The Levantine Ceramics Project (LCP) is a collaborative venture of archaeologists working throughout the region of the Levant to make the evidence of ceramic wares, shapes, and laboratory analyses readily available. The project has two components: periodic workshops and a public, interactive website. Our focus is on ceramics of all eras—from the Neolithic era (c. 5500 B.C.E.) through the Ottoman period (c. 1920 C.E.)—produced anywhere in the Levant, which includes the modern nations of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Palestine, and Egypt. Our goal is to build a digital resource that makes it simple to submit, share, search for, refine, and use ceramic evidence. On the LCP website you can find information about ceramic wares, shapes, specific vessels, scientific analyses, kiln sites, and chronology. We are building a new research tool that makes available an enormous data set, links scholars, and fosters research.
LCP contributors are committed to the idea that ceramics offer critical evidence for understanding all periods of Levantine social, cultural, and economic history. Why ceramics? Ceramics make human behavior visible. Ceramics occur everywhere, in every era and type of settlement, among every social group. Ceramics provide evidence for the dates of buildings and finds. Analytical studies allow researchers to pinpoint origins, which illuminate exchange networks. Vessel shapes, types, decorations, and quantities reflect peoples’ activities, tastes, ideas, and lifestyles. Ceramics are the single most common find on most archaeological sites throughout history; their ubiquity provides a gold-mine of data.
Why the Levant? The Levant has been a pivotal zone throughout human history: a hinge and a corridor between east and west, north and south. On this dynamic stage actors change, but not the forces that support and constrain their actions. Studying any one period throws light on another. The LCP aims to make such study as simple and productive as possible.
The LCP is open access. Anybody can search the site or sign up and submit information, whether long published or newly discovered. For those submitting information, three levels of privacy are available. Submitted data can be made fully public, meaning anybody searching the site will see it; submitted data can be made visible only to other site contributors; or submitted data can be made private, meaning that only the person who submitted it is able to view it. In this way the LCP can function simultaneously as an archival resource for published, publically available information as well as a place for scholars to post and communicate with each other about work in progress.
The LCP was born out of a combination of idealism and frustration. The Levant’s magnetic pull on biblical and classical scholars, historians, and archaeologists has meant ever increasing excavation from the 19th century until today. The most abundant category of remains, found literally by the ton, is pottery. All archaeologists who work in this region rely on the range of evidence it provides, but the system for delivering that evidence is broken: a huge amount of information occurs within unsearchable print publications; terminology is inconsistent; comparable data is often incomplete or missing; and it is all too easy to unintentionally restate or contradict what previous scholars have published. Despite excellent intentions, hard work, and peer-reviewed publications, this is the current reality.
The LCP offers a realistic path towards a new reality. In 2011 a group of ceramicists began with a two-part approach: 1) build a web application for people to submit and search for information about pottery, and 2) hold a workshop where those who submitted information could meet and talk with one another. In February 2012, we introduced a beta-version of the LCP at the First Workshop on Levantine Ceramic Production and Distribution. In advance, the workshop’s 45 participants used on-line forms to submit data about ceramic wares, dates, shapes, types, and petrographic analyses. The beta-LCP was static; users could neither self-edit nor readily add new data. Yet workshop participants were excited because the site provided a simple format for viewing multiple categories of ceramic evidence at the same time.
In summer 2012 we developed an alpha-version of the LCP as a result of a seed grant from Boston University’s Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computational Research. The alpha-version allowed users to submit, edit, and search for information. At the Second Workshop on Levantine Ceramic Production and Distribution, held in February 2013, 58 scholars from 16 countries offered further ideas for improvement; the site then underwent a third round of development over the summer of 2013.
From October 2014-May 2015, we held nine more seminars and workshops for scholars and students (http://workshops.levantineceramics.org/workshops-2014/; http://workshops.levantineceramics.org/workshops-2015/) at the University of Michigan, the Maison de l’Orient et de la Méditerranée (Lyon), KU Leuven (Belgium), North Carolina State University, the University of Toronto, Boston University, Haifa University, and (twice) at the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research (Jerusalem). We asked participants to test -drive the new site in advance: to submit data as well as search, browse, and try to use the site as a research tool. The goal was to learn if the re-design enabled people coming fresh to the site to readily grasp how it worked and find data submission and search sufficiently straightforward and rewarding. Again we found tremendous enthusiasm along with many requests and suggestions. In summer-fall 2015 we again completely rebuilt the site, adding many new and improved features. This current version of the LCP is the product of four years of intensive collaboration, discussion, and development – but it is only the beginning of a long-term, growing research enterprise.
The LCP is designed to be a user-friendly, easily expandable tool for use by scholars, students, and anybody interested in Levantine archaeology. We are always striving to reach a broader user community by holding occasional mini-workshops at universities and archaeological institutes. To catch up on our previous workshops, visit the LCP Workshops page from the navigation bar. If you are interested in holding or hosting an LCP workshop, please contact the LCP Editor, Andrea M. Berlin (firstname.lastname@example.org).
In the next two years, in addition to expanding the number of LCP contributors and the data on the website itself, we hope to make a number of programming improvements:
So stay tuned!