a new islamic pottery phase in syria: tell shahin

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    A New Islamic Pottery Phase in Syria: Tell Shahin

    Cristina Tonghini

    Via G. Garibaldi 18,50047 Prato (Firenze), Italy.

    A small but apparently homogeneous sample of pottery excavated in 1992 at the site of Tell Shahin~north of Raqqa in Syria~ may be dated to the eleventh century A.D. The study analyses glazed andunglazed wares.

    The stratigraphy (Fig. 3)

    Figure 1. Map of northern Syria showing the location of TellShahin.

    The time available did not allow the excavation to becompleted to virgin soil. The maximum depth ofdeposits excavated was 3 m. below the surface. Theoccupation excavated consisted of two main phases:an upper disturbed phase connected with clandestineexcavations (phase 1) and an untouched mediaevalphase (phase 2), which is extremely homogeneous interms of pottery finds.

    Phase 2 was sealed by two light gray ashy floors,the one 20 cm. above the other (unit 6 and 4). Veryfrequently in this phase irregular accumulations ofburnt material were encountered. It is very difficultfor the moment to establish their significance. No


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    Tell Shahin is an 11 metre high mound, measuring340 x 400 metres, probably entirely formed as anarchaeological deposit; it is situated on the plain onthe left bank of the Euphrates River, 65 km. north ofRaqqa, on the modern road which connects Raqqa toTell Abyad at the Turkish border. 1 In the last few yearsthe site has been seriously damaged by clandestineexcavations; moreover, the top of the tell has beenused as a cemetery in the past three decades. TheDepartment of Antiquities at Raqqa promoted a res-cue project which started in May 1992 with a seasonof preliminary excavations, under the direction of MrMorhaf al-I

  • 198 LEVANT XXVII 1995




    Figure 2. Contour map of Tell Shahin; the approximate posi-tion of sondage S2 is indicated by the cross.

    clear evidence of the activities connected with thisarea was found. No building phases were detected,although a few baked bricks were unearthed at thebottom of the trench, together with a packed-mudfeature. In the south wall of the trench, a large depositof very loose clayey sand (unit 15) was discovered,continuing into the baulk: it contained little pottery(25 sherds) and an iron dagger with a badly preservedwooden handle. The deposit was not completely ex-cavated and its nature remains unclear. From unit 4to the bottom of the trench the pottery is extremelyhomogeneous; in consequence, the whole of this layeris attributed to the same phase of occupation.

    o 100 m 10


    Figure 3. South section of sondage S2. 1, 2: modern cland-estine excavations. 3: ash deposit. 4, 6, and 10: ashy floor. 4a,7, 11: loose clayey sand with limestone flecks. 9: loose clayey andsilty sand with a very high concentration of limestone flecks. 15:deposit of very loose clayey sand. 22: ash deposit.

    completely unknown in Syria and no other referencescan, at the moment, be given to support this dating;further investigations are clearly needed.

    The pottery

    Results and dating

    The latest phase at the site can be attributed to theAyyubid period on the basis of the surface finds. Inthe excavated area, the effects of the clandestine ex-cavations and other modern activities have disturbedthis latest phase and there is probably no possibilityof finding an untouched Ayyubid phase on the tell.

    Another phase sealed by the Ayyubid phase wasalso detected, still undisturbed. The finds are homo-geneous. The function of this area is, for the moment,still unclear.

    In this earlier phase, the absence offritware as wellas of wares generally identified as early cAbbasidsuggests a tentative tenth-eleventh century date. Thepresence of early sgraffito ware, on the other hand,tends to indicate an eleventh century date (see belowin 'Dating of the Pottery'). This period is almost

    The present analysis concerns only the stratified pot-tery from undisturbed phase 2. The finds from thelater phase have been subjected to preliminary analy-sis and only some of them have been drawn. Theassemblage of this last phase is very similar to thatfound on the surface, as a consequence of the diggingactivities for the cemetery and of clandestine excava-tors.

    Glazed pottery from phase 2 (Figs 4-16)

    The group of glazed pottery is extremely homo-geneous technically.


    Temper: fine sand with white chalky grits (very likelyfrom lime). Sand grains are sometimes so small and

  • CRISTINA TONGHINI A New Islamic Pottery Phase in Syria: Tell Shahin 199






    )- D






  • 200 LEVANT XXVII 1995






    Figure 13. Sherds of TYPE H.

    Figure 12. Sherds of TYPE K.

    Figure 11. Sherds of TYPE E.


    CRISTINA TONGHINI A New Islamic Pottery Phase in Syria: Tell Shahin 201

    Figure 10. Sherds of TYPE D.

    Figure 9. Sherd of TYPE A.

    Figure 8. Sherd of TYPE A.

  • 202 LEVANT XXVII 1995

    Figure 14. Sherd of TYPE 1.

    Figure 15. Sherds of TYPE B.

    in such fine grain that sand can be supposed to havebeen present in the clay rather than added by thepotter.Consistency : dense, very fine.Colour: Munsell 5YR 7/6 and 5YR 7/4 are the mostcommon. Also found: Munsell 7.5YR 7/6, 6/6, 5/6(overfired), 8/4, 6/4 (overtired); 5YR 6/6, 7/8; 2.5Y8/6; 10YR 8/3, 7/4.Surface: it is generally slipped, except in TYPE J,where the slip is only used to paint the decorationunder the glaze.

