The Netherlands Institute for the Near East

Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten  -  Institut nĂ©erlandais du Proche-Orient

13 Nov 14:30

Book launch: Relentlessly Plain

Prof. Peter Akkermans, Dr. Olivier Nieuwenhuyse, Koen Berghuijs, Jo-Hannah Plug

RMO: Leemans-zaal (begane grond)

Early Pottery in Western Asia

It might seem that the large quantities of plain pottery found at Neolithic sites can’t tell us all that much. But as Olivier Nieuwenhuyse, editor of Relentlessly Plain: Seventh Millennium Ceramics at Tell Sabi Abyad, Syria explains, this pottery can shed light on everything from climate change to social development.

This major new publication presents a multi-disciplinary analysis of a crucially important assemblage of Neolithic pottery, radiocarbon dated to the 7th millennium BC, from Tell Sabi Abyad, Syria, which demonstrates development from the earliest adoption of ceramics to local production.

On Tuesday 13 November Olivier Nieuwenhuyse and co-authors will present some of their most important findings, as published in the volume.

Participants at the book launch may order the book at a reduced price from Oxbow Books.


14.30-14.50 hrs

Prof. Peter Akkermans
Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University

Dutch excavations at Tell Sabi Abyad – the ‘Mound of the White Boy’

For over three decades, Dutch archaeologists have been excavating at Tell Sabi Abyad (Arabic for the ‘Mound of the White Boy’) in northern Syria. This presentation introduces the site and some of the spectacular discoveries made at the site.

14.50-15.20 hrs

Dr. Olivier Nieuwenhuyse
Institut für Vorderasiatische Archäologie, Freie Universität Berlin

Profound Transformations. Early Pottery in the Ancient Near East

The 7th millennium BC was an era of profound cultural transformations in the ancient Near East. This began with the sustained adoption of pottery, followed by the slow advance of the new craft as pottery containers became increasingly common. Pottery changed dramatically in the course of this long trajectory. Initially, ceramic containers were visually conspicuous, occasionally decorated, but masses of relentlessly plain pottery characterise subsequent stages. Important social, economic and ritual activities became increasingly dependent on pottery containers. Prehistoric communities began to store surpluses, cook food and drink, and send symbolic messages via the medium of pottery vessels. Tell Sabi Abyad allows us to follow the slow, incremental changes in close detail and ask: how do these container innovations chime with broader transformations in Neolithic subsistence, social organization and ritual?

15.20-15.40 hrs

Koen Berghuijs
Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University

Imagined Inceptions: On the Origin of Pottery in the Near East

The adoption of pottery in the Near East has been the subject of theoretical discussions for more than a century. Firmly rooted in sociocultural evolutionism, now-outdated colonialist ideas about technological developments have credited the invention of pottery by ‘primitive societies’ to accidental discovery, bound to happen somewhere along the arduous road of becoming ‘human’. Remarkably, such ideas are still widely accepted nowadays. The Late Neolithic sites of Tell Sabi Abyad and Shir in Syria offer unprecedented insights into the emergence of pottery and force us to reconsider these century-old assumptions. It becomes clear that the dawn of ceramics was much more complex than often imagined. 

15.40-16.00 hrs

Jo-Hannah Plug
University of Liverpool, School of Histories, Languages & Cultures

Pots for the Dead

Graves are a highly interesting source of evidence for archaeologists. Not only do such contexts contain the physical remains of the ancient people we study, they also provide us with insights into the more symbolic aspects of human behaviour. They allow us to witness highly personal events, which also played an important role in wider society. At Tell Sabi Abyad almost 300 burial contexts were found throughout the settlement layers and within formal cemeteries. In addition to the bodies of the deceased, these contexts contained a wide variety of grave goods including ceramic vessels. This presentation will discuss the ceramics found in graves at Tell Sabi Abyad, and explore the possible motivations for including these items in such personal and symbolically-laden contexts.

16.00 hrs Drinks at the Museum café
17.00 hrs Museum closes