Cypriot-style ceramics were all the rage in Anatolia – present-day Turkey – during the Iron Age. They’re been found in digs thousands of years old.
But new research shows they weren’t all imported. Demand for the style meant some may have been produced locally by potters who moved closer to their buyers.
Steven Karacic from Florida State University and James Osborne from the University of Chicago analysed the chemical composition of ceramics found in three sites in southern Turkey’s Hatay region.
They found imported and local Cypriot-style ceramics contained different chemical signatures, which helped them determine where they were produced.
The work, which was published in PLOS One, suggests people from Çatal Höyük and Tell Judaidah bought imported ceramics from Cyprus, while those in Tell Tayinat bought a mixture of locally made and imported Cypriot-style objects.
To trace the ceramics’ place of production without harming them, as they were part of a collection housed at the University of Chicago, Karacic and Osborne first fired high-energy X-rays at the objects.
As atoms absorbed the energy, they spat out a little bit of radiation. This secondary emission gave clues to the objects’ chemical make-up. Different chemicals produce different energy emission signatures.
They found common ceramics from Tell Tayinet (produced locally but not in the Cypriot style) had a certain emission signature, while Cypriot-style ceramics from Çatal Höyük and Tell Judaidah gave off a different signature.
Cypriot-style ceramics from Tell Tayinet were split between the two.
But this was a low-resolution method. To confirm their results through higher resolution chemistry analysis, and uncover the ceramics’ atomic make-up, the pair had to get destructive.
Neutron activation analysis involves bombarding a sample with neutrons, which causes the elements within to form radioactive isotopes. Those isotopes decay and their distinctive radioactive emissions and decay paths are analysed, exposing the elemental make-up of the sample.
When they analysed ceramics this way, the pair found distinct elemental differences between ceramics produced in Anatolia and those from Cyprus – and confirmed some of the Tell Tayinat ceramics were produced locally.
So why did Tell Tayinat produce Cypriot-style ceramics while the other two sites did not?
Karacic and Osborne suspect feasting practices among the wealthy in Tell Tayinet drove demand for Cypriot-style ceramics, so local potters may have copied the style or Cypriot potters moved to Anatolia.