Skip to main content Accessibility help

Mineralogical and geochemical characterization of archaeological ceramics from the 16th century El Badi Palace, Morocco

  • Mouhssin El Halim (a1) (a2), Lahcen Daoudi (a1), Meriam El Ouahabi (a2), Valérie Rousseau (a3), Catherine Cools (a3) and Nathalie Fagel (a2)...


Textural, mineralogical and chemical characterization of archaeological ceramics (zellige) from El Badi Palace (Marrakech, Morocco), the main Islamic monument from the Saadian period (sixteenth century), has been performed to enhance restoration and to determine the technology of manufacturing. A multi-analytical approach based on optical and scanning electron microscopy, cathodoluminescence, X-ray fluorescence and X-ray diffraction was used. Re-firing tests on ceramic supports were also performed to determine the firing temperatures used by the Saadian artisans. A calcareous clay raw material was used to manufacture these decorative ceramics. The sherds were fired at a maximum temperature of 800°C in oxidizing atmosphere. The low firing temperature for ‘zellige’ facilitates cutting of the pieces, but also causes fragility in these materials due to the absence of vitreous phases.


Corresponding author


Hide All

Guest Associate Editor: Michele Dondi

This paper was originally presented during the session: ‘CZ-01 – Clays for ceramics’ of the International Clay Conference 2017.



