Cultural transmission and perception of vessel shapes among Hebron potters

  • Gandon Enora
  • Nonaka Tetsushi
  • Coyle Thelma
  • Coyle Erin
  • Sonabend Raphael
  • Ogbonnaya Chibueze
  • Endler John
  • Roux Valentine

  • Cultural transmission
  • Wheel-throwing pottery
  • Craft skill
  • Shape analysis
  • Shape perception
  • Artifact variation


While craft apprenticeship can be understood as socially mediated individual learning, the ensuing prediction of individual and cultural object traits within craft communities has not been investigated. Here we provide an assessment of vessel shape variations occurring through cultural transmission and their visual perception by the craftsmen. To this end, 26 Hebron potters distributed through nine familial transmission units were asked to produce vessels of three different pottery types, then 21 of the participants were invited to visually identify their proper vessels and those of five other potters. We used the Elliptical Fourier method to analyze vessel shape variation among the productions. Our findings demonstrated that the learning process modified the ceramic shape, the cultural morphological traits being combined with new individual traits. Moreover, the individual morphological traits overtook the cultural ones, which is supposed to lead to divergence of vessel shapes within the transmission chain. If certain cultural morphological traits perpetuate through generations, this certainly does not result from fidelity copying occurring through learning but from stabilizing mechanisms such as consumer demand. Our results showed that potters do perceive the subtle same-type vessel shape variations and thereby could select the individual variant they prefer to produce.