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Working in the archaeological ceramic lab in times of corona

BA 3 student Dasha Derzhavets is one of the first students to be back in the lab at the Faculty of Archaeology. She is conducting experiments in the ceramic and experimental lab for her thesis. ‘It is different in the labs, a lot quieter, I can better concentrate on my work however.’

Working in the lab under corona restrictions

The labs have opened again since the 15th of June. For Dasha, this is the chance to put the experimental part of her thesis into action. Not many people are present at the faculty and only four people are allowed to work in the lab, but at the moment it is only occupied by two people. ‘This makes it more difficult when you need certain things right away.’ The labs are not open all day, only from 11-15. ‘A schedule is necessary to make sure I finish everything I need to do. Lab Manager Eric Mulder has been a great support in this, coming up with solutions to issues I ran into.'

Dasha placing the incense burners in the oven


Dasha’s thesis: “Smoke Screening, The potential of archaeobotanical analyses and experimental archaeology to unravel the mystery of late iron age archaic Bucchero incense burners in the Po Valley, Italy” is inspired by a minor she followed in Prague. One of her professors gave a lecture on Bucchero incense burners of the Po Valley in the 7th/6th century BC.  ‘The incense burners appeared are not uncommon in the archaeology of the Po Valley, however, they were only typologically discussed. There was no focus on the botanical aspect. These specific burners have great potential for other types of analyses, and they are one of a kind.’

Dasha saw the opportunity to investigate and start building a framework for artifacts, with the goal to form a solid base so that experiments can be conducted to figure out the precise use of the artifacts. ‘An important part of this research is to use an interdisciplinary approach in order to aid future projects dealing with smoking of plants in ceramic vessels.’

Raw material on its way to the lab

Experimental archaeology

In the ceramics lab, Dasha is busy with the preparation of the experimental part of her thesis; the making of experimental miniature incense burners. The miniature incense burners can be used to figure out the possible ways of use and to document the botanical remains after burning. 

‘It is very exciting to take out the burners from the oven in one piece and to see them work.’ 

The Botanical material used for the experiments is determined based on an environmental reconstruction of the research area. The various materials used are silver birch (Betula pendula), common juniper (Juniperus communis), European black pine (Pinus nigra) and common chicory (Cichorium intybus). ‘The Hortus, specifically Theo Houthoff and Wouter Koopman, were very charitable in providing me with the right plants.’

Dasha will investigate what the possibilities are on how to use the burners and will look at the density of smoke released per plant species. Thus far there are two theories: the botanical material is put on top of a fuel (coal) in the body and left to smolder, and/or the botanical material is put in the stand (the base) using the same method. 

Finished incense burners (left) – 3D model incense burner (middle) – incense burner in action (right)


For those interested in ceramics and botany, Dasha welcomes you all to continue this research. ‘This topic is very new and definitely something to pursue further on a bigger scale. Perhaps something to do your thesis about. If you want more information or have any feedback, feel free to contact me.’

You can contact Dasha through email.

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