Ceramic vessel production, use and distribution in Northern Mesopotamia and Syria during the Middle Bronze Age II (c. 1800-1600 BC). A functional analysis of vessels from Tell Ahmar, North Syria.
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The aim of this research is to investigate the functions of ceramic vessels from two well-defined contexts at Tell Ahmar that have been dated to the Middle Bronze Age II (c. 1800-1600 BC). In addition, correlations between socioeconomic activities and ceramic production at a local and regional level are further investigated. Since there is no one-to-one relation between vessel type and vessel function, the research adopts a multi-dimensional approach formed by the following hierarchical investigations. Firstly, a ceramic typology for the Middle Bronze Age pottery from Tell Ahmar, the first to be undertaken, is constructed to provide a working platform for further analyses. Secondly, interpretations of vessel functions are made based on the techno-morphological implications of vessel use. Moreover, since the ceramic assemblage under investigation represents the systemic inventory of artefacts in use in the rooms at the time of the site abandonment, function of the rooms and relative associations with the composition of the ceramic room assemblage at Tell Ahmar are investigated. In addition, comparative analysis from Northern Mesopotamian and Syrian sites are used in conjunction to suggest functional activities for the defined vessel shapes at Tell Ahmar. Inferences of vessel function are finally supported by the results of ceramic residue analysis and by epigraphic and iconographic evidence of vessel use. Functional activities (i.e. transport, storage and processing) are further discussed in order to make socioeconomic inferences at both local and regional levels. This analysis indicated that one of the major activities at Tell Ahmar was associated with long-distance transport and storage, while for those shapes characterised by a perforated base, an association with beer production is suggested. At a regional level, a general similarity of vessel shapes is noted, this being stronger among the Euphrates River Valley sites than in Inner Syria or in the Khabur Valley. However, when these similarities are examined in detail, ceramic production indicates some local distinctions. These variations, which are not associated with any ancient political boundaries, may be explained in terms of local preferences and requirements that emerged within long-distance flourishing relationships established during this period.