Ceramics - usually the first image that many think of are images of intricately carved or painted pottery that one finds on display, whole and intact. Often this is where the story ends for most of us. For Archaeologists, ceramics take on a larger role. We apply ceramics as a general term for a substance that is fired to hold its shape, which are usually made of sand. The higher the temperature and the cleaner the sand, the better the product.
Generally when we find ceramics it’s as small broken pieces, which we call sherds. These sherds tell us what kind of ceramic it was. Earthenware (low-grade), Ironware (medium- grade) or Porcelain (high-grade). Some pieces are hand- painted, others have transfer prints and some have no protective coating on them (such as glaze – this protects the piece from water). Each piece we find gives us an insight into the lives of the people that lived there. This insight allows us to ask look at these pieces and ask questions that frequently give us bigger questions later on. As we say, “smaller pieces always form bigger ones.”
Things like parts of cups and bowls tell us whether the people that lived there were poor or well- off, what they were eating (through residues), if there were children around (Porcelain doll). And sometimes if we’re lucky we might find pottery with a maker’s mark. This can help us narrow down the date of a site. You can still find them on the back of plates and cups today.