Microdebris Analysis in Early Bronze Age Mesopotamian Households

By Rainville, Lynn | Antiquity, June 2000 | Go to article overview
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Microdebris Analysis in Early Bronze Age Mesopotamian Households


Rainville, Lynn, Antiquity


I am interested in the daily activities of the non-elites to understand ancient Mesopotamian society. Analysing the activities performed within the houses of the non-elites is the first step in defining the social and economic differentiation among households and, in turn, a better understanding of the role of these households within ancient communities. I analyse activity areas using a relatively new method -- micro-debris analysis -- which analyses small artefactual and ecofactual remains (Fladmark 1982; Rosen 1989; Matthews 1995).

In my dissertation, 365 sediment samples (10 litres each) were taken from over 20 structures. The rationale for sampling deposits and counting and weighing the small remains found within the earthen matrix is based on a model of depositional forces. Site formation theorists suggest that macro-debris left by daily activities are usually disturbed and often discarded far from the loci of the original activity. Whereas the large finds may be scavenged, discarded, or curated in periods of abandonment, smaller debris is often swept into corners or trampled into the surface of a floor. These small items are more likely than large items to remain where they were dropped due to the difficulty in removing small debris with traditional cleaning methods (Schiffer 1983; Dunnell & Stein 1989). My research focused on the analysis of artefacts under I cm in dimension found in occupational surfaces and features in order to define activity areas at several Early Bronze Age (c. 3100-1900 BC) sites in southeastern Turkey.

In this report, I use micro-debris analysis to reconstruct the activities from a set of rooms within `Building Unit 4' at Titris Hoyuk (Algaze et al. in press) (FIGURE 1). I collected samples from floors and more specific loci of activities, such as hearths and middens (FIGURE 2). The heavy fractions (from flots) were picked through in order to recover ceramics, bone, chipped stone, baked mudbrick and plaster, shell, charcoal and botanical matter. Within each sample, the weight and count density of the various artifact types was calculated and graphed in order to determine the relative high (red) and low (blue) density areas of debris types.

[Figures 1-2 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

First, the micro-debris distribution was compared to the macro-debris. As illustrated in FIGURE 3, whereas both macro and micro-ceramic remains were found in Room 11 (a kitchen), a high density of macro-ceramics occurred Room 8 (a courtyard) and in Room 9 the micro-debris revealed an activity area which was invisible at the macro-level.

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Microdebris Analysis in Early Bronze Age Mesopotamian Households
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