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Asian Archaeology

, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp 43–50 | Cite as

Petrographic analysis of pottery from the Haminmangha site (2010–2011), Inner Mongolia

  • Tianjing DuanEmail author
  • Shiqi Ma
  • Shanshan Li
  • Yuhan Chen
Original Paper
  • 220 Downloads

Abstract

The Haminmangha site is an important prehistoric settlement site in the Khorchin area of Inner Mongolia. Due to its unique combination of pottery and a distinctive regional decoration called the “pitting pattern,” a new archaeological culture was established, the Haminmangha Culture. Furthermore, a Z-shape pattern and painted pattern pottery found within the Hamingmangha pottery assemblage indicate that the Hongshan Culture influenced the Haminmangha Culture archaeologically. This paper introduces the application of petrographic analysis to Haminmangha Culture pottery to distinguish differences in the clay used in Haminmangha pottery. We compare different styles of pottery looking at the clay matrix, sand, and temper. We conclude that pottery with traits of the Hongshan Culture is locally produced. There were cultural communications between the Hongshan Culture and the Haminmangha Culture that involved the transmission of pottery techniques rather than directly imported pottery.

Keywords

Petrographic analysis Ceramic thin section Hongshan culture Haminmangha culture 

In recent years, archaeologists in China are paying more attention to the application of petrographic analysis using ceramic thin sections in archaeological research (Cui 2013; Yang et al. 2014). Petrographic analysis is a general method from geology to estimate mineralogical composition. The main material in pottery is resultant from rock weathering. The firing temperature of ancient pottery is generally about or lower than 900 °C and so the possibility of thermal change in the pottery matrix is very small. Thus, after this pottery is fired, the composition of the ceramic matrix still contains the original productional features of rock weathering, and the mineral components and composition of pottery matrix are not much different from the original clay. Along with clues derived from typological analyses, the application for petrographic methods can be used to trace the pottery’s source and thus helps us to discover archaeological culture transmission: we do this through the analysis of the pottery clay and its mineralogical composition (Duan 2011).

One of our authors (Duan 2013) has done research on the source of the pottery from the Hongshan Culture site of Weijiawopu 魏家窝铺, Inner Mongolia: this study delivered some evidence for the pottery production areas of different cultural style groups. Petrographic analysis of the Hongshan 红山 Culture pottery samples from the Wejiawopu site indicated that the pottery of each of the different cultural styles was all locally manufactured (Duan 2013). If we can investigate more materials and data from different archaeological cultures coeval with the Hongshan Culture, we may learn more about the pottery production and cultural relationships.

This paper discusses the pottery excavated at the Haminmangha 哈民忙哈 site. The Haminmangha (meaning “small sand dune” in the Mongolian language) site is located 20 km southeast of Shebotu 舍伯吐 town, in the Kezuozhongqi 科左中旗 Banner of Inner Mongolia. It is 50 km south of Tongliao 通辽 City between the Xiliao 西辽 River and its tributary. During 2010–2012, The Institute of Cultural Relics of Inner Mongolia and the Research Center for Chinese Frontier Archaeology of Jilin University (China) excavated the Haminmangha site (Zhu 2012). The excavated area was over 6000 sq. m, with 54 house foundations, 12 burials, 57 ash pits, and 3 trenches unearthed. More than 1850 artifacts were excavated, including pottery, stone tool, jade, bone, antler, and shell objects (Ji et al. 2012a, b; A et al. 2015).

The Hamminmangha pottery assemblage included such vessel forms as the barrel-like guan 罐 jar, protruding belly pot 鼓腹罐, pen 盆 basin, bo 钵 bowl, hu 壶 pot, plate, etc. (Zhu and Ji 2012). As the pottery assemblage and decoration shows distinctive regional characteristics, they can be used to classify a new archaeological culture, called the Haminmangha Culture (Ji et al. 2012a). Furthermore, the pattern styles of the painted pottery at the site are the same as those found in the Hongshan Culture. Most sites of the Haminmangha Culture have radiocarbon dates between 3600 and 3300 cal BC (Zhu and Chen 2017): this shows that the Haminmangha Culture was coeval with the Dongshanzui 东山嘴 period of the Hongshan Culture (Zhao 2003).

