The result of a six-month dig in a collection of Sumerian ruins in northern Iraq, University of Michigan archaeologists uncovered a perfectly intact and wholly unremarkable piece of pottery in the ruins of an edifice inhabited by ancient villagers.
“This discovery opens up a world of mundane possibilities,” said lead archaeologist Suzanne LaFlamme, who had spent the past year and a half carefully excavating ancient dirt and rocks. “It’s unclear what this piece of pottery was used for. It could have been a vase, a water jug, or even a ceremonial hat of some sort. The possibilities are truly endless.”
The unimpressive artifact, a nondescript beige container for which LaFlamme could not ascertain a purpose, was likely created using clay from a nearby riverbed, said LaFlamme. The slightly misshapen container resembles another container found five feet away, suggesting that villagers may have used two or more of these artifacts in their daily lives.
The piece of pottery is the team’s most significant discovery in the area since 2013, when the archaeologists uncovered a clay tablet that may have been intended for writing. The tablet did not contain any markings, but may have been used to keep records or create primitive drawings “if the villagers ever wanted to do that.”
“Clay pots or containers like these give us valuable insight into the monotonous lives of ancient peoples,” said University of Heidelberg anthropologist Josef Karlsson, who studies ancient pottery. “The fact that they might have used objects to store supplies, such as water or grain, indicates to us that everyday people in the Uruk era of the Sumerian Civilization had abandoned the old ways of putting things on the floor and hoping they stay there.”
Karlsson was quick to note that the piece of pottery may not have been used to store anything.
“Having a brown clay pot was a sign of wealth in ancient Mesopotamia, so its owner may have simply kept it in his home to show visitors he was a man of means,” said Karlsson. “Alternatively, it may have been given as a dowry payment in exchange for the marriage of the owner’s daughter.”
Found alongside the piece of pottery was a wooden stick, which archaeologists believe may have come from a nearby bush.