The Ceramic Petrography Laboratory

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

Graduate students in the International MA program

Grady Gillett, A Petrographic Network Analysis of the Distribution of Late Roman 1 Amphorae in the Eastern Mediterranean. Co-advised with A. Berlin and O. Lipschits.

Yeonsuk Lee, Insights into the Daily Life of Azekah: A Multi-Disciplinary Investigation of Cooking Ware in the Middle Bronze and the Late Bronze Ages. Co-advised with O. Lipschits.

Nathaniel Freeman, Trading systems in the Late Bronze Age Azekah Petrographic studies of Cypriot and Mycenaean ceramics. Co-advised with O. Lipschits.

Andrea Garza Díaz Barriga, Magdala, the Western Market: In Search for Gallian Potters of the Hellenistic and Early Roman Period. Co-advised with O. Lipschits and A. Berlin.

Mentoring of Ph.D. students:

William Ondricek, PhD: Ceramic Production and Imports at Iron Age Timna, advised by E. Ben-Yosef.

Madeleine Butcher, PhD: At the Gates of the Great Green Sea: Tell el-Ajjul from the Middle to the Late Bronze Age. A Ceramic Outlook on The Southern Coastal Plain, advised by O. Lipschits (TAU) and G. Lehmann (BGU).

Visiting students:

Charles Wilson, PhD. student in Near Eastern Art and Archaeology, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago. Advisors: D. Schloen (U. Chicago) and G. Lehmann (BGU). PhD: Typological and petrographic characterization of late second/early first millennium BCE pottery sampled from sites in the Akko plain. Proposal approved.


Academic collaborations

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


  • The interdisciplinary study of pottery from the Cypriot Iron Age polities of Salamis, Soloi, Lapithos and Chytroi (MuseCo), in collaboration with A. Georgiadou and M. Dikomitou (U. Cyprus). Co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund and the Republic of Cyprus through the Research and Innovation Foundation.

  • Tel Qasile, Philistine Settlement and an Iron Age harbor, publication of the excavations of Benjamin Mazar excavations from the 1950s. In collaboration with A. Mazar (HUJI). Supported by the Ruth Amiran Foundation.

  • Iron Age Ceramics in Southern Phoenicia, Primary investigators: A. Gilboa (U. Haifa) and G. Lehmann (BGU), Israel Science Foundation, grant number 596/18.

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
  • A pottery wheel
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