Hide All
Barluenga, G., Estirado, F., Raimundo, U., Conde, J., Agua, F., Villegas, M. & García-Heras, M. (2013) Brick masonry identification in a complex historic building, the Main College of the University of Alcalá, Madrid (Spain). Construction and Building Materials, 54, 3946.
Bechtel, F. & Schvoerer, M. (1984) Cathodoluminescence: Application to the Study of the Texture of Ceramic Pastes, PACT 10 – Dating-Characterization of Ancient Ceramics, European Intensive Course. Council of Europe – CNRS, Paris, France.
Benamara, A., Schvoerer, M., Haddad, M. & Akerraz, A. (2003) Search for clues on techniques of zelliges production from the 14th century (Chellah, Morocco). Review of Archeometry, 27, 103113.
Bendaoud, R., Guilherme, A., Zegzouti, A., Elaatmani, M., Coroado, J., Carvalho, M.L. & Queralt, I. (2013) Elemental mapping of Moroccan enameled terracotta tile works (Zellij) based on X-ray micro-analyses. Applied Radiation and Isotopes, 82, 6066.
Brown, G.E. & Bailey, S.W. (1963) Chlorite polytypism: II. Crystal structure of a one-layer Cr-chlorite. American Mineralogist, 48, 4261.
Casas, L., Briansó, J.L., Álvarez, A., Benzzi, K. & Shaw, J. (2008) Archaeomagnetic intensity data from the Saadian Tombs (Marrakech, Morocco), late 16th century. Physics and Chemistry of the Earth, 33, 474480.
Chen, C.Y., Lan, C.S. & Tuan, W.H. (2000) Microstructural evolution of mullite during the sintering of kaolin powder compacts. Ceramics International, 26, 715720.
Cultrone, G., Rodriguez-Navarro, C., Sebastian, E., Cazalla, O. & De la Torre, M.J. (2001) Carbonate and silicate phase reactions during ceramic firing. European Journal of Mineralogy, 13, 621634.
Cultrone, G., Eduardo, S., Kerstin, E., Maria José, T., Olga, C. & Carlos, R.N. (2004) Influence of mineralogy and firing temperature on the porosity of bricks. Journal of the European Ceramic Society, 24, 547564.
De Vito, C., Medeghini, L., Mignardi, S., Orlandi, D., Nigro, L., Spagnoli, F., Lottici, P. & Bersani, D. (2014) Technological fingerprints of black-gloss ware from Motya (western Sicily, Italy). Applied Clay Science, 88–89, 202213.
De Vito, C., Medeghinia, L., Mignardia, S., Coletti, F. & Contino, A. (2016) Roman glazed inkwells from the ‘Nuovo Mercato di Testaccio’ (Rome, Italy): production technology. Journal of the European Ceramic Society, 37, 17791788.
Deverdum, G. (1957) Marrakech from the Origins to 1912, 2nd edition. North African Technical Editions, Rabat, Morocco.
Dondi, M., Ercolani, G., Fabbri, B. & Marsigli, M. (1999) Chemical composition of melilite formed during the firing of carbonate-rich and iron-containing ceramic bodies. Journal of the American Ceramic Society, 82, 465468.
Duttine, M. (2008) Laser cleaning of historical limestone buildings in Bordeaux appraisal using cathodoluminescence and electron paramagnetic resonance. Environmental Science and Pollution Research, 15, 237243.
Echallier, J.C. & Mery, S. (1989) Experimental Laboratory Approach of the Mineralogical and Physico-Chemical Evolution of Ceramics During Cooking. Document No. 74, 1.GAL. Linda Ellis, Paris, France.
El Marraki, A. (1998) Point Defects and Luminescence of Devitrification Crystals: Detection and Study in Glazes. Doctoral Thesis, Michel de Montaigne University, Bordeaux, France.
El Ouahabi, M., Daoudi, L., Hatert, F. & Fagel, N. (2015) Modified mineral phases during clay ceramic firing. Clays and Clay Minerals, 63, 404413.
Erzini, N. (1993) Zellig: a historical context. Pp. 156170 in: Zellig: The Art of Moroccan Ceramics (Hedgecoe, J. & Damluji, S.S., editors). Édition Garnet, France.
Fabri, B., Gualtieri, S. & Shoval, S. (2014) The presence of calcite in archeological ceramics. Journal of European Ceramic Society, 31, 18991911.
Gamrani, N., R'khaChaham, K., Ibnoussina, M., Fratini, F., Rovero, L., Tonietti, U., Mansori, M., Daoudi, L., Favotto, C. & Youbi, N. (2012) The particular ‘rammed earth’ of the Saadian sugar refinery of Chichaoua (XVIth century, Morocco): mineralogical, chemical and mechanical characteristics. Environmental Earth Sciences, 66, 129140.
Gamrani, N. (2014) Etude de Quelques Monuments Historiques Saadians (XVI–XVII Siècle) de la Ville de Marrakech (Maroc): Caractérisation et Pathologie. Doctoral thesis. University of Marrakech, Marrakech, Morocco.
Gliozzo, E., Lepri, B., Saguì, L. & Memmi, L. (2015) Glass ingots, raw glass chunks, glass wastes and vessels from fifth century AD Palatine Hill (Rome, Italy). Archaeological and Anthropological Science, 9, 709725.
Goldsmith, J.R. (1953) A ‘simplexity principle’ and its relation to ‘ease’ of crystallization. Bulletins of the Geological Society of America, 64, 439451.
Gradmann, R., Bertlhold, C. & Schussler, U. (2015) Composition and colouring agents of historical Islamic glazes measured with EPMA and μ-XRD. European Journal of mineralogy, 27, 325335.
Hatcher, H., Kaczmarczyk, A., Scherer, A. & Symonds, R.P. (1994) Chemical classification and provenance of some Roman glazed ceramics. American Journal of Archaeology, 98, 431456.
Hattstein, M. & Delius, P. (2000) Arts et Civilisations de l'Islam. Könemann, Cologne, Germany.
