Striking similarity: Pottery features and their relations in Ptolemaic Egypt

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This dissertation poses two major questions: what accounts for changes in pottery production during the Ptolemaic period in Egypt and what explains certain similarities between Ptolemaic Egyptian pottery and pottery found in other places in the eastern Mediterranean? Changes in pottery in Egypt in this period have overwhelmingly been interpreted as evidence of cultural change, associating ceramic qualities with particular cultural uses or identities. This dissertation synthesizes existing archaeological publications to examine four ceramic features in Ptolemaic Egypt: the incurved rim bowl, the casserole form, moldmade pottery, and black slip pottery. I use network analysis to chart differences in the distribution of these ceramic features across Egyptian sites and over time, as well as a relational approach to analyze differences in their production and consumption contexts. Such differences are at odds with a monolithic and exclusively cultural interpretation. Instead, I propose that changes in pottery production are better understood by exploring how each of the ceramic features created material effects that underpinned particular social conditions, through connections to Egyptians clays, potting practices, other vessels in assemblages, the multiple uses of similar forms, foodways, and beyond. The extension of established reduction firing techniques to tablewares can explain the wide distribution of black slip pottery across sites in Ptolemaic Egypt, while its combination with vessels of other colors in dining assemblages suggest that a variegated aesthetic framed its display and use. The casserole form followed a much more gradual introduction, which may be linked with new cooking methods and cuisines that its distinctive shallow shape promoted. The prevalence of the incurved rim bowl form was matched by its multifunctionality, in household, commercial, production, and bath contexts. Finally, the expansion of mold use in other industries, such as faience and lamp-making, did not result in more efficient pottery production or more similar ceramic vessels. Instead, moldmade pottery in Ptolemaic Egypt is characterized by its individuality and the few examples may have traveled more widely between different regions. Overall, the relations that surround the ceramic features suggest that pottery changes in Ptolemaic Egypt were selectively incorporated by potters and consumers. The selection was guided by distinctive trajectories combining social and material values, including the continuity of resources and expertise, new clay sources and new dining practices, as well as appeal of pottery adaptability, familiarity, and variation.
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568 pages
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ceramic analysis; Egypt; network analysis; pottery; Ptolemaic
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Manning, Sturt
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Barrett, Caitlín Eilís
Khatchadourian, Lori
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Ph. D., Classics
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Government Document
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dissertation or thesis
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