LUND, Sweden — Researchers at Lund University recently published a paper arguing that there is evidence that Bronze Age 9-year-olds had day jobs as ceramists.
Above image: A child holds a fragment of ancient pottery. Photograph by K. Botwid.
The researchers were using a method called “artisanal interpretation,” which they argue could provide valuable insights into archeological artifacts. The researcher’s methods range from nebulous critiques of the different techniques displayed in a pot, to things as obvious as a child’s fingerprint left in the clay. The approach seems to lean on qualitative analysis more than cold, hard data, but maybe artisanal interpretation could be another tool in the toolbox as we attempt to understand people from the dawn of history.
Katarina Botwid described the logic behind her research:
“I have found that even the most simple household receptacles could involve tremendous skill. Within archaeology, experts’ typological analyses have previously tended to focus on when a receptacle was made and its shape. But, how it was made, the time taken to produce it, and the skills involved, have not been evaluated before,” says Katarina Botwid, who is a trained ceramist and now has a doctoral degree in Archaeology from Lund University.
The artisanal interpretation method is based on the human physical ability to create. Within all crafts there are three levels of skill, regardless of the historical period – artefacts can be made by beginners, competent/skilled artisans or by real ”superstars”. Katarina’s thesis centres around hands-on knowledge, experience-based knowledge that results in new evaluations of finds, and further knowledge on artists’ materials and the probable work process at that particular time.
Botwid said she was surprised that children in the Bronze Age could be skilled ceramists, but I suppose it’s not that far-fetched. While I was deciding whether to make a joke about 5,000-year-old child labor laws I looked up the life expectancy for the Bronze Age and found out it was a scant 26 years. The potter in question had lived through a third of his or her life by that point. Also, since the children were not fully mature, it makes sense to give them a task that is less labor intensive, but nevertheless vital to the survival of the community.
As for the realization that a nine year old could make a better vessel than I could ever dream of making? I won’t think about that for now.
Bill Rodgers is the Managing Editor of cfile.daily.
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