Stamps and Signatures

One of the cool things from this season is that we have found a significant number of stamps and signed ceramic artifacts. Stamps commonly appeared on amphora handles to mark the provenience of contents of the storage container. We’re finding quite a few this season in the assemblage from the storage pit along the line of the Hellenistic fortification. This is the coolest so far because I like the slick, stylized Alpha and Gamma. It could be a modern trademark. (We’re calling it the Agamemnon handle after the famous king of Mycenea in Homer. It’s certain not that old (it’s probably Hellenistic), but it’s sure fun to imagine an ancient olive oil or wine merchant marketing their product as Agamemnon’s Finest Olive Oil™.


In fact, today while sorting we came across this sweet stamped amphora handle with a lyre and a flower on it and an inscription. How cool is this?


In some cases, the “stamp” was just etched into the clay. It’s not as fancy. I suppose it’s possible to imagine this done after the vessel was fired. Here’s an example of that practice on a clunky, round amphora handle:


The coolest examples of this are found on black slip and glaze fine wares where the maker will etch is initials (or something) on the base. We have a base by the famous and mysterious Phil painter (this is a joke). The Phi and Lambda spell the name of Phil. He and Tony ran a pottery shop during the Hellenistical period near our site. Good products, great prices (another joke).


While presorting and washing pottery is boring, it does give me the chance to engage with the finds in a tactile and detailed way. I am not a ceramicist, but I recognize the value of understanding ceramics as a key to unlocking not only the chronology of archaeological sites in the historical Mediterranean, but also some aspects of how people lived in the ancient world.   

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