Spindles

Pottery is the commonest find during an archaeological investigation (except for researches digging down and back to the very early Prehistory). Most of these objects come of course in broken form. Among these, the archaeologist must select the sherds, which can provide a meaningful story for the reconstruction of the past under scrutiny.

A special category of such finds consists of the reused ceramic sherds. These are a recurrent phenomenon in the archaeological record. Broken pottery may be mended, and some unmendable fragments can find new uses. So, as if to amend for this rather long silence of ours from the blog, we decided to present today three interesting such cases.

The most eloquent example concerns those sherds that would preserve on their surface an older carving of letters (or would receive new inscriptions). These would more often than not contain the name of a saint, the archangel Michael being first and foremost in Nubia. Subsequently, these sherds would be used by their owners as medaillons, with most probably a protective function against anything evil that can thus be kept away from the bearer of such objects through the intervention of the holy figure named on it. Our example has been kept because it carries on it two monograms of Michael.

Other circular pottery sherds have taken their shape due to erosion, but others more purposefully. After the break they have been shaped thus by their users and put to serve another function than the one served by the complete vessel to which they belonged: they became lids of various diameters and thicknesses to cover the mouths of other vessels. Intriguing question pertaining to the esthetics of such secondary use: can these second-hand lids have been used on vessels of the same type as if in a fitting manner of container and cover!?!

Finally, some others that are quite often found have been shaped to a roughly circular form and pierced exactly in their center (thus they are not the same like the sherds pierced for mending, in which case the piercing happens closer to the edges). These pierced ceramic roundels have been seen for example as buttons of some sort; however, both their diameters and the diameters of their holes rather render such an identification improbable. The commonest interpretation, however, refers to these objects as spindle whirls, and this seems the most probable alternative. But we believe that we have come close to another possibility: reading through the magnificent web site on games from antiquity to the modern times ( http://www.jocari.be ) we came across a category of a game, a toy actually that all of us have played at one or another time : a toy spindle!

This last photo shows an even more “simplified” form of a spindle, where the rotation is achieved by tying a beetle to a stick!

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