In The Field: Bardakçı Village

Investigations on Production Process of the Urartian Red Polished Pottery in the Light of the Old Pottery Traditions of Bardakçı Village – Van, Turkey

By Dr. Atilla Batmaz, Ege University-Department of Archaeology

Starting in 2014, an independent researchteam has been carrying out an ethno-archaeological and experimental project in the Bardakçı Village of Van, researching Urartian ‘red polished pottery’. The pottery, famous for its colour, is found in many Urartian fortresses. The highest-quality examples are found to have been produced in the basin of Lake Van: the centre of the ancient Kingdom. Quality seems to decline as one moves towards the outer limits of the Kingdom.

The pottery, representative of Urartian culture, still holds many secrets. The objective of this research is to find out in what manner the pottery was produced, and to document fine details pertaining to the types of clay used, and what types of clay were used for different shapes. Specific terminology found in the region for pottery making is also taken into account. These studies may be an important step in terms of further clarifying the production chain of this type of ceramics.

PotteryStarting out at the beginning of the project, the team’s knowledge of technology and production-methods of red polished pottery was limited. It therefore decided an experimental archaeological study would be the best method to answer questions. The team came to the conclusion that the local clay beds found in the region  were likely to have been used in the Urartian period, and they therefore use the clay from these sources in their experiments. After preparation, the team will begin to try and reproduce the most common shapes of Urartian pottery. Through this process, they will study the production techniques involved when treating the pottery’s surface and baking the material. Since the nature of the clay is thought to be the same as that used by ancient Urartians, it is rather easy to answer such questions as how this particular clay should be treated, how to shape it and to determine the best baking temperature. Climatic features of the city such as humidity, heat, seasonal climatic features and changes are taken into account.

kilnOne important factor of the team’s research is the ethno-archaeological aspect involved. While studying the production methods of Urartian pottery, the team-members will document the ethnographical backgrounds of Van and integrate this background with archaeological data. This requires an interdisciplinary, collaborative work with other disciplines such as ceramic sciences, fine arts, ethnology and chemistry. Similar ethno-archaeological works have been realized in another culturally-divers places in the world. Of much value for the research of Urartian pottery, is the traditional handcraft production of pottery still ongoing in Van City. The last known potter producing Bardakçı pottery is Osman Eşme. Eşme provides the team with council on traditional techniques, knowledge of which will help the team rediscover ancient methods. In Bardakçı Village pottery is shaped via a kick-wheel with a disc spun on a long spindle. The pottery is placed in the upper area of an arched, rounded, sectioned kiln. It has three arches, an open top, heating from below and pottery fired in a heap above. These characteristics may cast a light on the ancient production chain.

researchThe team’s studies are being undertaken independently and the value of this study within society will be only be possible if it is supported. It’s objective is to make the public aware of ancient culture. As in Avanos in the Cappadocia region, conveying pottery production techniques of Urartian culture to both the local people and to tourists, perhaps encouraging them to participate in the process, will be a crucial step for expanding awareness of Urartian culture, and also the region.