Pottery of the Ancient World

The Beginnings of Ceramics

Resources

Hands in Clay: An Introduction to Ceramics, Charlotte F. Speight, 1983
Victor Bryant’s web site, http://www.victor.bryant.hemscott.net/
Fired Clay Figurines
Made of clay and bone ash, this tiny baked clay figurine is known as the “Venus” of Dolni Vestonice. It is thought to be about 29,000 years old and has been fired in a beehive shaped kiln in a Stone Age village.
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Ceramics in Prehistoric Western Asia 
An Outline Map of Western Asia Today
(also called the Middle East).
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Fired clay figurine about 2.5 inches high. Made about 7000 BC. from Tepe Sarab a prehistoric village site in Western Iran.
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This tiny fired clay image of a wild boar c.7000 BC. was also from Tepe Sarab in Iran
Untitled4Enthroned goddess in baked clay. c.5500 BC. Possibly giving birth. Two leopard-like heads on either side. – Çatal Hüyük – Anatolia Turkey.
A Discovery 
Shells, skulls, nuts and scooped out fruit skins all must have been used to hold water, milk or blood by our prehistoric ancestors. The discovery that small lumps of clay could be squeezed and pressed into cup or bowl shapes and then put in a bonfire to make hard was an important stage in the life of most prehistoric communities. Using the palm, thumb and fingers to squash, squeeze, press and poke, small bowls could have been made by pressing out from seed and nut husks or shells and also by pressing lumps of clay over large pebbles.
The Basket and the Pot
In some communities basket making probably led to the technique of pottery making.
Egyptian Basket
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Baskets like this made from a variety of plants would be strong enough to carry quite heavy loads. If such a basket were lined with animal skins and fat, even water could be carried from the river to the village.
Clay Lined Baskets
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At some point, probably before 7000 B.C., someone discovered an easier, less wasteful, way to waterproof a basket – by smearing the inside with a layer of stiff mud or clay. Serious fires must have destroyed huts, even villages on occasion. The discovery that clay lined baskets became hard rot proof pots after such a conflagration must have been one of the few benefits of such a calamity. It would nevertheless have been a very valuable discovery.
A New Technology
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A typical tiny prehistoric pot pressed out of a small lump of clay with the thumb and shaped in the palm of one hand with the fingers of the other hand. Decorated with just a row of finger marks round the sides.
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Another tiny thumb pot but with a more sophisticated shape. Probably for ritual use, it has holes for hanging and four beak spouts. From a neolithic “shrine” in Liguria, NW Italy.
Women Potters
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Clay pots would have made carrying water and cooking a lot easier than using leather or woven containers.
Reflections
What is the definition of “technology”?
What do you think of when you think of new technologies? Why?
For what reasons have people come up with new technologies?
What “old” technologies might pottery have replaced (been a better solution for)?
Why do you think clay technology continues to be learned and used by people?
Ancient Bowls: Various Decorative Techniques
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  • Impressing
  • Stamping
  • Scratching
Egyptian Bowl
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Bands have been scratched into the red clay, allowed to stiffen a bit, and then white slip brushed or smeared over and then allowed to dry somewhat more. It could then be gently scraped until the incised pattern appeared white, looking rather like stitches. This decoration may have been done in stages.
Detail of Egyptian Bowl
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Pottery Techniques
The technique of pressing and coiling clay vessels and firing them in simple bonfires had probably spread throughout most of the villages of Western Asia before 6500 BC. The pressed and scratched decoration was soon followed by brush painting with different clay slips, usually cream, brown, red, black or white. But human beings are generally slow to accept change; most of us like to keep the things we are used to.
Brushed Decoration
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A bold basket decoration brushed on using red and white slip. A small food bowl from Hacilar in western Turkey c.5000 BC.
Examples of Brushed
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Part of a collection of shards from this early period in Western Asia showing the brush strokes and incised marks imitating basket patterns.
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Halfa type dish found at Arpachiyah North Iraq c.5000 BC.
Reconstructed Designs
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Color drawing reconstruction of the dish found at Arpachiyah in North Iraq.
Reflections
What techniques of construction were first used in creating pots?
What types and styles of decorations were first used?
Can you find pots being done today using these same methods of construction and decoration?
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