Marie Usadel

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Marie Usadel

I am currently holding a position as a research assistant for Mediterranean Prehistory at the Institute for Archaeological Studies of the Ruhr University Bochum, that I started shortly after beginning my Ph.D. project in 2020. The topic of my thesis is the appropriation and use of ceramic raw materials in southern Sardinia during the Bronze Age. It is part of the ‘Making Landscape’ project, led by Constance von Rüden, that I have been part of since 2018 and concentrates on the pottery recovered at the Nuragic site of Grutt’i Acqua on the Island of Sant’Antioco. A first glimpse into the use of mineral raw materials in this context was already gained by my Master thesis (completed in 2019), that laid the foundation for my Ph.D project. 

Aside from material analysis like petrography I am very much interested in combining methods from natural and social sciences to approach questions of resources in archaeology. Especially experimental archaeology is a very useful method to bridge the gap between these two disciplines, hence I am trying to integrate a direct interaction with the materials under study into my research.

The Question of Appropriation

My PhD project concerns the activities and materials connected to the production of pottery in Bronze Age southern Sardinia. The objective of this research is reconstructing the appropriation and utilization of mineral resources within their social and environmental context.

The Nuragic period in Sardinia spans the Middle Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age (ca. 1650-600 BCE) and is characterized by monumental architecture and seemingly conservative pottery. It is no wonder then, that questions of regional or supra-regional networks, territory division and control as well as social organization have been almost exclusively discussed using the architectural evidence whereas the potential of pottery studies has been greatly overlooked so far. Where the pottery has been studied in detail, it was mostly limited to typological analysis with only few exceptions.

In my dissertation I focus on the ceramic assemblage of Grutt’i Acqua, a Nuragic village in the Canai-plain on the island of Sant’Antioco (SW Sardinia). By adopting a holistic approach, I am combining typological classification with petrographic analysis aiming at identifying different recipes and materials and thus understand the mode of production and technical choices in a socio-cultural context. To integrate the finds from a single site into the surrounding landscape, clays and sediments of the Canai-plain are sampled and analyzed. The results of this raw material survey – that was designed as a cooperation with the company – Archaeolytics, were presented at the NAS conference 2022 (Netzwerk Archäologie Schweiz) and a report of the analytical part is published in the EXAR Annual Journal 2022.

Through contextualizing (ceramic) resources in their specific environment I am hoping to trace choices that are related to more than physical properties of the clay but to a perception of the landscape that is shaped by identity, knowledge and daily practices. The discovery of raw material sources in the context of different activities, learning about their properties and behavior through active experimentation or observation through time, and finally the use or disregard of these materials for one kind of production or another due to functional, social or other reasons, is what I want to target within my thesis. The concept of appropriation is used to describe a bundle of practices connected by the interaction with the material in question and to discuss the transformation from raw material into resources with regard to praxeological approaches.