1 Issues concerning cultural characteristics

Archaeologically, we determine the typological characteristics of the Hanminmangha Culture through the pottery assemblage and its decorative motifs. For this study, we focus on four types of pottery decorative styles discovered at the Haminmangha site, namely a pitting pattern, Z-shape pattern, painted pattern, and plain pottery (no decoration).

The pitting pattern is the most characteristic surface treatment recognized in Haminmangha pottery. From its appearance, this treatment may have resulted from stamping of the surface with clusters of plant rhizomes (Zhu and Zheng 2008), producing an extremely rough surface. The grain marks vary in depth, and the application spots might be scattered and irregular. This style and manufacture of pitting patterns is unique among the archeological cultures of the Liaoxi 辽西 region and thus presents “local” characteristics.

The Z-shape pattern pottery and painted pottery of the Haminmangha site is similar to wares of the late Hongshan Culture (Ji et al. 2012a). Although plain pottery is a little difficult to make conclusions about its cultural style affinities based only on the decoration, typologically, we could find some clues based on the vessel form and texture. The fine clay pottery plate is similar to the ware excavated from the Dongshanzui site of the Hongshan Culture (Guo and Zhang 1984).

As we all know, the origination of the styles identified might only be the results of technological propagation, and the pottery could have been made locally or directly imported. Our goal was to determine whether the different styles of pottery were produced locally or imported from sites of other cultures, such as the Hongshan Culture.

To offer some answers, we selected 24 samples from the pottery of the Haminmangha site excavations in 2010–2011. The samples included all of the types of unearthed pottery, including typical pottery and atypical pottery. The selected samples include sherds from the belly section of the barrel-like guan jar, belly pot, basin, bo bowl, hu pot, oblique mouth guan jar, etc. The textures of the potteries are either fine clay or sandy (Fig. 1 and Table 1).
Fig. 1

Images of the 24 pottery sherd samples from the Haminmangha site studied. See Table 1 for classifications

Table 1

Typological characteristics of the pottery samples from the Haminmangha site analyzed here

No.

Sample No.

Sherd

Texture

Color

Decoration

1

F20①:54

Guan jar bottom

Sandy

Brown

Pitting pattern

2

F37①:7

Barrel-like guan jar rim

Sandy

Brown

Pitting pattern

3

T010065②:4

Barrel-like guan jar rim

Sandy

Brown

Pitting pattern

4

T004064②:19

Barrel-like guan jar rim

Sandy

Brown

Pitting pattern

5

F3:8

Rim

Clay

Gray

Pitting pattern

6

F24:34

Bo bowl rim

Clay

Red

Pitting pattern

7

F39①:20

Belly section Sherd

Clay

Brown

Pitting pattern

8

T004067②:4

Plate rim

Clay

Brown

Pitting pattern

9

T004067②:7

Hu-guan jar rim

Clay

Brown

Pitting pattern

10

T004064②:20

Belly section Sherd

Sandy

Brown

Z-shape pattern

11

T003070②:2

Barrel-like guan jar rim

Sandy

Gray

Z-shape pattern

12

T004067②:1

Belly section

Sandy

Brown

Z-shape pattern

13

T009065②:10

Barrel-like guan jar rim

Sandy

Gray

Z-shape pattern

14

T009069②:8

Protruding belly guan jar rim

Sandy

Red

Z-shape pattern

15

T009069②:9

Belly section Sherd

Sandy

Brown

Z-shape pattern

16

2011T2H1:01

Belly section Sherd

Clay

Red

Painted with black color

17

F5:18

Bottom

Sandy

Gray

Plain

18

F31:10

Handle

Sandy

Brown

Plain

19

F33①:16

Sherd

Sandy

Gray

Plain

20

F9:10

Hu-guan jar rim

Clay

Gray

Plain

21

F33①:21

Oblique mouth guan rim

Clay

Brown

Plain

22

F33①:28

Plate rim

Clay

Black

Plain

23

F10:9

Plate rim

Clay

Brown

Plain

24

T006064②:10

Plate rim

Clay

Red

Plain

In summary, the selected samples could be divided into six groups: a. sandy texture pitting pattern pottery (F20①:54, F①:7, T010065②:4,and T004064②:19);b. fine clay pitting pattern pottery (F3:8, F24:34, F39①:20, T004067②:4,and T004067②:7); c. sandy texture Z-shape pattern pottery (F20①:49, T004064②:20, T003070②:2, T004067②:1, T009065②:10, T009069②:8,and T009069②:9); d. fine clay painted pottery (2011T2H1:1); e. sandy texture plainpottery (F5:18, F31:10,F33①:16); and f. fine clay plain pottery (F9:10, F33①:21, F33①:28, F10:9, and T006064②:10).