    Glaze. The glaze is transparent and exceptionally wellpreserved, still glossy and with no signs of irrides-cence. The colour is indicated in the following pagesfor each type. It can be transparent, yellow-cream,green or, rarely, dark yellow.

    Figure 16.. Sherds of TYPE J.

    Decoration. Different decorative techniques are used:splashed polychrome decoration, with the use ofgreen, manganese, and brown colour; sgraffito deco-ration, associated with monochrome and also with thepolychrome decoration mentioned above; carved dec-oration, used in association with the sgraffito decora-tion; and underglaze slip-painted decoration. Thesubdivision by types is based on the different decora-tive techniques employed and on the different coloursused.

    Only the profile of each sherd is represented by draw-ings; the decoration of a number of sherds is illus-trated with photographs. For the new types, surfacesherds are also presented (Figs. 7 and 17).

    Plain monochrome ware

    TYPE C (Fig. 4)Green glaze.Body: Munsell 7.5YR 7/4; 5YR 7/6; 7.5YR 7/4; 5YR7/6; 5YR 6/6; 7.5YR 7/6.TYPE F (Fig. 4)Dark yellow glaze.Body: Munsell 2.5Y 8/6 and 5YR 7/6.TYPE M (Fig. 4)Pale cream-yellow.Body: Munsell 7.5YR 7/4; 5YR 7/6.TYPE P (body sherds only, not illustrated)Manganese glaze (because sherds are very small, themanganese colour can be part of a polychrome deco-ration and not a real monochrome glaze).

    Monochrome glaze and sgraffito decoration

    TYPE A (Figs. 5, 7, 8 and 9)

  • CRISTINA TONGHINI A New Islamic Pottery Phase in Syria: Tell Shahin 203

    Slipped underglaze painted decoration.The slip is only used for painting the decorationdirectly on the surface of the vessel; the unslippedareas appear in dark brown under the glaze.Body: Munselll0YR 7/4.

    References: glazed pottery

    Fig. 4c: de Vaux 1946, fig. 1, 3 (polychrome painted

    ware) and 9 (splash ware). Whitcomb 1988,fig. 7d, green splash.

    d: de Vaux 1946, fig. 1, 5 (polychrome paintedware).

    j: Grabar et al. 1978, pI. HIla (splash-ware).de Vaux 1946, fig. 1, 2 (polychrome paintedware).

    Fig. 5a: Morgan and Leatherby 1987, fig. 30, 13

    ('polychrome dripped glaze'). Whitcomb1988, fig. 7r (polychrome splash ware andsgraffito decoration).

    b: Grabar et al. 1978, pI. H 10 (splash-ware).f and h: Hardy-Guilbert 1984, fig. 27: 2 (mono-

    chrome white glaze, from last phase, 1, at-tributed to A.D. 800-900).

    h: Logar 1991, pI. 4/6.Type A has been found at Sus a (IZervran1977, fig. 44, 3 and Hardy-Guilbert 1984,

    Total amount glazed sherds

    Table 1. Glazed pottery sherds.

    Type Bodysherd

    A 7BC 18D 8Dl 1E 7F 1GHI 2J 2IZ 4L 1M 10o 1P 2Q 1RX 2




    Rim Base


    4 32 3


    67Total amount

    Green glaze. Sgraffito decoration (0.5-0. 7 cm~ wideincisions)Body: Munsell 7.5YR 6/6; 10YR 8/3; 7.5YR 5/6(overfired); 7.5YR 7/6.Slipped.

    Splash decoration

    TYPE E (Figs. 6 and 11)Manganese and green splash.Body: Munsell5YR 6/6; 5YR 7/6; 7.5YR 7/6; 7.5YR7/4; 7.5YR 7/6 with very small white inclusions inmost cases.TYPE IZ (Figs. 6 and 12)Green splash.Body: Munsell 5YR 7/8; 5YR 7/6.TYPE L (1 body sherd only, not illustrated)Yellow and brown splash.TYPE 0 (1 body sherd only, not illustrated)Green, manganese, and yellow splash.TYPE R (Fig. 6)Manganese splash.

    Monochrome glaze~'incised and carved decoration

    TYPE D (Figs. 5, 7 and 10)Creamy-yellow glaze; incised and carved decoration(0.4 - 0.5 em. wide incisions).Body: Munselll0YR8/3; 7.5YR8/4; 5YR 7/6; 7.5YR6/6. Reddish-yellow, pink, very pale brown.TYPE D 1 (not illustrated)Addition of green and! or manganese splashed deco-ration.

    Painted decoration

    Splashed and sgraffito decoration

    TYPE G (Fig. 6)Green and manganese splash.Body: Munsell 5YR 7/6, +++ white inclusions.TYPE H (Figs 6 and 13)Green and manganese spots.Body: Munsell 7.5YR 6/4 (slightly overfired).TYPE I (Figs. 6 and 14)Green splash.Body: Munsell 5YR 7/6.

    Type B (Figs. 6, 15 and 17)The surface is slipped, decorated with red paint, andfinally covered by a transparent, cream-yellow glaze.The effect is very similar to that of lustre-w