BMCR 2007.09.35

I Sostegni di Fornace dal Kerameikos di Metaponto. Beni Archeologici – Conoscenza e Tecnologie. Quaderno 3

, I sostegni di fornace dal kerameikos di Metaponto. Beni archeologici--conoscenza e tecnologie ; quaderno 3. Bari: Edipuglia, [2004]. 210 pages, xxviii pages of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 30 cm.. ISBN 8872283213 €40.00.

Cracolici’s study comprehensively treats a group of over 1800 kiln supports from the Kerameikos at Metapontum, clay forms created by potters, not for sale, but to stack, separate and/or stabilize pots inside the kiln during the firing. The workshop area at Metapontum is unique among Greek and Roman production sites in terms of the sheer number of these supports, their good state of preservation, the quantity of types and the variety of sizes within a certain type, their physical proximity to the kilns where they were most likely used, and the large number of inscriptions they carry. What the title of C.’s book does not reveal is its equally fascinating study of numerous fingerprints preserved on many pots and some supports. No such wealth of kiln supports and fingerprints has been recovered from any other single workshop site in the Greek world, whether in the mainland or in the colonies (p. 61).

The Metapontum Kerameikos was excavated and preliminarily published in the 1970s.1 An area of over 2000 square meters contained an Archaic kiln (found almost fully loaded), three late Classical kilns ca. 1.00-1.20 in diameter, twenty-four waste dumps (scarici), and a number of walls. The Archaic workshop produced Ionian cups, skyphoi, and lekanai (p. 128). From the late 5th century onwards, more workshops became active in the Kerameikos, producing primarily red-figured pottery, but also black-slipped pottery, coarse pottery, and cookwares (p. 128 and Appendix III). Lucanian painters, such as the Dolon Painter, the Creusa Painter, and the Anabates Painter have been active in this Kerameikos. All these workshops made extensive use of kiln supports.

Kiln supports along with the test firing pieces are commonly known as kiln furniture. Their purpose is to assist the potter with loading the kiln and with following the progress of the firing.2 An individual potter would use a broken sherd or improvise with some clay on the spot to secure his kiln load, but workshops producing figural pots invested in large numbers of specialized clay supports to fit the shapes and size of ceramics they produced.3 A few types of kiln supports, such as tripods, teardrop-shaped supports, and short cylinders, have been common sights at potters’ workshops from antiquity until the present.4

Ceramic kilns and kiln equipment are clearly not only the most reliable indicators of ceramic production in the archaeological record, but they are also very visible due to their fixed and permanent character, in sharp contrast to the perishable nature of potters’ wheels and tools.5 Survival, however, does not guarantee correct identification. Kilns and kiln supports have often been missed or misidentified in earlier publications,6 largely because of a lack of comparanda, but this picture is changing rapidly.

In the last two decades, archaeologists have expanded their interest in the working environment of the ancient Mediterranean potter, moving into technological studies with the zeal once reserved for iconography and typology. N. Cuomo Di Caprio paved the way with a 1971 article establishing an influential typology of ancient kilns in Italy. Almost twenty years later, she published an entire monograph on the Late Hellenistic kilns at Morgantina in Sicily.7 The past fourteen years have witnessed a burgeoning interest in the technical equipment of workshops (mainly kilns) and their overall organization outside Italy, in Britain, France, and Greece, to name a few countries. The detailed studies by J. K. Papadopoulos and M.C. Monaco demonstrated the typological variability of kiln supports in ancient Athenian workshops.8 A topic that was previously dealt with in shorter articles is now elevated to a much-deserved monograph by C., based on his 1998 dissertation on the same subject.

C.’s book is divided into three parts. The first provides a brief introduction to the Metapontum Kerameikos, a typological classification of the stacking supports, and some suggestions about how they were used for stacking pots of different sizes (Part I. 1-4). In the second, C. discusses in detail each of the eleven dumps and their stratigraphy, and offers an extensive selection of the types of supports in each with a catalogue of over 300 pieces. Smaller chapters in this part focus on the inscriptions on the kiln supports, the chronological development of the types, and comparisons with kiln supports from two other production sites, Taranto and Himera (Part II.1-4). Three appendices provide complementary information: on fingerprints preserved on pottery in the largest dump (scarico 1); on cooking pots found in the same dump; and on the practices of a contemporary family workshop producing cooking pots near Lecce.