Hernandez, M.S., Romero, M. & Rincon, J.M. (2005) Nucleation and crystal growth of glasses producted by a generic plasma arc-process, Journal of the European Ceramic Society, 9, 110.
Hochuli-Gysel, A. (1977) Kleina Siatische Glasierte Reliefkeramik (50 v. Chr Bis 50 n.Chr.) Und IhreOberitalienischen Nachahmungen (Acta Bernensia). Stampfli, Bern, Switzerland.
İssi, A., Kara, A. & Oğuz Alp, A. (2011) An investigation of Hellenistic period pottery production technology from Harabebezikan/Turkey. Ceramics International, 37, 25752582.
Jordán, M., Boix, A., Sanfeliu, T. & de la Fuente, C. (1999) Firing transformations of retaceous clays used in the manufacturing of ceramic tiles. Applied Clay Science, 14, 225234.
Jordán, M., Sanfeliu, T. & de la Fuente, C. (2001) Firing transformations of cretaceous clays used in the manufacturing of ceramic tiles. Applied Clay Science, 20, 87.
Khalfaoui, A. & Hajjaji, M. (2009) A chloritic–illitic clay from Morocco: temperature–time transformation and neoformation. Applied Clay Science, 45, 8389.
Maggetti, M., Galetti, G., Schwander, H., Picon, M. & Wessicken, R. (1981) Campanian pottery: the nature of the black coating. Archaeometry, 23, 199207.
Maggetti, M. (1982) Phase analysis and its significance for technology and origin. Pp. 121133, in: Archaeological Ceramics (Olin, J.S., editor). Smithsonian Institution Press, Boston, MA, USA.
Maniatis, Y., Simopoulos, A., Kistikas, A. & Perdikatsis, V. (1983) Effect of reducing atmosphere on minerals and iron oxides developed in fired clays: the role of Ca. Journal of the American Ceramic Society, 66, 773781.
Maritan, L., Nodari, L., Mazzoli, C., Milano, A. & Russo, U. (2006) Influence of firing conditions on ceramic products: experimental study on clay rich in organic matter. Applied Clay Science, 31, 115.
Müller, A., Herrington, R., Armstrong, R., Reimar, S., Douglas, J.K., Nina, G.S. & Kronz, A. (2010) Trace elements and cathodoluminescence of quartz in stock work veins of Mongolian porphyry-style deposits. Mineralium Deposita, 45, 707.
Nagy, S., Kuzmann, E., Weiszburg, T., Gyökeres-Tóth, M. & Riedel, M. (2000) Oxide transformation during preparation of black pottery in Hungary. Journal of Radioanaytical and Nuclear Chemistry, 246, 9196.
Nodari, L., Marcuz, E., Maritan, L., Mazzoli, C. & Russo, U. (2007) Hematite nucleation and growth in the firing of carbonate-rich clay for pottery production. Journal of the European Ceramic Society, 27, 46654673.
Paccard, A. (1981) Morocco and traditional Islamic craftsmanship in architecture. Editions Workshop, 74, 1, 371381.
Pardo, F., Meseguer, S., Jordán, M.M., Sanfeliu, T. & González, I. (2011) Firing transformations of Chilean clays for the manufacture of ceramic tile bodies. Applied Clay Science, 51, 147150.
Périnet, G. & Courtois, L. (1983) Evaluation of the firing temperatures of Syria's ceramics and white Neolithic dishes. Bulletin of the Prehistoric French Society, 80, 157160.
Piponnier, D. (1990) Cathodoluminescence of archaeological ceramics: development of a new method for the typology of pastes, pp. 65–66. PhD thesis, Bordeaux Montaigne University, France.
Rathossi, C. & Pontikes, Y. (2010) Effect of firing temperature and atmosphere on ceramics made of NW Peloponnese clay sediments. Part I: reaction paths, crystalline phases, microstructure and colour. Journal of the European Ceramic Society, 30, 18411851.
Rhodes, D. (1978) Lands and Glazes – Enamelling Techniques. Dessain et Tolra, Paris, France.
Riccardi, M.P., Messiga, B. & Duminuco, P. (1999) An approach to the dynamics of clay firing. Applied Clay Science, 15, 399409.
Terrasse, H. (1949) The Almoravid Monuments of Marrakech. In: Acts of the XXIst International Congress of Orientalists. Asian Company, impr. National, Paris, France.
Tite, M., Pradell, T. & Shortland, A. (2008) Discovery, production and use of tin-based opacifiers in glasses, enamels and glazes from the late Iron Age onwards: a reassessment. Archaeometry, 50, 6784.
Toledo, R., dos Santos, D.R., Faria, J., Carrió, J.G., Auler, L.T. & Vargas, H. (2004) Gas release during clay firing and evolution of ceramic properties. Applied Clay Science, 27, 151157.
Touri, A. (1999) Maroc, les Trésors du Royaume. Dynasties Islamiques. Edition Plume, Paris, France.
Trindade, M.J., Dias, M.I., Coroado, J. & Rocha, F. (2009) Mineralogical transformations of calcareous rich clays with firing: a comparative study between calcite and dolomite rich clays from Algarve, Portugal. Applied Clay Science, 42, 345355.
Tschegg, C., Ntaflos, T. & Hein, I. (2009) Thermally triggered two-stage reaction of carbonates and clay during ceramic firing – a case study on Bronze Age Cypriot ceramics. Applied Clay Science, 43, 6978.
Walton, M. & Tite, M. (2010) Production technology of Roman lead-glazed pottery and its continuance into late antiquity, Archaeometry, 52, 733759.
Whitbread, I.K. (1986) The characterization of argillaceous inclusions in ceramic thin sections. Archaeometry, 28, 7988.
Whitbread, I.K. (1995) Greek Transport Amphorae. A Petrological and Archaeological Study. Fitch Laboratory Occasional Papers, 4. British School at Athens, Athens, Greece.



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed