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Chemical and Mineralogical Approaches to the Organization of Late Bronze Age Nuzi Ware Production

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In order to investigate the nature and organization of high-status ceramic production in the Late Bronze Age, samples of Nuzi Ware from four different sites were analysed using scanning electron microscopy (SEM–EDS) and inductively coupled plasma
  CHEMICAL AND MINERALOGICAL APPROACHES TOTHE ORGANIZATION OF LATE BRONZE AGE NUZIWARE PRODUCTION* N. L. ERB-SATULLO†  Department of Anthropology, Harvard University, 11 Divinity Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, USA A. J. SHORTLAND Centre for Archaeological and Forensic Analysis, DEAS/CDS, Cranfield University, Shrivenham, Swindon SN6 8LA, UK  and K. EREMIN  Harvard Art Museums, 32 Quincy Street Cambridge, MA 02138, USA  In order to investigate the nature and organization of high-status ceramic production in the Late Bronze Age, samples of Nuzi Ware from four different sites were analysed using scanningelectron microscopy (SEM–EDS) and inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectros-copy (ICP–AES). Chemical and mineralogical evidence suggests that Nuzi Ware was produced in at least two distinct regions, one probably in theAdhaim Basin in northern Iraq and another  possibly in the Orontes catchment in southeastern Turkey. The existence of individual produc-tion units probably developed in response to the local elites’ desire to imitate the tastes of the Mitanni aristocracy, resulting in a mapping of political relationships on to material culture. KEYWORDS: LATE BRONZE AGE, NEAR EAST, NUZI WARE, ICP–AES, SEM–EDS,PROVENANCE, ORGANIZATION OF PRODUCTIONINTRODUCTION During the Late Bronze Age, the Near East saw numerous changes in its political, social andeconomic structure. Interregional contacts defined the history of Near Eastern civilization fromvery early times, due to the scarcity of resources such as stone and metal in the alluvial plains of Mesopotamia. Around the middle of the second millennium bc , however, the rise of regionalhegemons in Egypt, Anatolia and Mesopotamia set the stage for an unprecedented degree of diplomatic communication. State archives, particularly those from Tell Amarna in Egypt andHattuša in Anatolia, attest to a vigorous correspondence and a highly developed system of international gift exchange (Liverani 2008; Shaw 2008).Situated between the Hittites, Egyptians and Kassite Babylonians, the Mitanni Kingdom helda central position in the Near East by the early 15th century bc , controlling large parts of Syria,southeastern Turkey and northern Mesopotamia. The lack of archival evidence from the incon-clusively identified capital Waššukanni makes the political organization and history of theMitanni more obscure than that of its contemporaries (Akkermans and Schwartz 2003, 327). As *Received 31 August 2010; accepted 24 January 2011†Corresponding author: email  Archaeometry 53 , 6 (2011) 1171–1192 doi: 10.1111/j.1475-4754.2011.00597.x © University of Oxford, 2011  a result, archaeologists and ancient historians have a much poorer understanding of the Mitannithan of contemporary powers, and often rely on chronological synchronisms to reconstruct thehistory of the region (Evans 2008b). The relationship between the material culture of the regionand the socio-political structure of the Mitanni state remains largely unexplored, beyond thegeneralization that high-status materials such as glass and NuziWare have some association withthe elite stratum of Mitanni society.Late Bronze Age political organization revolved around systems of vassal states and ever-changing spheres of influence. Regional powers wielded authority over extensive vassal net-works, but frequently had to campaign to maintain and extend their spheres of influence (van deMieroop 2007, 136). Palace archives offer glimpses of a demand for elite materials driven bydiplomatic gift exchange, tribute and war spoils. Particularly with regard to luxury goods,scholars have argued that these centres also exerted control over some aspects of production(Kuhrt 1995, 298).The unprecedented connectivity, at least at the highest levels, had a significanteffect on the development of material culture across the Near East and Eastern Mediterranean.During this period, a distinctive white-on-dark painted fineware known as Nuzi Ware sawwidespread usage, with a distribution ranging from the Orontes River in the east to beyond theLesser Zab River in the west (Fig. 1). In addition to white-on-dark paint, Nuzi Ware has a moreor less cohesive array of vessel shapes and design elements. Given the appearance of thisdecoration on delicate finewares in elite contexts (Stein 1984, 30; Evans 2008a; Pfälzner 2008)and the imitation of the stylistic repertoire found on early glass vessels (Hrouda 2001), the NuziWare corpus has a clear connection with the wealthier strata of Mitanni society (Mullins 2010).Studying this ceramic tradition—unusual amidst the trend towards mass production in the Figure 1 A map of the region and the sites mentioned in the text (base map provided by Jason Ur). 