2 Ceramic thin section petrography methodology

Consideration of the style alone could not allow us to confirm whether the pottery was produced locally. There are various circumstances that can lead to different pottery styles appearing in an archaeological culture, such as atypical pottery import, plunder, lost property, and local manufacture of imitation products under the impact of exotic pottery production technology.

Petrographic analysis can be applied in research on pottery production technology and communication. Through the study of pottery morphology, archaeological typology can help in assessing communication and influence between cultures. Petrographic analysis of ceramic thin sections combined with typological considerations can find out many details in this field. By comparing the scale of tempering in the pottery, the degree of sand or clay in the matrix of sherds ofthe same type, significant differences can allow us to conclude that the pottery clay was sourced from different areas.

Before observing the microstructure of the experimental samples, the appropriate cross section should be selected and the sample from it should be ground to a sheet 0.02–0.03 mm thick. Afterwards, it is mounted on a 1.5× 76 × 26 mm glass slide, covered with a coverslip, and fixed with gum. Observations in the experiment were made using a BK-POLR polarizing microscope (Fig. 2) using polarized light and magnification of 40X.
Fig. 2

Scans of thin sections from the 24 pottery sherd samples from the Haminmangha site

According to the mineral morphology observed, the mineral composition of the 24 samples is mostly quartz silt or fine sand. Some samples also contain a small amount of feldspar and mica. No microchips of clamshell were identified. The distribution density of mineral composition varied between samples, but in general, the main component is silt and the second main component is fine sand. Larger vessel forms, such as the barrel-like guan jar, oblique mouth guan, and hu-guan jar, contained more sand that was mixed with feldspar or mica microchips. Other forms, such as plates, contain more clay and exhibit a mineral composition that is smoother. Functional differences between pottery forms may be the reason for the different clay ratios.

Observing the slides under polarized light microscopy, we can determine the functional composition of the pottery and classify the scale of clay, slit, sand, and temper in the matrix and of voids. These data can be interpreted as resultant from practices within the archaeological cultural, such as whether there is a difference in the scale of the pottery clay or tempering. These are helpful in research on pottery production.

We followed a standard methodology for differentiating sand and silt. Generally, we classify grains less than 0.065 mm in diameter as silt and grain with diameters greater than 0.065 mm as sand. Tempering did not follow a general standard. Sand or silt in the clay matrix can be added by the potter as tempering. Since the silt grains are smaller than the others, it is very difficult to determine whether their amount reflects the natural composition of the ceramic clay or has resulted from additions by the human. Generally, we classified the grains with a diameter of less than 0.065 mm in the clay matrix as silt, but we could not rule out that some special raw materials such as gabbro or clamshell were added as tempering with a size less than 0.065 mm in diameter. Therefore, we have to study the types and sizes of the grains in the pottery samples completely, and combine this with the study of local pottery clay samples to make a comprehensive judgment about tempering in this situation.

Observations of the thin sections were done under the microscope. We classify the particulate matter into three categories according to their diameter: grit, sand, and matrix. In order to get statistics in a more accurate and convenient manner, on each thin section we draw three straight lines with red fountain pen. We observe along these the straight lines and count the amount of particulate matter crossing the three straight lines through the microscope scale on the eyepiece, and classify them according to the category standards based on the diameters of the particles. In this process, attention should be paid to the nature of the observed matter, especially to distinguish bubbles and large pieces of rock particulate matter in the ceramic slide from sand. This experiment utilized a polarizing microscope, which uses polarized light on the birefringent material for research and identification to achieve an effective observation and distinction (Wang 2011).

