Lecture: Classifying pottery: Narrator: Listen to part of a lecture in an archaeology class. Professor: Let's review. Why is pottery such an important subject of archaeological analysis? Student: Well, pottery contains more information than you might think. Professor: Can you explain what you mean? Female Student: Well, like certain changes in the style and shape of pottery might help us figure out when certain cultures made contact with each other and borrowed each other's ideas, designs, even technology. Professor: Good. Today, I want to expand our discussion into the topic of classifying pottery. Classification is simply an attempt to categorize or group the pottery based on specific characteristics. We'll look at ancient Mayan pottery, which as you might know by now is my specialty. Archaeologists have traditionally attempted to classify these vessels by using a single classification system but the complexity, the variation, of ancient Mayan pottery is too great in my opinion to use only one system. I advocate the use of several systems as do some of my colleagues who've been researching the Mayan archaeological sites of Mexico and Central America. By utilizing more than one system of classification, we aren't as likely to neglect important details or lose important information. Male Student: So I think what you're saying is when we use a single classification system, we can't label a vessel with lots of details but when we classify it a lot of different ways that gives a more complete picture. Professor: Yes. And if we're able to label a large quantity of pottery in several ways, we can more clearly see relationships between them because of having more complete picture of each one. I mean, everybody in this class is from a different state or country. Nobody is from exactly the same place. So if I only classify people by where they're from, I might say that you have nothing in common. But what if I add more layers? Andrew, you're a skier. Sara is also a skier. So if we have a classification for your extracurricular activity, we find you two have something in common, snow-skiing. Male Student: I get it. Professor: So we begin by determining what classifications will be possible and what classifications will be useful. These would be in my opinion, the vessel shapes, the surface finish, which looks at texture, and finally what we call paste. I'll explain paste later. Yes, Andrew? Male Student: Would you limit it to just three classification systems? Say, shape, surface finish, paste? Professor: Not necessarily. When we encounter pottery decorated with a lot of detail, we might want to add a classification system for this, too. One we could call decoration. So, let's look at my first classification type: pottery shapes. We need to consider the basic proportions and size of an object. Female Student: But what if the object is broken? Professor: Obviously, intact pottery is the best but if all we have in front of us is a collection of pieces, as long as those pieces are of a reasonable size, we can still classify shapes reliably. We just have to reconstruct the object. Now, even if you're able to reconstruct and then determine how to classify pottery in term of its shape, you might be unable to classify its surface finish. For instance, with many with the pottery collections found at the archaeological site of Flanke, too little surface finish was preserved to make a determination. You know, really what we need are comprehensive and accurate illustrations of ancient Mayan pottery. Having drawings of their profiles allows us to compare the shapes of pottery found at different archaeological sites because of course, we can't personally go to all the locations. But even when archaeologists and art historians do attempt to illustrate every single piece, there are problems. Female Student: Like, three different people might draw the profile of the same pot but the drawings don't turn out to be exactly the same. Professor: Very true. Illustrating involves some simplification of the pottery. And people may have different ideas of which features are important to keep in the drawing and which can be left out. What else? Female Student: Well, drawing the profile of every single pot probably takes tons of time so it can be expensive. Professor: Uh-huh. Female Student: But digital photography is so popular and inexpensive now. Why don't we just give up on drawings and make a collection of photographs? You can't get more accurate than a photograph. Professor: That's a natural question. I'll get to that in a second.