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20-03-2015, 16:44

Tracing Demography through Ceramic Refuse

Ceramic refuse in archaeological sites can contribute to demographic studies both on a local scale and on a regional scale. At the household level, pottery recovered from a house floor or from an associated refuse pile holds clues to the number of occupants in the house. For example, the types and quantities of various cooking and serving vessels are relevant to the number of people using them, if there is a fairly good estimate for the length of occupation represented. Working from the opposite direction, the duration of occupation of a house or village can be estimated from its associated ceramic refuse if average household size is already known from prior research and if there are data to support assumptions about vessel breakage and replacement rates. Obviously, these sorts of studies are dependent upon adequate ceramic classification and chronology. The more data supporting the underlying assumptions of the model, the more valid the conclusions.

On a wider, inter-settlement scale, patterns of ceramic refuse can serve as data to support models of social organization. For example, an unusually

Seriation graph

Ceramic type 2 Ceramic type 3

Ceramic sample group

Ceramic type 1

(Bars indicate percentage of each type within each sample group)

Figure 6 Bar-graph illustration of hypothetical seriation results for three ceramic types defined in four ceramic sample groups (A-D).

Large or complex archaeological site may be hypothesized as having been a civic or ceremonial center during a particular period of time. The quantities and types of ceramic refuse will help researchers determine whether the site was a residential settlement and which activities were carried out there. Furthermore, refuse in a regional center may include pottery sherds representative of multiple satellite communities or even culturally differentiated groups. If ceramic styles of the region are well understood, the ceramic data will be relevant to regional social structure and the size of the center’s area of influence.