During the process of selecting and preparing the clay samples, interference and contamination by late remains and other impurities must be avoided. Local clay samples from the Haminmangha site have not yet been obtained. Due to resource limitations, we changed the research method and used sample F3:8 (clay pitting pattern pottery sherd sample) as a reference, because the pitting pattern is regarded as locally produced. The texture of F3:8 is fine and smooth, close to the local pottery clay. The particulate matter contained in F3:8can be roughly divided into 0.025 mm–0.0625 mm and 0.0625 mm–0.25 mm particle size. According to the classification standards of clay particulate matters in geology, particulate matter with diameter in the range of 0.025 mm–0.0625 mm is regarded as clay matrix, particulate matter with diameter in the range of 0.0625 mm–0.25 mm is regarded as sand, and if the diameter is larger than 0.25 mm, the particulate matters is considered to be temper, which is mostly made up of grit.

3 Statistical analysis

The data recorded is used to obtain ratios concerning the relationships between clay matrix, sand, and temper. This allows us to find differences in the characteristics of the pottery texture and composition. The inclusion ratios of the various types of pottery are shown in Tables 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7.
Table 2

Inclusion ratios for sandy texture pitting pattern pottery sherds

Sample number

Clay matrix (%)

Sand (%)

Temper (%)

F20①:54

55

32

13

F37①:7

58

30

12

T010065②:4

59

31

10

T004064②:19

52

34

14

Table 3

Inclusion ratios for fine clay pitting pattern pottery sherds

Sample number

Matrix (%)

Sand (%)

Temper (%)

F3:8

74

26

0

F24:34

67

28

5

F39①:20

73

24

3

T004067②:4

69

31

0

T004067②:7

64

32

4

Table 4

Inclusion ratios for sandy texture Z-shape pattern potterysherds

Sample number

Matrix (%)

Sand (%)

Temper (%)

T004064②:20

49

33

18

T003070②:2

57

29

15

T004067②:1

52

35

13

T009065②:10

55

32

13

T009069②:8

62

27

11

T009069②:9

63

28

11

Table 5

Inclusion ratio for fine clay painted pottery sherds

Sample number

Matrix (%)

Sand (%)

Temper (%)

2011T2H1:01

75

25

0

Table 6

Inclusion ratios for sandy texture plain potterysherds

Sample number

Matrix (%)

Sand (%)

Temper (%)

F5:18

47

35

18

F31:10

58

29

13

F33①:16

55

32

13

Table 7

Inclusion ratios for fine clay plain pottery sherds

Sample number

Matrix (%)

Sand (%)

Temper (%)

F9:10

73

25

2

F33①:21

67

29

4

F33①:28

75

25

0

F10:9

69

30

3

T006064②:10

74

25

1

From the above data, we can see that the sand content of the matrix in the selected samples ranges between 24% and 35%. Actually, the “fine clay pottery” mentioned in the brief excavation reports for 2010 and 2011 (Ji et al. 2012a, b) is high in clay content and fine sand particulate matter. The proportion of temper in the clay is obviously higher than that of fine clay pottery, which is about 13%. Because the proportion of temper in the clay pottery is low, about 2%, the raw material was likely filtered or elutriated.

When we put these data into a ternary diagram (Fig. 3), the compositions of the pottery of the different groups of styles is visible. We also can see that the data are clustered, which shows that the compositions are close.
Fig. 3

Ternary diagram of the petrographic analysis results for the 24 samples from Haminmangha

In order to reveal differences between the data, we apply t-tests to compare the data groups statistically. The t-test uses t-distribution theory to compare the statistical differences in the probability of different averages, with significance found by comparing the differences between two symmetry tests (Xiong 2012). It can be divided into a one-sample t-test and two-sample t-test. Two-sample t-test is to test whether the difference between the average of the two samples and their respective representations is significant.