1172 N. L. Erb-Satullo, A. J. Shortland and K. Eremin © University of Oxford, 2011, Archaeometry 53 , 6 (2011) 1171–1192  historic periods of Mesopotamia—offers a unique opportunity to study the effects of intra-regional political organization on elite material culture. Thus, the study of Nuzi Ware productionpermits an examination of economic and social relationships between cities and towns in theMitanni state. In order to examine the relationship between Mitanni socio-political organizationandmaterial culture,thisresearchproject addressesseveral questions.WasNuziWaretheproductof a single industry, or did multiple loci of production exist, each catering to local needs? Howhomogeneous did Nuzi Ware potters make the clay materials, whether through careful selectionof clay beds, levigation or other methods of clay refining? This question applies both to claychemistry and mineralogy, as well as to sizes and types of inclusions. Analysis of the chemistryand mineralogy of Nuzi Ware in conjunction with other Late Bronze Age ceramics will addressthese questions in new ways. ARCHAEOLOGICAL BACKGROUND Nuzi Ware has sparked a debate over its scope, srcins and relationship with other painted waresfrom the region. The designs display regional variation, with some arguing for more floral andvegetal patterns at Alalakh (Tell Atchana) (Woolley 1955, 349–50; Mullins 2010, 60), while atNuzi, geometric patterns predominate (Moorey 1999, 158). The subset of Nuzi Ware found atAlalakh is sometimes referred to as Atchana ware. Alalakh’s first excavator, Leonard Woolley,argued that it was a possible local manufacture, but recent research suggests that it could be animport (Fink 2010, 102–10). Other scholars, looking at the assemblages fromTell Rimah andTellBrak, argue for greater stylistic homogeneity closer to the Mitanni heartland (Postgate et al .1997, 55). The latter site provides a long stratified sequence of Nuzi ware (Oates et al . 1997),which Pfälzner (2007) uses to delineate two ceramic traditions, Middle Jazireh IA and IB, inwhich Nuzi Ware appears in this region. Many see the popularity of Nuzi Ware as linked to thepolitical spread of Mitanni power (Stein 1984).Given this proposed connection between pottery and politics, what does Nuzi Ware revealabout Mitanni society and economy? The centralized palace system of the great Late BronzeAgeempires created demand for specific types of material culture, and might have resulted in thewidespread exchange of high-status finewares between sites. The extreme case of this modelwould involve the exportation of Nuzi Ware from a single production region to the rest of theMitanni sphere. Alternatively, one could argue that the vassal system imposed by these powerspromoted an environment where local styles imitated those of the centralized core. Indeed, thelack of standardization and mass production evident in Middle Jazireh IAand IB traditions hintsat a more dispersed mode of production (Pfälzner 2007, 257–8). While exchange may haveplayed a part in initiating this system, scientific investigation of ceramic pastes should revealmultiple production centres if this model of production applies. Analysis of Nuzi Ware haspreviously been restricted to vessel form and decoration, and chemical and mineralogical analysisprovides a fresh perspective on these issues.While published chemical and mineralogical analyses of Nuzi Ware are lacking, some studieshave analysed Near Eastern ceramic materials from other periods (Mynors 1982; Eiland andWilliams 2000; Broekmans et al . 2004, 2006, 2008; Kibarog˘lu 2005). Most successful are studiesthat combine a number of different methods and make a concerted effort to tie the geoarchaeo-logical analysis of ceramics with the geological variation of the region. Research on the tech-nology and production of ‘Metallic Ware’has identified several different groups by their relativecalcium content at Tell Brak and Tell Chuera (Schneider 1989) and also at Tell Beydar (Broek-mans et al . 2006). Another study (Mynors 1982) used instrumental neutron activation analysis The organization of Late Bronze Age Nuzi Ware production 1173 © University of Oxford, 2011, Archaeometry 53 , 6 (2011) 1171–1192  (INAA) to investigate a number of ceramics from Mesopotamia and the Persian Gulf area.Importantly, this work also uses ceramic petrology as a further comparison to support itsconclusions, with the relative frequencies of the minerals epidote and biotite being the mostimportant discriminants. Batiuk (2005) assessed the provenience of the late fourth to early thirdmillennium bc Red-Black Burnished Wares from the Amuq Plain near Alalakh, arguing thatmany of the ceramics were locally produced. Other studies have examined ceramic productionfrom a combined chemical and metric perspective, looking at the standardization of vessel sizesand chemical composition within the product of a single firing episode (Blackman et al . 