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Ceramic Studies in Archaeology: An Updated Exploration of Materials Science Methods in Anthropology: Home

By Charles C. Kolb


This essay first appeared in the August 2023 issue of Choice (volume 60 | issue 12).


In 1996, Choice published my essay, “Ceramic Studies in Archaeology: The Interfaces of Anthropology and Materials Science” in its December issue.1 That essay assessed 138 books or monographs focusing on archaeological, ethnoarchaeological, and ethnographic topics published through 1996, focusing on publications from the two decades prior to that.

Over the past five decades, there has been an explosion in the number of publications of detailed scientific assessments of archaeological pottery, including books, monographs, annuals, serials, and journals. Publications on these and related topics would have occupied appendixes, lesser summaries, or notes in the previous millennium, but have expanded into well-illustrated books, both large and small monographs, and internet periodicals in the present. Among these studies, there is a growing emphasis on the interpretation of scientific data utilizing concepts from the social sciences and humanities.

The current essay updates the 1996 essay, focusing on encyclopedias, books, and monographs published on archaeological ceramics since 2000. There were approximately 450 major works published during this period, some of which have been reviewed for Choice or the quarterly Society for Archaeological Sciences Bulletin.2 Because of the quantity of publications, this essay focuses on significant English-language publications. The majority of works cited, which librarians should consider acquiring for their collections, focus either on physicochemical methods or interpretive assessments.

Dr. Charles C. Kolb is a retired anthropological archaeologist. He previously served as a senior administrator in the Division of Preservation and Access at the National Endowment for the Humanities. He has studied the physical and cultural properties of ceramic materials and archaeological pottery hailing from Mesoamerica, the North American Great Lakes region, and Central Asia for more than sixty years.

1. Charles C. Kolb, “Ceramic Studies in Archaeology: The Interfaces of Anthropology and Materials Science,” Choice, v. 33, no. 4, pp. 571–83.

2. It is worth noting that Kolb served as Associate Editor for Archaeological Ceramics for the SAS Bulletin for 26 years.