To smooth or not to smooth? A traceological and experimental approach to surface processing of Bronze and Iron Age ceramics




Bronze Age, early Iron Age, ceramics, experiment, surface treatment, tool kit


The biographic approach – that is, tracing artefacts’ ‘lives’ from production, through their use, and finally to their deposition – is commonly applied in the analysis of lithic, flint, and metal artefacts. Objects made of clay, although the most common artifacts at many prehistoric sites, are rarely subject to such studies. In this paper, we focused on the short span of time during the “life” of a ceramic object when its surfaces were smoothed or/and burnished. Both are typical properties of Bronze/early Iron Age pottery found in today’s Poland. We studied two factors that influenced the desired final effect: the vessel drying time and the applied tool(s). To accomplish this study, we combined the results of observations of 46 samples from three settlements and two cemeteries in southwestern Poland, as well as the analysis of experimental reference samples. We demonstrated that the drying time was crucial, while the tool kit was composed of rather simple, mostly unprepared, objects such as pebbles or pieces of antler. In the smoothing process, we also observed a connection between surface selection (internal/external) and the purpose to which the vessel was put (settlement/funerary).


Download data is not yet available.


Baron J., Nowak K. and Bohr M. 2018. Kotlina Kłodzka w czasach pól popielnicowych. Główne zagadnienia i potrzeby badawcze. Śląskie Sprawozdania Archeologiczne 60 (2), 91-103.

Calvo S., Bosch J., Molist M. and Gómez-Bach A. 2018. Aproximación a los tratamientos de superficie en los recipientes cerámicos de las minas prehistóricas de Gava (Barcelona). Butlletí Arqueólogic V, 40, 251-256.

Dolfini A. and Crellin R.J. 2016. Metalwork wear analysis: The loss of innocence. Journal of Archaeological Science 66, 78-87.

Forte V., Cesar S.N. and Medeghini L. 2018. Cooking traces on Copper Age pottery from central Italy: An integrated approach comprising use wear analysis, spectroscopic analysis and experimental archaeology. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 18, 121-138.

Gądzikiewicz M. 1954. Wybrane zagadnienia z badań nad kulturą grobów kloszowych. Wiadomości Archeologiczne 20(2), 134-173.

Ionescu C., Hoeck V., Crandell O.N. and Sarić K. 2015. Burnishing versus smoothing in ceramic surface finishing: a SEM study. Archaeometry 57(1), 18-26.

Ionescu C. and Hoeck V. 2020. Ceramic technology. How to investigate surface finishing. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 12(204),

Kądziołka K. 2016. Technologia wytwarzania naczyń ceramicznych na stanowisku kultury łużyckiej przy ul. Niemczańskiej we Wrocławiu na podstawie badań makro- i mikroskopowych. Unpublished MA thesis, Institute of Archaeology, University of Wrocław.

Lasak I. 1990. Z badań wczesnobrązowej osady w Radłowicach (sezon 1988). Śląskie Sprawozdania Archeologiczne 31, 117-136.

Lasak I. 1991. Badania poszukiwawcze rowu w strefie brzeżnej niszy źródliskowej na osadzie w Radłowicach. Śląskie Sprawozdania Archeologiczne 32, 87-96.

Lasak I. 1993. Osada kultury unietyckiej w Radłowicach (stan. 22). Studia Archeologiczne 24, 67-84.

Lasak I. 1996. Ratownicze badania wykopaliskowe na cmentarzysku kultury łużyckiej w Miłosławicach, gm. Milicz (stan. 6). Śląskie Sprawozdania Archeologiczne 38, 143-157.

Legrand A. and Sidéra I. 2007. Methods, means, and results when studying European bone industry. In C. Gates St-Pierre and R. Walker (eds), Bones as tools: current methods and interpretations in Worked Bone Studies (= British Archaeological Reports, International Series 1622). Oxford: Oxbow Books, 67-79.

Lepère C. 2014 Experimental and traceological approach for a technical interpretation of ceramic polished surfaces. Journal of Archaeological Science 46, 144-155.

Mogielnicka-Urban M. 1984. Warsztat ceramiczny w kulturze łużyckiej. Wrocław, Warszawa, Kraków, Gdańsk, Łódź: Ossolineum.

Orton C., Tyers P. and Vince A. 1993. Pottery in archaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Panek P. 2012. Badania archeologiczne przy Al. Niepodległości w Szprotawie. Unpublished excavation report, Wrocław.

Pazda S. 1968. Sprawozdanie z badań archeologicznych przeprowadzonych w rejonie Radłowic i Gostkowic powiat Oława w 1968 r. Śląskie Sprawozdania Archeologiczne 11, 25-30.

Rice P. M. 1987. Pottery Analysis: a Sourcebook. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

Richter P. B. 1991. Experimentelle Archäologie: Ziele, Methoden und Aussage-Möglichkeiten. Experimentelle Archäologie in Deutschland, Bilanz 6, 19-49.

Shepard A. 1956. Ceramics for the archaeologist. Washington: Carnegie Institution of Washington.

Skibo J. M. 2015. Pottery Use-Alteration Analysis. In J. M. Marreiros, J. F. Gibaja Bao and N. F. Bicho (eds), Use-Wear and Residue in Archaeology. Manuals in Archaeological Method, Theory and Technique. Cham: Springer, 189-198.

Van Gijn A. L. 2010. Flint in Focus. Lithic Biographies in the Neolithic and Bronze Age. Leiden: Sidestone Press.

Venclová N., Thér R. and Mangel T. 2019. Obroušené grafitové keramické fragmenty v době železné: možnosti interpretace. Studia Historica Nitriensia 23, 187-205.

Żychlińska J. 2015. Funkcja krążków glinianych ludności kultury łużyckiej w świetle nowych znalezisk z Wielkopolski. Folia Praehistorica Posnaniensia 20, 545-556.




How to Cite

Gawron-Szymczyk, A. ., Łaciak, D. ., & Baron, J. (2020). To smooth or not to smooth? A traceological and experimental approach to surface processing of Bronze and Iron Age ceramics. Sprawozdania Archeologiczne, 72(2).