The Ceramic Petrography Laboratory

Head of Laboratory: Dr. Paula Waiman-Barak


The Sonia & Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology celebrated the launch of the Ceramic Petrography Laboratory, directed by Dr. Paula Waiman-Barak, in 2020. This lab is one of several of the Institute’s laboratories specializing in the study of ancient materials and archaeological remains, which will explore and develop a variety of new methodological approaches to the study of ancient materials, curate multiple raw material assemblages, and engage in experimental archaeology.


Ceramic petrography is a well-established analytical method used to determine the mineralogical composition of clay artifacts in order to identify the production techniques and geographical provenance of the materials employed in their manufacture. The primary purpose of the Ceramic Petrography Laboratory is to provide a platform for researchers and students to explore and practice techniques and theories used to analyze ceramic finds from sites throughout the Eastern Mediterranean Basin dating from a wide range of chronological periods. 


Petrography offers us a view into the ecosphere of the potters, merchants, and consumers of the past. Relative to most artifacts, ceramics were inexpensive to produce. This aspect, coupled with their frequent breakage and general inability to be recycled, has created an abundance of archaeological material that embeds a world of cultural, economic, and technological choices. The information afforded by ceramic petrography informs research on human-geographic connectivity and the social adaptation of ancient societies within changing environments.


In addition to work on ceramics, the lab will develop new methodological approaches composed of other types of materials, such as stone and plaster. The lab will also support research in experimental archaeology and sediment analysis.


Particular attention will be given to constructing a large reference collection of geological and archaeological thin section samples which will be available to the faculty and students. The Ceramic Petrography Laboratory already has an extensive inventory of over 7,000 thin sections of ceramics and geological reference samples, and we are dedicated to its continuous expansion.


Apart from its commitment to research, the Ceramic Petrography Laboratory serves as a hub of educational development. The entire laboratory space is designed to facilitate academic enrichment, by providing students routine access to specialized equipment, customized learning resources, and a collaborative research environment. Academic research will be accompanied by courses for B.A. and M.A. students in which they will explore aspects of provenance studies, pottery production and use, optical mineralogy, light microscopy, and its applications for archaeological research. Classes will combine theoretical study with hands-on practice in the production and interpretation of thin sections of ceramics and geological materials. 


The lab team is also proud to collaborate with the Levantine Ceramics Project (LCP, initiated by Prof. Andrea Berlin of Boston University and with Dr. Paula Waiman-Barak serving as Petrographic Editor. The LCP is an open-access, interactive website that facilitates the sharing of ceramic information to a global community of researchers. The LCP encourages the free flow and access to information and archaeological data. As a result, members of the Ceramic Petrography Lab become ambassadors connected to a range of projects while also contributing to the availability of new and essential data. 


Lab members

Three students from the international M.A. program in Ancient Israel Studies, LeeAnn Culbertson, Yeonsuk Lee and Maddy Butcher, are currently working in the lab. All three have already acquired practical skills in the preparation and documentation of vessels, samples, and thin sections of ceramics and sediments alike. They are all slated to participate in experiments with firing processes, scheduled to begin this fall. Each student is proficient in the utilization of a selection of analytical methods and comparative data to study provenance and technological trajectories of serving, cooking and transport vessels.  

In addition to the laboratory work, LeeAnn Culbertson, who is originally from Ellisville, Mississippi, and Yeonsuk Lee, from Seoul, South Korea, will be applying procedures acquired in the lab to explore ceramic assemblages from well-stratified contexts dated to the Middle Bronze Age and Late Bronze Age at Azekah.  


Maddy Butcher, originally from London, has just graduated, with her M.A. thesis, advised by Dr. Omer Sergi and Prof. Oded Lipschits, titled: "Cylindrical Holemouth Jars from the Kingdom of Israel: Analysis of Typology, Distribution, and Historical Context." She is currently researching the provenance and technology involved in the manufacture of Iron IIA holemouth jars and other vessels from Ḥorvat Tevet, Tel Megiddo and Tel Reḥov. This work is conducted as part of an international and interdisciplinary project, titled "Archaeological Expression of Palace Clan Relations in the Iron Age Levant: A Case Study from the Jezreel Valley, Israel" (financed by the Gerda Hankel Stiftung, AZ 20/F/19) directed by Omer Sergi (Tel Aviv University), Karen Covello-Paran (Israel Antiquities Authority) and Hannes Bezzel (The University of Jena, Germany).


Academic collaborations

In addition to research within the Institute, the Ceramic Petrography Laboratory collaborates with other universities in Israel and abroad:

  • Tel Qasile, Philistine settlement and an Iron Age harbor, the publication of the 1949–59 and 1982–92 excavations, a project initiated by Prof. Amihai Mazar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
  • Iron Age ceramics in Southern Phoenicia, primary investigators: Ayelet Gilboa and Gunnar Lehmann, Israeli Science Foundation, 596/18.
  • Hala Sultan Tekke: provenance analysis of Late Bronze Age ceramics and stone anchors, in collaboration with Peter Fischer and Teresa Bürge of the Institute of Ancient Culture and Civilization, University of Gothenburg, Sweden and the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna.


Lab resources and facilities

  • Reference collections of ceramics in thin sections
  • Reference collections of rock and sediments in thin sections
  • Reference collections of ceramic and geological samples
  • Polarizing microscopes (3) and a zoom microscope equipped with a digital camera
  • Dino-lite
  • Small furnace for firing experiments
  • Ecomet® 30 Twin Grinder-Polisher
  • PetroThin® Thin Sectioning System
  • Low-speed saws with a diamond blade





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