The framework for C.’s study is a typological classification of over 1800 pieces of kiln supports excavated in eleven dumps and mended from many fragments. C. divides them first into seven groups (Groups I-VII) and secondly into 62 types, with Groups I- III (the cylinders and flat rings) having the most types. Groups ι which are lid- bell-, or teardrop- shaped, display less internal variability and are much less popular. Some types are produced in different sizes (what C. calls modules) to support larger kraters or smaller cups. For each group he provides information about date, frequency, and function. The supports are wheel-made, from well-levigated clay. Cylinders range from 3 to 21cm in height and from 4 to 25cm in diameter, while flat rings have an average internal diameter of 17cm. The vessels that would have been stacked are primarily cups, skyphoi, and kraters, ranging in height from 4 to 30cm. The supports are usually pierced by two large holes to ensure that the heat can circulate. Traces of gloss on some supports suggest an additional function before firing, namely to hold the pots in place during the decoration process.

Groups VI and VII seem to belong to the Archaic phase of the Kerameikos in the 6th century B.C.E., while Groups I-V were popular from the 5th to the 3rd centuries B.C.E. and must have been the main technical aids of the Late Classical workshops. Generally the use-life of kiln supports depends on the number of firings to which they were subjected. The overall good preservation of the Metapontum pieces suggests that they were not used in many firings, although some discoloration of their surface does exist. It is likely that they were discarded because of a change of operation or even its termination, rather than because they were no longer functional.

After this detailed classification, C. pursues the functions of these supports. Unfortunately C. cannot rely on archaeological clues here, since the dumps contained no wasters of kiln supports, which would have established their placement inside the kiln beyond doubt. He offers some informative reconstructions to illustrate the use of certain supports for larger kraters and deep skyphoi, and of other supports for smaller drinking vessels. Especially for the stacking of two kraters, C. envisions a complicated combination of three types of supports (Figs. 13-14): a cylinder to support the foot of the upper krater inside the lower krater, a wide ring to rest on the rim of the lower krater to secure the top krater at its lower body, and a lid-shaped support placed on the rim of the upper krater. C.’s experiment using short cylinders of type III-C1 to stack a set of four wide dishes is quite convincing (Fig. 15 and Table XXVIII).

C. next turns to the depositional history of kiln supports and their find spots within the area of the workshop. He discusses 11 of the 24 dumps where kiln supports were found in significant quantities, ranging from 28 examples in scarici 5 and 18 to the impressive number of 881 in scarico 1. C. selectively catalogues 318 kiln supports (a sample of ca. 18%), along with a few isolated supports from sites adjacent to the Metapontan Kerameikos (Part II.1).

The largest dump (scarico 1) measured 3x7x0.50m and lay immediately to the northeast of the two Late Classical kilns (A+B). It contained the discards of a workshop that specialized in small and medium-sized kraters (p. 61). Besides its impressive number of kiln supports, it is the single dump that contained test firing pieces for checking the kiln temperature (pp. 72-74, cat. nos. 134-148).

C. presents the dumps in a roughly chronological order, from the end of the 5th century (scarico 1) to the close of the 4th century B.C.E. (scarici 3, 18, 9, 11). Most of these dumps are clustered at the eastern part of the excavated area beyond Kiln C, with fewer in the central part. Kiln supports accounted for 56% and 17% of dumps 1 and 3 respectively. C. provides similar statistics for three more dumps, but not for dump 4, which contained 250 kiln supports. It is noteworthy that the dumps contained primarily black-slipped pottery and supports, with very small quantities of red-figured pottery, coarse and cooking pots. The detailed discussion of each scarico could have been further enhanced by section drawings.

C.’s careful analysis of the stratigraphy suggests the dumps were created when a workshop was abandoned, shifted its production focus, or did a major clean-up of the area. Whether or not the material was discarded immediately after a firing event, the kiln supports (and any other broken pottery) may have accumulated in a corner of a workshop before they were gathered and deposited, most likely in a single event. In one case, joining fragments of a single support were recovered from two different dumps (nos. 164+115 from dumps 1 and 8) another indicator that these dumps contained previously mixed material.

C. provides distribution charts, drawings, and photos of all types present within each dump. Although the catalogue understandably deals with only a representative sample, additional tables include detailed counts of types within each dump (pp. 114-120). A comprehensive table incorporating all dumps and all types would have stressed the popularity or scarcity of the numerous types. For example, only one ring type, III-F1, appears in all dumps. According to my calculations, only 11 types are quite popular (appearing in five or more dumps) while 17 types appear exclusively in scarico 1. Scarico 1 may contain as many as 44 types, but in almost all dumps there are only one or two predominant types. A clear distinction between types that are predominant vs. those that are present would have been useful. In such cases, it seems that one cannot escape the perennial dilemma of splitters vs. lumpers. Perhaps another typological configuration could have grouped some of these types together. Finally, C. surveys very briefly kiln furniture from two other sites: a workshop at Taranto contemporary to the Metapontan Kerameikos and a Hellenistic workshop at Himera (Part II.2).

In addition to their unprecedented number, the kiln supports preserve an unusually high number of brief inscriptions (Part II.3, pp. 105-107). These total 131: 81 incised before the firing, 14 graffiti, 36 painted with black slip, and 2 impressed. Five additional inscriptions appear on a pinax and an altar. Most of the inscriptions date to the 4th century B.C.E. (Table 12.1-3, pp. 121-123). Four inscribed pieces were excavated in the stoking channels of the Late Classical kilns, but the majority was found in the area to the East of kiln C, where most of the dumps were located, and others come mainly from dumps 1, 3, and 8. They consist mostly of the single letters M, E, or occasionally both (μἐ, presumably to designate individual loads in a shared firing. ΕΧΙ appears quite often, possibly the abbreviation of a workshop owner’s name ( ΕΧΙΝΟΣ). Dumps usually contained similarly inscribed examples. At other sites with supports, Taranto has produced only some dipinti on supports with the name of Lykonos or Ly abbreviated (p. 99). At Himera the kiln supports carry only single letters (p. 105). A similar tradition of labeling kiln furniture is also attested at a fifth-century workshop at Kolonos Hippios in Athens where one Naukrates, probably the workshop owner, incised his initials ( ΝΑΥ) on kiln supports.

If the monograph had focused only on the detailed presentation of the kiln furniture from Metapontum, this reviewer would already have been extremely grateful. But in the first of his appendices, C. expands the scope of his study to include analysis of the numerous fingerprints, found mostly on pottery, but also on a few of the supports. In the 1980s Paul Astrom introduced dactyloscopy into Old World archaeology with his analysis of palmprints on the Linear B tablets (ca. 1400 B.C.E.).9 Besides tablets, fingerprints have been analyzed on pottery of earlier periods, specifically on Early Minoan pottery (ca. 3000-2650 B.C.E.).10

C.’s fingerprint analysis, however, may be the first to be applied to Classical material. C. and a team of police investigators closely analyzed 74 fingerprints found on 36 ceramics out of a total of 400 fingerprints detected at Metapontum. Two to five fingerprints per pot is the norm; the largest number of fingerprints on a vessel is seven (p. 161). While a few red-figured pots and four supports carry fingerprints, most fingerprints were found on black-slipped mugs and trefoil oinochoai. The prints are usually located on the lower body, around the base, since the potter would hold the vessel by the base to dip it into the slip.11 C. presents three samples of the database sheets used for recording the fingerprints (Figs. 59a-c). He illustrates all studied fingerprints at a scale of 1:1 and in fourteen color figures with clear labeling, thus enabling other scholars to scrutinize his methodology and observations.12

It is paradoxical that the products of the potters’ hands very seldom carry traces of their makers’ hands: most ceramics (fine or coarse) and even the humble kiln supports receive a smoothing with burnishing and/or slipping which eliminates most fingerprints before firing.13 As with all scientific methods, dactyloscopy cannot provide all the answers: for example, not all fingerprints are good for analysis, nor does the presence of papillary lines always lead to attribution to specific fingers or to individual identification.14 Fingerprint analysis can, however, shed light on the demographics of the workshop (children vs. adults workmen) and detect individuals who were involved in hard manual work, since their papillary lines are thicker. In Metapontum, the team was successful in assigning twenty-four fingerprints to four persons (called Artisans A-D). Each artisan seems to have performed a specific task: Artisan A was a potter responsible for forming the rims of trefoil oinochoai, while Artisans B, C, and D must have been assistants responsible for dipping the mugs. The activity that leaves the largest number of fingerprints is indeed the dipping of vessels in the slip, with the artisan holding the vessel with three or five fingers (p. 144). The investigators assigned as many as eleven fingerprints to Artisan D. In rare cases, two individuals had worked on the same mug, dipping it twice, once from its rim and once from its base (pp. 144-145). The fingerprint analysis made therefore archaeologically visible the strong task specialization within the Metapontum workshops.

The Metapontum corpus of fingerprints is fascinating not only because of its size but, most importantly, because of their findspot, namely a production area. Even if other sites have comparable or larger number of fingerprints, such as the impressive group of fingerprints on 121 vessels from Monte Bibele in the province of Bologna (p. 137, n. 2), those were found in tombs and not within a potters’ quarter.

