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Photo: Ally Walsh

Looking to the future of Leiden’s legacy collections: taking care of the past, teaching tomorrow’s students

In the Faculty of Archaeology depots, many artefacts, accumulated after decades of fieldwork across the world are stored. The Leiden Inventory of the Depot (LID) project aims to unlock the door to this wealth of information. Elizabeth Hicks, a Research Master’s student at the Faculty, will be re-evaluating collections of Islamic pottery from past excavations in the Near East, with the aim of creating a better record of the archaeological material within the depots.

Elizabeth looking through an exhibition catalogue. Photo: Ally Walsh

Picking up the baton

Having recently been awarded the NINO Student Research Assistantship for this academic year, Elizabeth will be working in collaboration with the LID project, supervised by Professor Joanita Vroom. Elizabeth’s assistantship will build upon the work already undertaken by Dr. Marike Van Aerde’s team who created an initial record of the depot’s contents, research on ceramics from Jerusalem undertaken by Sam Botan and Rishika Dhumal, and Vasiliki Lagari who has been working under the supervision of Vroom and Martina Revello Lami, to create 3D models of a selection of ceramics from the depots.

Elizabeth’s project will explore the Hand-Made Geometric Painted (HMGP) pottery from Islamic sites in the Near East: ‘I want to explore how the faculty’s archive of ceramics from the Near East can be integrated into classroom teaching, future research, museum exhibits, and to investigate how these resources can be made more accessible.’

They appear undaunted when talking about the task ahead, ‘I’m realising that we have a large, diverse collection of material here in Leiden, and nobody really knows how much material we have. The HMGP pottery I’m looking for is scattered across many boxes. At this stage, I don’t know what will be discovered’.

Investigating Islamic Hand-Made Painted Geometric pottery

This group of ceramics was produced and exchanged across a wide swathe of the Levant region, and incorporates a lot of variation. ‘It’s clear that a variety of techniques were used in the manufacture of this pottery, and these variations might indicate different groups of potters potting across time and space.’

The date of this pottery has been hotly debated. Revisiting the literature from past excavations and comparing them with more recent research will hopefully clarify the dating of these sherds. Elizabeth hopes that re-investigating these collections could contribute to our knowledge of HMGP, and lead to future research on the ceramics from the depots.

Elizabeth opening up a box from the depots. Photo: Ally Walsh

Ground breaking excavations that set a precedent

Much of the material from the Near East within the depots, was brought to Leiden from surveys and excavations that took place during the 1960s and 70s. The removal of archaeological objects from their country of origin is more strictly regulated nowadays, hence most of the material within the depots was collected decades ago.

The research Elizabeth is undertaking for her assistantship is connected to her RMA thesis research, which focuses on the HMGP pottery from the site of Tell Abu Qa’dan (also referred to as Tell Abu Gourdan).

The site was excavated by Professor Franken, and along with their colleague J. Kalsbeek they published an analysis of HMGP pottery that set both a precedent for the technological study of ceramics and this type of ware. Nearly 55 years after the publication of the original research on this material, it is time to review these findings. ‘We need to critically evaluate the methods used in the excavation of these ceramics and the interpretation of their context’.

Elizabeth suggests that these collections can not only help us understand the distant past, but also our faculty’s recent history of archaeological practice and the curation of archaeological material, whilst reconsidering the ethical ramifications for maintaining legacy collections.

Ally and Elizabeth drawing sherds of HMGP pottery. Photo: Rory Granleese

Getting hands-on in the classroom

Aside from revisiting the depot's ceramics for academic research, Elizabeth’s project has broader goals. ‘I am working with Professor Vroom to develop lesson plans that incorporate the ceramics within classroom teaching on the Bachelor's course’.

Using legacy collections to provide archive-based teaching is not a new phenomenon, ‘other world-renowned universities such as UCL and The University of Melbourne, have integrated archive material within their curriculum and for community engagement. Until now, we have not really integrated the depot’s material within classroom teaching’.

Looking to the future

A key aim of the LID project is to have a database with a record of all the depot’s boxes, with descriptions, pictures, and 3D models. Whilst the LID database will not be up and running by the end of their Research Assistantship, Elizabeth hopes it will be in the near future.

‘The end goal for my assistantship is to produce a report that will discuss issues relating to the database and the depots, including who will have access to this resource. As well as discussing how the depots have been curated in the past, and how it should be cared for in the future. With the continued work and enthusiasm of researchers, student interns, and staff within the faculty, we have the potential to build an exciting new resource.’

About the Leiden Inventory of the Depot (LID)

The Leiden Inventory of the Depot (LID) project aims at documenting and archiving all artefacts in the Faculty’s depots. Many staff members and students are involved in this project, transcending the departmental boundaries, bringing together digital archaeologists, material culture experts, as well as heritage specialists. The first recording of pottery for the LID database was started by Dr. Marike van Aerde and a group of students in January 2019. Now all projects related to LID are coordinated by Professor Joanita Vroom, with the help of Professor Annelou van Gijn who are in charge of the depots.

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