While I was writing my dissertation I was wishing again and again that more archaeological excavations would restore pottery and give a detailed report on the pottery found. For only by restoring the pottery can we know how many vessels of a certain type were found in any space, and what exactly the pottery looked like. I calculated the capacity of many storage jars, but that was only possible by using profiles of the vessels. That may no not be fully accurate, but still better than estimating capacity of jars by comparing them to the few restored jars. For storage capacity can vary considerably, and only be having a sufficient amount of comparative jars, can we estimate the range of capacities and shapes of those storage jars.
To determine the date of pottery, it is often sufficient to find a sherd that clearly comes from a certain time. But if you want to know how the pottery was used by the people who lived there, restoration is important.
And that is what I’m doing this season. Instead of excavating more archaeological features, I am in a room for hours on end, trying to piece together old jars, bowls and jugs from the thousands of pieces they were broken into thousands of years ago. It is a slow process, requiring much patience and concentration. While there can be the reward of a nicely restored jar and all the pieces finally fitting together, most of the time it is just tedious. I listen to podcasts and music, but the reason I keep going is the eventual end result – the possibility to say more about the lives of people in this town of Ancient Judah.
But even in this apparently methodical activity, there is quite some interpretation: At what time do you give up and no longer search for that missing piece? Which pieces do you see as largely whole, which as just fragments? Do you determine that some sherds must have belonged to the same vessel, even though the connecting piece is missing; or where they two separate vessels, of which the opposite parts are no longer present? How much information do you give on the different pottery pieces?
All these things are not always clear. A methodical approach will limit arbitrary decisions, but it cannot eliminate all uncertainties. All those matters, in turn, affect interpretation of the finds and the archaeological site as a whole.
See also my previous post on technical matters of pottery restoration.