The second appendix of C.’ book offers a brief ethnographic description of a traditional family pottery workshop located in Cutrofiano in the province of Lecce. Their production was primarily cooking vessels intended for the local market. The workshop, visited once by C. in 1997, occupies an area of 50 square meters and is manned by three workmen and two potters (the two brothers who own it). Until very recently, most stages of production there varied little from those of antiquity. Recently, though, the brothers switched to an electric wheel, industrially prepared clay, and an electric kiln. In terms of task specialization, only the brothers form the vessels and stack the kilns. Slip immersion is relegated to the workmen. Two art students, holding internships at the workshop, are responsible for the painted decoration on the pots. Long experience accounts for the highly standardized sizes of the pots: for example, the Coli potters can throw a saucepan 20cm in diameter always within a margin of error of one to two centimeters without using any measuring instruments.

Albeit interesting, this study is too short and too limited in scope to make a substantial contribution to our understanding of Lucanian potting practices.15 C. had the potters reproduce a trefoil jug to check on the placement of fingerprints (p. 146, figs. 64 f-g), but one wishes that the Lori potters had made replicas of the kiln supports and vessels from Metapontum to test the reconstructions of stacking methods envisioned by C.

Appendix 3, contributed by A. Quercia, presents a selection of cookware from dump 1 where they accounted for 6% of the dump’s contents. The assemblage includes χύτραι, κακκάβαι, λοπάδες, ταγήναι, and their lids. Most numerous are the λοπάδες and the lids. Q. divides them into types and describes the four main clay pastes used for their production. Many types are quite common in both the Greek mainland and in Magna Graecia, while others are specific to the area around Metapontum. Q. notes that all types of cooking wares are represented with misfired examples in the dump, corroborating the suggestion that the output of the Metapontian potters included cooking wares. This appendix is only loosely connected to the remaining of the book. The inclusion of this study with a more in-depth discussion of the entire scarico 1 might have been more meaningful.

In conclusion, C.’s painstaking work brings potters, vase-painters, assistants, and workshop owners to life. Typological uniformity of the kiln furniture and kraters, as well as recurrences of similar inscriptions on furniture allow us almost to feel within breathing distance of painters, singled out by connoisseurs long ago on the basis of stylistic peculiarities. His book also invites us to ask some further questions about the spatial organization of a workshop, especially about the placement of dumps and their proximity to the production sites.16 Typos are few, considering the large numbers of catalogue entries and tables; a few bibliographical references are incomplete. The reasoning behind some of the calculations in the dumps tables is not always clear, and my counts do not agree with those of the author in dumps 8, 4, 22, and 10. The numbering of the features on the site map (p. 12) can be confusing since it does not correspond to the numbering that C. adopts in his discussion of the dumps. A short description of the kilns themselves would have allowed C. to explain why he reconstructed a kiln with an extremely long stoking channel (praefurnium) and a very low combustion chamber (figs. 57-58, p. 132). If the combustion chamber were indeed so low, the intensity of the fire would have completely destroyed the lower layers of pots.

Despite these minor quibbles, C. should be commended for producing such a thought-provoking study. By combining detailed excavation notes, connoisseurship of red-figured pottery, traditional typological analysis, scientific methods, and ethnoarchaeology, C. has successfully extracted the most information from the kiln supports at Metapontum.

Although not all archaeologists can be so lucky as to excavate such a rich cluster of kiln supports, all of us interested in ancient pottery studies should feel fortunate to have C.’s work in our libraries or in the field to consult next time we come across kiln supports or fingerprints on ancient objects. The book is unquestionably a significant contribution to our knowledge both of the technical equipment of ancient pottery workshops and most importantly of their organization.


1. F. D’Andria “Scavi nella zona del Kerameikos” NSc Suppl. 1973, pp. 355-452. For good color reconstructions of the workshop, see A. De Siena (ed.), Metaponto, Basilicata 2001, pp. 103-114. For the South-Italian painters active in Metapontum, see A. D. Trendall, Red Figure Vases of South Italy and Sicily, London 1989, pp. 55-73.

2. M. Farnsworth, “Draw pieces as aids to correct firing,” AJA 64 (1960) pp. 72-75; and J. K. Papadopoulos, Ceramicus Redivivus. The Early Iron Age Potters’ Field in the Area of the Classical Athenian Agora, Hesperia Supplement 31, 2003, esp. pp. 145-152 and ch. 4.

3. E.g., the L-shaped supports used for tiles in the Greek Tile Works at Corinth (G. Merker, Greek Tile Works at Corinth: The Site and the Finds, Hesperia Supplement 35, 2006, pp. 31-32).

