Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 212–250 | Cite as

The Pottery Informatics Query Database: A New Method for Mathematic and Quantitative Analyses of Large Regional Ceramic Datasets

  • Neil G. SmithEmail author
  • Avshalom Karasik
  • Tejaswini Narayanan
  • Eric S. Olson
  • Uzy Smilansky
  • Thomas E. Levy


There is an increasing demand within the humanities and social sciences to use computers to analyze material culture and discover patterns of historical and anthropological significance. Using southern Levantine Iron Age (ca. 1200–500 BCE) ceramics as a test case, the Pottery Informatics Query Database (PIQD) provides a novel solution for constructing regional ceramic typologies. Beyond digitally archiving 2D/3D-scanned ceramics, the PIQD encodes ceramic profiles as mathematical representations. This method of digital preservation enables rapid queries to be conducted in a mathematically grounded approach. In this sense, the queries are similar to online Basic Local Alignment Search Tool searches developed in the field of genetics by rapidly associating large quantities of digital vessel profiles to each other based on similar morphological traits. The PIQD is an open-source online tool that enables scholars and students to test humanities-related hypotheses against ceramic data in ways that conventional publications or other databases cannot provide. Regional spatial patterning of the ceramic data is delivered over a Google Earth-based user interface. In this paper, we present the PIQD as an objective method for developing a comprehensive ceramic typology of an entire region of archaeological study and provide an arena to conduct novel scientific research. We then demonstrate through a case study its analytical capabilities to handle large datasets of 3D scans and digitized 2D ceramic profiles and generate cultural inferences with the ceramic assemblages of the Iron Age II “Edomite” region located in modern southern Jordan. PIQD adds an important methodological tool to the post-excavation cyber-archaeology tool box.


Archaeology informatics Southern Levant Cyber-archaeology Digital Iron Age Ceramics Database Management 



We are grateful to Professor Ramesh Rao, Director, California Institute of Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), San Diego Division, UCSD, for his long-term support of this project. The research provides a platform for our graduate students involved in the UCSD Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture and Archaeology (CISA3)/Calit2 NSF IGERT TEECH grant. Fieldwork was facilitated by grants from the National Geographic Society, NSF, the UCSD Judaic Studies Program, and private donors. We also would like to acknowledge Kristiana Smith, Brian Tipton, Sorayda Santos, Charlene Wang, Caity Connoll and Ahmad Hasanat for their many hours spent conducting database entry and digitization of the ceramic datasets presented in this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Neil G. Smith
    • 1
    Email author
  • Avshalom Karasik
    • 2
  • Tejaswini Narayanan
    • 1
  • Eric S. Olson
    • 1
  • Uzy Smilansky
    • 2
  • Thomas E. Levy
    • 1
  1. 1.Cyber-Archaeology Laboratory, California Institute for Telecommunications and Information TechnologyUniversity of CaliforniaSan DiegoUSA
  2. 2.Computerized Archaeological Laboratory, Institute of ArchaeologyHebrew University of JerusalemJerusalemIsrael

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