We used SPSS software to perform four t-test sets to check whether there is a significant difference in the ratio, with a statistical significance of alpha = 0.05 (Table 8).
Table 8

T-test results

 

Means compared

T-value

f

Sig.(2- sided)

1. Sandy texture pitting pattern pottery sand texture Z-shape pottery

 Temper

30.67 ± 4.755 and 30.44 ± 4.018

.138

28

.891

 Sand

17.42 ± 2.353 and 16.59 ± 2.671

.918

28

.357

 Matrix

7.33 ± 2.2294 and 7,39 ± 2.146

−.068

28

.946

2. Sandy texture pitting pattern pottery and sandy texture plain pottery

 Temper

30.67 ± 4.755 and 30.11 ± 4.512

.271

19

.790

 Sand

17.42 ± 2.353 and 18.11 ± 2.208

−.709

19

.487

 Matrix

7.33 ± 2.229 and 8.33 ± 1.871

−1.087

19

.291

3. Fine clay pitting pattern pottery and fine clay painted pottery

 Temper

41.47 ± 3.701 and 42.00 ± 4.359

−.223

16

.827

 Sand

16.93 ± 3.127 and 14.33 ± 1.528

1.328

16

.186

 Matrix

1.53 ± 1.187 and 0.33 ± 0.579

−.683

16

.325

4. Fine clay pitting pattern pottery and fine clay plain pottery

 Temper

41.47 ± 3.701 and 41.40 ± 4.595

.044

9

.965

 Sand

16.93 ± 3.127 and 15.60 ± 2.414

1.307

9

.202

 Matrix

1.53 ± 1.187 and 1.13 ± 1.060

0.973

9

.339

The first group of comparative data shows that there is no significant difference in the ratio of temper, sand, and clay matrix between pitting pattern pottery with sand inclusion produced locally and produced under the influence of the Hongshan cultural factors. Thus, we infer that the style of Z-shape pattern pottery with sand inclusions excavated from the Haminmangha site in 2010 to 2011 were produced locally, with the possibility of being counterfeits imitating the style of Z-shape pattern pottery from the Hongshan Culture. The third group shows that there is no significant difference between fine clay pitting pottery and its patterns produced locally and the fine clay painted pottery piece with a similar style to the Hongshan Culture: thus, it is produced locally. Through these two sets of data, we speculate that there may be some form of cultural exchange between the Hongshan Culture and the Haminmangha Culture. Judging from a comparison of the excavated pottery from the Haminmangha site with the Hongshan Culture style, transmission of Hongshan cultural technology is the main reason for the stylistic similarity appearing in the Haminmangha pottery rather than the direct importation of pottery from the Hongshan Culture.

The second and fourth groups compare pitting pattern pottery with sand inclusion and plain pitting pottery, and fine clay pitting pattern pottery and plain pitting pottery respectively. The results indicate that the plain pottery was produced locally, too.

4 Discussion and conclusions

Petrographic analysis of ceramic thin sections is a method using mineralogical components, pottery shapes, and statistics to analyze the origin and production place of pottery: it is only recently being applied in China. In this paper, petrographic analysis is applied to solve the problem of the origin of pottery excavated at the Haminmangha site from 2010 to 2011 with local cultural traits and with Hongshan cultural characteristics.

Through the observation of microstructure, combined with mineralogical research and archaeological research results, and with the application of t-test statistical analysis, the results show that there is no significant difference between pitting pottery produced locally and pottery with Hongshan cultural characteristics. Thus, we can conclude that the 24 samples from the six classes of pottery are all produced locally.

Duan (2013) discusses the source pottery of the Weijiawopu site of the Hongshan Culture, which was dated 4500 to 4000 BC. In that paper, the data indicate that the pottery samples were all made locally (Duan 2013). We want to point out two opinions. Firstly, the similar conclusions here for the Haminmangha site are based on the data from the samples we selected. The bigger the sample size, the more exact the results are. Secondly, these two sites both reveal that the pottery was manufactured “locally”, which means that proportions of the mineralogical components in the pottery shows no significant difference. Where were the pottery kilns? How far were the kilns from the sites? How do people transport and distribute pottery? To answer these questions, we still need more archaeological discoveries and research.

Notes

Acknowledgments

This paper was funded by a major projects grant from the Chinese National Social Science Foundation (12&ZD191), the Chinese National Social Science Foundation Project (17BKG020), and the Project for Youth Academic Leader Support Program of Jilin University (2016FRLX10).

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Copyright information

© Research Center for Chinese Frontier Archaeology (RCCFA) and Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tianjing Duan
    • 1
    Email author
  • Shiqi Ma
    • 1
  • Shanshan Li
    • 1
  • Yuhan Chen
    • 1
  1. 1.School of ArchaeologyJilin University ChinaChangchunChina

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