4. For tripods used in the Byzantine period, see Byzantine Glazed Ceramics: the Art of Sgraffito, Athens, 1999; for the medieval period, see C. Piccolpasso, Li tre libri dell’ arte del vasaio, 1548, folio 15; and for the modern potter, see F. Hamer and J. Hamer, The Potter’s Dictionary of Materials and Techniques, Philadelphia, 2004, pp. 160-161.

5. For an exceptional case of potters’ tools excavated within a workshop, see D. Kourkoumelis and S. Demesticha, “Outils de potier de l’ atelier de Figareto à Corfu,” BCH 121 (1997), pp. 553-571.

6. For example, teardrop-shaped supports have been misinterpreted as theater tickets (for the theater at Dodone, see S.I. Dakaris, ” Το ιερό της δωδώνης,” ADelt 16 [1960], pp. 4-40); or as worn pot handles, see J.F. Coleman, Excavations at Pylos in Elis. Hesperia Supplement 21, Princeton, 1986, p. 106, pl. 40.). The exact placement of the supports in the kiln is equally uncertain, except for the tripods, which have been found stuck onto Byzantine glazed bowls; A. Kalogeropoulou, “From the techniques of pottery,” AAA 3 (1970), pp. 429-434, fig. 10.

7. N. Cuomo Di Caprio, “Proposta di classificazione delle fornaci per ceramica e laterizi nell’area italiana, dalla preistoria a tutta l’epoca romana,” Sibrium 11 (1971/72), pp. 371-414; eadem, Fornaci e officine da vasaio tardo-ellenistiche di Morgantina, Princeton 1993; reviewed by J. K. Papadopoulos in Classical Review 44 (1994), pp. 151-155, who also provides an extensive background bibliography on kiln studies. The ten Morgantina kilns did not, however, have much kiln furniture preserved.

8. J. K. Papadopoulos, ” λάσανα, tuyères and kiln firing supports,” Hesperia 61 (1992), pp. 203-221. M.C. Monaco, Ergasteria: impianti artigianali ceramici ad Atene ed in Attica dal Protogeometrico alle soglie dell’Ellenismo, Roma, 2000, esp. pp. 217-231, pls. 44-58.

9. K. E. Sjoquist and P. Astrom, Pylos: Palmprints and Palmleaves, Göteborg 1985; P. Astrom and S. A. Eriksson, Fingerprints and Archaeology, Göteborg 1980, pp. 5-9, provide a very elucidating introduction to the field of fingerprints. Dactyloscopy includes poroscopy (the shape and placement of the pores sideways on the papillary lines) and edgescopy (profiles of papillary lines).

1.10] K. Branigan, Y. Papadatos, and D. Wynn, “Fingerprints on Early Minoan pottery: a pilot study,” BSA 97 (2002), pp. 49-53.

11. 37 fingerprints were found on fourteen mugs and 22 fingerprints on eleven oinochoai. T. Schreiber, “Dipping as a glazing technique in antiquity,” Greek Vases in the J. Paul Getty Museum 3 (1986), pp. 143-148, figs. 2a-d, illustrates a dipped duck-askos which preserves all five digits from the “glazer’s” right hand in an arrangement very similar to that found at Metapontum.

12. C.’s team chose twelve points of analysis and relied on three to ten points of correspondence to anchor the attribution of fingerprints to individuals. The British police require eight points of correspondence for court cases (M. Specter, “Do fingerprints lie?” New Yorker, May 27, 2002).

13. Potters occasionally left finger or thumb impressions at base of handles, see J. K. Papadopoulos, “Early Iron Age potters’ marks in the Aegean,” Hesperia 63 (1994), pp. 437-507, esp. 453-455, 471.

14. K.-E. Sjoquist, Knossos, Keepers and Kneaders, Göteborg 1991. At Knossos forty-nine tablets carried print types which were attributable to ten individuals.

15. M. B. Annis’ extensive ethnoarchaeological work in Sardinia contains a better-formulated set of questions. See, for example, “Resistance and change: pottery manufacture in Sardinia,” World Archaeology 17 (1985), pp. 240-255; “Organization of pottery production in Sardinia: variability and change,” in H. Luedtke and R. Vossen (eds), Töpfereiforschung zwischen Mittelmeer und Skandinavien, Bonn, pp. 143-170.

16. For a discussion of the placement of pottery dumps, see B.L. Stark, “Archaeological identification of pottery production locations: Ethnoarchaeological and archaeological data in Mesoamerica,” in B.A. Nelson (ed.), Decoding Prehistoric Ceramics, Carbondale, 1985, pp. 158-94.