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Assyrian Siliceous Ceramics

Near Eastern Archaeology
Second Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Dirk Wicke

Siliceous Ceramics is an umbrella term for ceramic products, which contain quartz (silicon dioxide) as main component. This is also the main difference to pottery which is mainly composed of aluminium phyllosilicates. The products are ceramic because of their production method: The raw materials are mixed and shaped in a cold state and then hardened by firing. Afterwards the product consists of a sintered (not completely melted) and inorganic material, which is classified as earthenware. Because of its porous ware which is permeable to water, siliceous ceramics are glazed.

Although siliceous ceramics (also called faience or frit; which are both misnomers, since they describe other materials) are numerously present in many sites of the Ancient Near East, there is no concluding paper which defines the material regarding its characteristics, production, distribution, development, and function for Near Eastern Archaeology to this day. Therefore, studies on Ancient Near Eastern siliceous ceramics had to refer to papers from other archaeological disciplines – especially Egyptology. This study aims to draw general defining conclusions for Ancient Near Eastern siliceous ceramics with the first analysis and publication of a larger and coherent group of siliceous ceramics from documented archaeological contexts from the Ancient Near East. These conclusions will be of high scientific interest and will be the basis for future investigations on this topic.

The Akkadian term for siliceous ceramic as stone ‘out of the oven’ implies the function of this material as an imitation of precious stones. These stones has been utilized for protection and healing in the Ancient Near East. This fact raises the question whether and to what extent the appearance and the function and of the original are transferred to the imitation made of siliceous ceramic.

The archaeological contexts of the objects are a vantage point not only for the questions raised above, but for the analysis of the ancient value of the material, since they were found in different contexts (e.g. temples, palaces, graves).

The study is based upon figures, vessels and rosettes made of siliceous ceramic from the ancient Assyrian sites of Assur, Kar-Tukulti-Ninurta and Kalhu, dating back to the 2nd and 1st millennia BC. In this study the objects from Assur has been given a significant value for two reasons: On the one hand their quantity and variance allow to draw general conclusions of the material; on the other hand, the archaeological contexts are investigated and published by the “Assur-Project” which was funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). This project made it possible to comprehend the archaeological contexts and in doing so it allows to draw conclusions regarding the ancient function and value of the material – a vantage point which is not given in any other Ancient Near Eastern site.