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The Indus Civilisation in Athens, Greece

Ancient South Asian crafts and technologies meet ancient and modern Greece

Find the original post on the Fitch Blog, BSA, British School at Athens.

You might wonder why an Italian researcher from Rome, PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge, went to Athens to work on archaeological materials from Ancient India. Well, the reason is simple: the advanced level of expertise and resources that archaeologists can find at the Fitch Laboratory, British School at Athens.

I am an archaeologist working on my PhD dedicated to producers, crafts and technologies of the Indus Civilisation (2500-1900 BCE) in north-western India. A broad outline of my work is already available on the internet – and if you want to know more you can have a quick look at the ERC TwoRains blog or Instagram. Some blog posts – including videos – summarise part of my work on ceramics materials of the Indus Civilisationmuseum collectionsportable laboratory, ethnographic research in Indian villages, excavations in South Asia, and archives at BHU, Varanasi. My two-month trip to Greece has been essential for my project on many levels.

Putting Indus material culture in an international debate: the Potter’s Wheel

The work that I undertook in Athens, holding a Fitch bursary in May-June 2018, aimed firstly to put the Indus Civilisation into a broader debate on the social dynamics associated with the development and adoption of certain tools and technologies, such as the potter’s wheel (and rotative forming techniques in general). The date and process of the introduction of this type of device in South Asia is still not clear, and my idea was to try to connect my study to similar projects in southern and northern Levant and the eastern Mediterranean.

I used Indus vessels that show certain manufacturing techniques, such as wheel-coiling and wheel-finishing, to answer questions about the development of ceramic technologies in Bronze Age South Asia. In doing so, I considered narratives and methods developed in the Mediterranean. Dr Maria Choleva’s work on Anatolian and Aegean ceramic technologies, which is currently being expanded in association with the Fitch, offered the opportunity to develop this type of collaboration. I partially summarised the work that I undertook at the BSA as a holder of the Fitch Bursary in May 2018 at a Fitch-Wiener Labs Seminar entitled “The potter’s wheel and the Indus Civilisation: a technological re-examination of Bronze Age Craft production”.

World-leading institution for analysis of ancient vessels

Thanks to the support of the Fitch Director Dr Evangelia Kiriatzi and the Laboratory Administrator/Analytical Assistant Ms Zoe Zgouleta, I was also able to employ some new cutting-edge methods for the analysis of Indus ceramics. The BSA is equipped with some of the most advanced technologies for the study of material culture, including equipment for preparation and analysis of thin sections and a WD-XRF spectrometer with a dedicated calibration for analysis of ceramic materials. This instrument, found only in a small number of analogous laboratories across Europe, is ideal for characterising the chemical composition of (inorganic) artefacts, which helps to answer questions concerning provenance of objects, ancient clay recipes, craft traditions and more. Besides its practical use, this method has also a fun side: have a look at this video, which shows how we transformed ancient vessels into glass beads that are used for this type of analysis.

A ‘family’ of brilliant researchers

Finally, besides the useful benefits for my research, the unique atmosphere of the British School at Athens is possibly one of the main reasons that makes me want to go back there soon. The positive, energising environment that Fitch researchers created generates genuine debates and collaborations among the members of the laboratory. The School itself is an oasis in the heart of Athens, and people that populate it have fascinating backgrounds and are usually happy to grab a Freddo Espresso coffee and share their research and personal histories. I can just hope that they will be happy to host the Indus Civilisation again for a little while in such a productive and positive environment.


Alessandro Ceccarelli

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