Child Potters in Ancient Greece: Identifying Child Potters

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Over the past three weeks, we have been exploring the topics of silenced voices in the archaeological record, as well as evidence of children in the workplace. With this in mind, the aim of this week’s blog is to demonstrate how we can put this knowledge into practise. Through the analysis of the core piece of scholarship at the center of our investigation (Langdon’s 2013 article) and the research we have accumulated through writing these blogs, we will be exploring the ways in which we can detect child producers in the archaeological record. First, we shall begin with a summary of Langdon’s study and why it is so crucial to our research into the world of ancient Greek child potters. We shall then move on to closer analysis of indicators as described by Langdon’s study, as well as reflecting on how we may be able to use this information when analysing our own pottery at the Archaeology Collection here at UoB.

Langdon’s 2013 article ‘Children as Learning and Producers in Early Greece’ has been the impetus for our research. The paper discusses the role of children within religious and funerary environments (173; 179-182) and the opportunities of being educated in the skill of pottery (178). Langdon brings the lives of these children into the workings of their respective communities, and in doing so uncovers their voices. But the way in which Langdon performs this feat is through careful (and purposefully non-exhaustive) analysis of pottery and bronze working materials that are regarded as badly made (177). The second half of this blog will therefore reflect on indicators of work completed by children in the archaeological record, before examining ways in which this analysis is particularly useful to our study.

 

Langdon uses ethnographic and archaeological examples to construct a list of characteristics that can help us identify the work of child potters in our archaeology collection at UoB (2013: 177). The key indicators of child producers are:

Miniature and small scales

The Greek proverb “learning pottery on a big jar” (178), refers to a beginner’s mistake, is used by Langdon to explain why she uses miniature pottery as a starting point for her research. In ancient Greece and beyond there is a practice of starting children off small as they learn and therefore has the “richest vein” of beginners work (178).

It is important to note, however, that children were not constricted to purely working on a small scale, and that just because something was miniature does not necessarily mean that it was child made.

Irregular wall thickness, unintentional asymmetry, manufacturing errors (e.g., drying cracks) 

A child’s underdeveloped “cognitive and motor skills” (177) is reflected in what can be considered clumsier and messier shapes. Langdon presents, through examining cross-cultural studies, that by eight to nine years old a child is able to master the basics of pottery production, fully mastering the craft by fifteen or sixteen. Furthermore, Langdon cites that the techniques used by child learners are also tools for identifying sub-adult pottery, as children are more likely to “form clay figures through an additive rather than a subtractive technique” (187 in reference to Brown 1975).

Examples of these characteristics are miniature vessels from the Artemis sanctuary in Eretria (see figure 2).

Figure 1, Examples of misshapen pottery and poor painting skills indicative of child production from Eretria, Langdon 2013: Figure 8.2, pg 179.

Irregular and inefficient line work, substandard execution of design, juvenile fingerprints 

Langdon presents messy decoration as another characteristic of a child’s work. The features of child decoration that Langdon describes are also visible in Figure 1 and 2 : Lines that are inconsistent in width, lines that are not consistently parallel, oddly shaped and abstract features. Indicating that they have been drawn using brushes of different sizes or with their fingers. Moreover, well-formed pottery with awkward painting are described by Langdon to suggest that the object was made by an adult but decorated by a child learner. 


Figure 2, Examples of child-like painting found on pottery originating from Perachora, Langdon 2013: Figure 8.4 and Figure 8.5, pg 181.

Using the characteristics established by Langdon, we will examine the collection of votive offerings in the University collection and begin to identify whether any of the artefacts fit our criteria. We will be looking at the collection of votive offerings and examining them to identify the small pots that are uneven and misformed, and that have unskilled and messy decoration. 

 

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