A nonarchaeologist would probably be astounded to learn the amount of time and effort prehistorians spend on the study of broken pieces of pottery. We analyse individual sherds even to the molecular level and fill out page after page with measurements of minutiae that would appear to most people as unimportant and uninteresting. But what outsiders do not immediately understand is that archaeologists discovered long ago that these details collected on each piece of fired clay are our window into the lives of those who made and used these vessels. How many people lived in a house? What did they eat? How did they organbise themselves? Who were their trading partners? These are just some questions that have been addressed through detailed analysis of prehistoric pottery.
(Skibo 1999: 1)
The materiality and the symbolic significance of objects are deeply interwoven, and cannot be distinguished in the way in which they are experienced and understood. Rather than being recognised in the first place simply as material entities and then afforded a symbolic significance as a secondary happening, artefacts are always experienced as meaningful things.
Throughout the Neolithic, pottery was employed in activities which were socially significant: gatherings, feasts, funerals. Pottery lent a certain structure to these events, and the increase in variation and distinctiveness of vessels through the later Neolithic is indicative of a process in which social life itself became more complex and fragmented. _ individual vessels were more identifiable, curated and perhaps valued. But this 'value' was concerned with the symbolic associations of the pot rather than with any inherent worth. _ pottery held a key place in the articulation of social relations, facilitating and constraining the performance of social life.
(Thomas 1999: 125)