A Geochemical Investigation of the Origin of Rouletted and Other Related South Asian Fine Wares

By Ford, L. A.; Pollard, A. M. et al. | Antiquity, December 2005 | Go to article overview

A Geochemical Investigation of the Origin of Rouletted and Other Related South Asian Fine Wares


Ford, L. A., Pollard, A. M., Coningham, R. A. E., Stern, B., Antiquity


Introduction

The origin and distribution of Rouletted ware (Figure 1) and related fine wares (Sri Lankan Grey ware and Arikamedu Type 10) have been debated since Syme (1955) and Lal (1960) reviewed Wheeler's publications of Rome Beyond the Imperial Frontiers (Wheeler 1954) and Early India and Pakistan (Wheeler 1959). In 1985, Silva reported the presence of Rouletted ware at Mantai in Sri Lanka, and showed the importance of this site for regional and international trade (Silva 1985: 46). In recent years, the problem has been illuminated through chemical examination of the pottery fabric. Reporting the discovery of Rouletted ware and Arikamedu Type 10 sherds from Bali and Indonesia, Ardika & Bellwood (1991: 224) proposed a geological source in India. Subsequently, Ardika et al. (1997) indicated a 'trading/warehousing' activity area at Sembiran and also the identification of a number of sherds of assumed South Asian origin, including Arikamedu Type 10 and Arikamedu Type 18. Roberta Tomber's research at Berenike, Egypt, highlighted the presence of Rouletted ware and Arikamedu Type 10, suggesting that they were the personal possessions of Indian merchants or sailors (Tomber 2000: 630) (Figure 2).

[FIGURES 1-2 OMITTED]

Rouletted ware and Arikamedu Type 10 are both fine wares found predominantly in Sri Lanka, notably at the site of Anuradhapura (Coningham 1999), and on the eastern coast of India, particularly, Arikamedu (Wheeler et al. 1946). They are thought to be tablewares and display distinct decorations, which allow them to be easily identified. They are both slipped and well-fired and show a variety of colours ranging from red to grey to black (Wheeler et al. 1946). Rouletted ware is dish-shaped and contains bands of indentations on the interior base, which include a variety of shapes, such as parallel lines, triangles, diamonds, and dots, and were possibly produced using a roulette (Begley 1988) (Figure 1). Rouletted ware is a key ceramic in South Asia, widely used to date Early Historic sites (Wheeler et al. 1946). Recent research at Anuradhapura has extended its chronology from 400 BC to AD 300 (Coningham 1999). Wheeler proposed a Roman origin for these wares due to the presence of Arretine ware and amphorae in the same levels. However, further research has indicated that the Rouletted ware actually preceded the Roman layers, which later led Vimala Begley to postulate a Mediterranean origin for the decoration, although she did suggest an indigenous provenance for the actual form of Rouletted ware (Begley 1988).

Arikamedu Type 10 is cup-shaped and displays stamped decoration of birds, notably peacocks, on the interior placed in between incised lines (Wheeler et al. 1946). It dates from 200 BC to AD 300, based on radiocarbon dates from Anuradhapura (Coningham 1999). Unfortunately, little work has been done on Arikamedu Type 10 and a Mediterranean origin has been postulated (Nagaswamy 1991:251).

Grey ware is found at both Anuradhapura (Coningham 1999) and Arikamedu (wheeler et al. 1946), although only the samples from Anuradhapura have been analysed here. It displays a similar form and fabric to Rouletted ware, although it is not slipped. It dates from 500 BC to 300 BC (Coningham 1999) and therefore pre-dates both Rouletted ware and Arikamedu Type 10 and also coincides with Rouletted ware. By including an analysis of Grey ware with Rouletted ware and Arikamedu Type 10, it is possible to compare the fabrics directly. If a similarity is indicated, then it will provide useful information about any temporal changes and would be strong support for the theory of an indigenous origin for these wares as Grey ware was produced prior to any external contact.

Despite its importance, no chemical analysis of Rouletted ware was carried out until the 1990s, when two separate publications reported analyses by neutron activation analysis (NAA) and X-ray diffraction (XRD) (Ardika et al. …

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