

Several ethno-archaeological studies in the volume produce useful findings regarding the relation between consumer demand, production scale and assemblage variability (Arnold & Nieves, Chavez, Nicholson & Patterson, Pool). For example, social norms as well as local ecology encourage the development of complementary specialization at the household and community levels in the Andes. Although most potters are capable of making most ceramic forms, certain villages in the region specialize in particular forms because they have 'acquired a reputation' |emphasis original~ (Chavez, p. 80) for doing so. The study of consumption receives short shrift in some of the volume's archaeological chapters, excepting the Mesoamerican studies. Consumer preference appears more amenable to ethno-archaeological study than to archaeological investigation. Perhaps ethno-archaeological research can provide insights for archaeological research in this area.

The strength of this volume lies in the depth of ceramic research represented in many of its chapters. Most studies are useful, and some are indeed exemplary in their treatment of archaeological and ethno-archaeological data. Research from Highland Peru (Chavez), Mesoamerica (Feinman et al., Pool & Santley, B. Stark), and the American Southwest (Blinman & Wilson) are excellent examples of what long-term, high-quality research projects can generate: comprehensive and dynamic analyses of ceramic systems. Thoughtful chapters on Yucatecan ceramic specializations (Arnold & Nieves) and on Roman amphoras (Will) suggest new directions for research on production and distribution. Pool's chapter examines variability in ceramic systems and complements Costin's recent (1991) study; the similarity between the two is noted in the chapter's footnotes. Pool's concluding chapter might better have been placed at the beginning of the volume, guiding as it does the development of cross-cultural comparisons.

A weakness of the volume lies in its reliance on a poorly developed ceramic ecology framework to give coherence to studies that occupy radically different points in time and space. The concept of ceramic ecology, pioneered by F. Matson in his classic volume Ceramics and man (1965), remains in a state of awkward adolescence. Ceramicists (both archaeological and ethno-archaeological) have found the ceramic ecology approach to be useful because it emphasizes ceramic systems as collections of constituent components (e.g. raw materials, decoration, use and discard). Those components, however, have yet to be reconstructed into a truly coherent theoretical framework that transcends its cultural ecology roots in Steward and White. The fact that the ceramic ecology framework into which studies in this volume are placed has limited theoretical power illustrates a discipline-wide problem, not a grave shortcoming of this particular book.

This edited volume is recommended reading for archaeologists interested in the economics of commodity production. Contained within the volume's chapters are important observations on how ceramic systems operate and on how archaeologists should draw inferences from ceramic materials (particularly in chapters by Arnold & Nieves, Pool and B. Stark). Such observations, as well as important previous research (e.g. Rice 1987), should ultimately be incorporated into a more sophisticated theoretical framework than is now available. It is to be hoped that future research will produce the kind of theoretical framework that moves ceramicists away from a myopic focus on pots and towards a broader focus on how organizational systems, many of which have pottery, operate.


ARNOLD, P. 1992. Dimensional standardization and production scale in Mesoamerican ceramics, Latin American Antiquity 2(4): 363-70.

COSTIN, C. 1991. Craft specialization: issues in defining, documenting, and explaining the organization of production, in M.B. Schiffer (ed.), Archaeological method and theory 3: 1-56. Tucson (AZ): University of Arizona Press.

MATSON, F. (ed.). 1965. Ceramics and man. New York (NY): Wenner-Green.

RICE, P. 1987. Pottery analysis: a sourcebook. Chicago (IL): University of Chicago Press.

1991. Specialization, standardization, and diversity: a retrospective, in R.L. Bishop & F.W. Lange (ed.), The ceramic legacy of Anna O. Shepard: 257-79. Boulder (CO): University of Colorado.
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Author:Stark, Miriam T.
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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