The Pottery Informatics Query Database: A New Method for Mathematic and Quantitative Analyses of Large Regional Ceramic Datasets

Neil G. Smith, Avshalom Karasik, Tejaswini Narayanan, Eric S. Olson, Uzy Smilansky, Thomas E. Levy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


There is an increasing demand within the humanities and social sciences to use computers to analyze material culture and discover patterns of historical and anthropological significance. Using southern Levantine Iron Age (ca. 1200-500 BCE) ceramics as a test case, the Pottery Informatics Query Database (PIQD) provides a novel solution for constructing regional ceramic typologies. Beyond digitally archiving 2D/3D-scanned ceramics, the PIQD encodes ceramic profiles as mathematical representations. This method of digital preservation enables rapid queries to be conducted in a mathematically grounded approach. In this sense, the queries are similar to online Basic Local Alignment Search Tool searches developed in the field of genetics by rapidly associating large quantities of digital vessel profiles to each other based on similar morphological traits. The PIQD is an open-source online tool that enables scholars and students to test humanities-related hypotheses against ceramic data in ways that conventional publications or other databases cannot provide. Regional spatial patterning of the ceramic data is delivered over a Google Earth-based user interface. In this paper, we present the PIQD as an objective method for developing a comprehensive ceramic typology of an entire region of archaeological study and provide an arena to conduct novel scientific research. We then demonstrate through a case study its analytical capabilities to handle large datasets of 3D scans and digitized 2D ceramic profiles and generate cultural inferences with the ceramic assemblages of the Iron Age II "Edomite" region located in modern southern Jordan. PIQD adds an important methodological tool to the post-excavation cyber-archaeology tool box.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)212-250
Number of pages39
JournalJournal of Archaeological Method and Theory
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2014


  • Archaeology informatics
  • Ceramics
  • Cyber-archaeology
  • Database Management
  • Digital
  • Iron Age
  • Southern Levant

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology


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