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Thin-Section Petrography of Ceramic Materials

Thin-Section Petrography of Ceramic Materials

Sarah E. Peterson
with contributions by Philip P. Betancourt
Volume: 2
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: INSTAP Academic Press
Pages: 27
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  • Book Info
    Thin-Section Petrography of Ceramic Materials
    Book Description:

    As part of the INSTAP Archaeological Excavation Manual series, Thin-Section Petrography of Ceramic Materials provides a concise overview of the history and application of the practice while detailing how this type of petrographic analysis can benefit archaeologists in the field. When thin-section analysis is employed as part of a thorough, multi-disciplinary study of ceramic materials, it provides a wealth of additional interpretative data to archaeologists, allowing for more accurate interpretations of the past, especially regarding pottery production, provenance, variations in technology over time and space, exchange networks on local and non-local scales, and even social issues such as choices of both manufacturers and consumers and traditions of manufacture.

    eISBN: 978-1-62303-126-8
    Subjects: Archaeology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-1)

    Thin-section petrography is a useful methodology for the study and classification of clay fabrics. Thin sections can be used to examine a wide variety of materials, including rocks, minerals, slags, concrete, mudbrick, and plaster, as well as fired clays. The method can provide evidence for a number of important aspects of ceramic studies including the determination of provenance and the reconstruction of technology.

    A thin section is created by sawing off a small fragment of the material to be studied, attaching the resulting flat surface to a glass microscope slide, and grinding the exposed surface of the fragment down to...

  5. Goals for the Thin-Section Petrography of Ceramics
    (pp. 2-2)

    In modern studies concerning ancient pottery, archaeological ceramics are studied for the information they provide on many subjects including technology, style, functions, chronology, place of origin, and symbolic content. All vessels, including plain storage and transport containers as well as fine vases for serving and display, contribute essential data toward the understanding of past cultures. Ceramic petrography is one of the indispensible analytical techniques for modern ceramic studies. It characterizes the fabric of clay materials through its microscopic examination in thin-section. Different fabrics and their characteristics can be distinguished based on various details of the microstructure that cannot be seen...

  6. History of Thin-Section Petrography
    (pp. 3-7)

    Scottish scientist William Nicol created the first thin sections during the later part of the 18th century, producing samples of fossilized wood that were thin enough to be transparent under a microscope. He then examined the sections to determine the species of tree from which they originated (Sorby 1882, 101; Humphries 1992, 2; Croft 2006, 20, 33). Nicol also contributed to the creation of the first polarizing microscope in 1828 by inventing a prism that enabled the transmission of a single beam of plane-polarized light. Two of these “Nicol” prisms were first applied to a microscope in 1834 by Englishman...

  7. Preparation of Thin Sections
    (pp. 8-9)

    A ceramic thin section is created by first cutting a small fragment from the sample using a non-deformational diamond saw (Fig. 3). If the material is extremely porous or friable, it may be impregnated with resin before sectioning to ensure that it will not become damaged. The sawn surface is then ground, either by hand or with a grinding machine, until it is completely flat, and it is attached to a glass slide with an epoxy or mounting medium (Fig. 4). When the medium has dried, the top of the sample that is parallel to the slide is cut down...

  8. Examination and Analysis of Thin Sections
    (pp. 9-14)

    The main goal of ceramic petrography is the characterization of the fabric of materials made of clay through the examination of thin sections. This task is accomplished primarily with the aid of the polarizing microscope (Fig. 2). This type of microscope transmits polarized light through mounted thin sections, allowing for the identification of two main components, the clay matrix and nonplastic inclusions. In addition, one can examine pores and voids, as well as observe details about surface treatment. The appearance and the technical properties of the final product are determined by the type, abundance, and characteristics of these features, and...

  9. Development of Aims and Sampling Strategy
    (pp. 14-15)

    A successful petrographic project should be developed with the aim of addressing a focused and sound archaeological problem. Thin-section analysis can be carried out on ceramic assemblages in order to answer a variety of questions, from the characterization or provenancing of a single ware or pottery type to a diachronic study of the ceramic material from an entire site or region. Without the formulation of such specific aims, the results of a petrographic thin-section analysis will have more limited archaeological meaning. It is crucial therefore to discuss these issues with a petrographer in the initial stages of the project. Collaboration...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 15-16)

    The valuable information that is obtained through thin-section analysis can be combined with the results of other categories of investigation, such as analyses based on morphology, style, chronology, and function. Geological and ethnographic studies can also be carried out, such as the sampling and analysis of potential raw material sources and the examination of the methods of modern potters. Additionally, scientific techniques like x-ray diffraction, heavy mineral separation, and neutron activation analysis can also complement the technique by providing further information about the mineralogical and chemical composition of the ceramic fabric. When thin-section analysis is employed as part of a...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 17-24)