1993).As a whole, these studies provide a methodological basis with which to approach the materialsanalysis of ceramics from the Mesopotamian alluvium and surrounding regions. GEOLOGICAL BACKGROUND A discussion of regional geological variation is crucial for anchoring clay chemistry and min-eralogy to regional geology, an essential component of any provenance study. Mineral distri-butions and the structural geology of the region provide a framework for interpreting pastemineralogy.Running roughly north-west to south-east, the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers pass through a flatalluvial plain and into the Persian Gulf. North-east of the Tigris lie the Zagros Mountains andtheir foothills (Fig. 1). The tectonic forces raising these mountains created a complex geology,producing igneous rocks ranging from acidic to basic, as well as metamorphic rocks andlimestone (see Buday 1980, 303–42). On the south-west flank of the Zagros Mountains lies afoothill zone characterized by geosynclines and anticlinal ridges. The Quaternary sedimentssurrounding Nuzi are characterized as polygenetic synclinal fill, primarily gravel and clay,reaching a depth of up to 120 m, while nearby anticlinal ridges of Late Miocene – Pliocenemolasse (Aqrawi et al . 2006) consist of sandstones and mudstones (Jassim and Buday 2006).Heavy mineral composition of Mesopotamian sediments provides a key means of distinguish-ing among sediments from different river tributaries (Fig. 2). Two key studies (Philip 1970; Ali1977) analysed the heavy mineral composition of sediments from numerous sites along theTigris, Euphrates and their tributaries. In particular, the authors noted higher concentrations of epidotes in the Adhaim River and nearby Pleistocene terrace sediments, while those samesediments had very low incidences of pyroxenes. Philip proposed that selective sediment trans-port contributes to the high epidote concentrations in the Adhaim Basin (1970, 44). The AdhaimRiver does not penetrate as far into the Zagros Mountains as the other three major tributaries of the Tigris, making it harder for minerals from the upper regions of the Zagros Mountains to reachits waters. Both studies showed that sediments of the main channels of the Tigris and EuphratesRivers did not differ dramatically with respect to their heavy mineral content, though othertributaries often had more distinct signatures.The structural geology of the region introduces some possible complications. The problem of vertical variation in rivers cutting through terraced landscapes (see Buringh 1960, 133) compli-cates attempts to uniquely characterize the region based on horizontal variation. While it shouldnot be viewed as an infallible resource, the compiled geological information provided by thisliterature survey provides an additional framework for interpreting the chemical and mineralogi-cal results. Nuzi is situated in the Adhaim Basin, with its high epidote frequencies. The site of Alalakh, on the other hand, lies outside of Mesopotamia on the Amuq Plain near the OrontesRiver (Fig. 1). The Orontes catchment is characterized by regions of sedimentary limestone anddolomite, but basalt outcrops and ophiolites are present upstream (Maritan et al . 2005, 724), and1174 N. L. Erb-Satullo, A. J. Shortland and K. Eremin © University of Oxford, 2011, Archaeometry 53 , 6 (2011) 1171–1192  may contribute basic ferromagnesian mineral inclusions to local clay bodies. This hypothesis isconfirmed by the petrographic analysis of ceramics from the Amuq Plain, many of whichcontained pyroxenes and serpentines (Batiuk 2005).The geological variation in Mesopotamia and the northern Levant necessarily limits theanalytical resolution with which we can approach the problem of Nuzi Ware provenience. The Figure 2 The relative frequencies of the pyroxenes, amphiboles, epidotes and iron ores in the Euphrates Valley. Each piechart represents a sampling location. This map was generated using data from Philip (1970) (Euphrates and Tigris mainbranches and Adhaim Basin) and Ali (1977) (Greater and Lesser Zab Basins, Diyala Basin and Adhaim Basin). WhilePhilip simply identified ‘iron ores’, Ali distinguished between hematite, magnetite and ilmenite, so these values wereadded together to make comparisons possible. The organization of Late Bronze Age Nuzi Ware production 1175 © University of Oxford, 2011, Archaeometry 53 , 6 (2011) 1171–1192
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