Follow that Sherd! Tracking Philia Pottery Exchange Paths in Prehistoric Cyprus Using Geochemistry

Christina Makarona, Maria Dikomitou-Eliadou, Karin Nys, Philippe Claeys

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingMeeting abstract (Book)


The application of geochemical techniques in ceramic provenance has proven a useful tool for characterising both products and raw clay materials. However, the potential of more specialised aspects of geochemistry, such as isotopic analysis, has not been thoroughly explored in this context. On the contrary, the technique has been widely used to address archaeometric questions in the study of other material categories, such as metal artefact provenance, bone and tooth enamel analysis for tracing movements of populations and dietary habits and examination of ancient glass and its raw materials for understanding glass production and distribution networks. In this study the strontium (Sr) and lead (Pb) isotopic systems were chosen, in a targeted attempt to test their potential for ceramic provenance, while at the same time disambiguating important archaeological questions.

Isotopic analysis was conducted by measuring the ratio of two different isotopes of the elements in the sampled material (87Sr/86Sr for strontium, 207Pb/204Pb and 206Pb/204Pb for lead). The isotopic ratios of clay raw materials relate to the specific geological background through which they formed, and thus constitute a more definitive signature than what simple elemental analysis can provide. This fingerprint carries over from clay to pottery and the effects of clay mixing, tempering or post-burial alterations can be more easily modelled, allowing more robust links between ceramic groups and geographical regions.

This innovative analytical approach to ceramic provenance was used in the framework of an interdisciplinary study of Red Polished Philia pottery from prehistoric Cyprus (2500/2400-2100 BC). The results were combined with those of previous typological study of the samples, petrography and ED-XRF. This was a good opportunity to test the correspondence among the typological, stylistic, mineralogical and elemental datasets, address the validity of the method, and, at the same time, confront specific archaeological enquiries regarding the scale of ceramic distribution, the mode of their production and the degree of inter-settlement interaction. An overview of the outcome indicates that isotopic analysis was able to reinforce archaeological assumptions regarding the island-wide distribution of the Red Polished Philia pottery and suggest more precisely possible candidates for the geographical origin of the specimens under study. Finally, contemporary cooking pots were also included in the sampled material for a more comprehensive picture of pottery production and distribution during this period.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication12th European Meeting on Ancient Ceramics, September 2013, University of Padova, Italy
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2013
EventUnknown -
Duration: 1 Sep 2013 → …

Publication series

Name12th European Meeting on Ancient Ceramics, September 2013, University of Padova, Italy


Period1/09/13 → …


  • ceramics
  • provenance
  • isotopes
  • Philia phase


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