How Did Stone Age People Invent the Pottery?

From clay to potter wheel

By Stefan Anitei on March 22nd, 2007 15:56 GMT
Surely, the first pottery product was not the work of a sole person but the result of experience accumulated over generations, after countless trials, failures and discoveries. The pottery appeared during the Neolithic ("The last stone age"). Till then, the pots were made of stone and wood.

Ceramic appeared 8,000 years ago in the Middle East, from Macedonia to Iran. It was a great achievement to turn friable clay into a resistant pot by fire. The ceramics originated probably in smaller coarse processed unburnt clay pots.

Five methods of ceramic producing were used. The oldest is the direct hand acting on a clay fragment in which a cavity is modeled. The second method starts with making a long clay roll which is curled in spiral. First is made the bottom of the pot and after that, the vertical coiling is continued till the desired height. The pot is smoothed with a stone or wood piece inside and outside. On the third method, clay rings are overlapped. The fourth method consists in making a round bottom, to its edges hanging strips which are elevated and joined.

The fifth method employs the potter's wheel.Processing the clay supposes some previous operations. The clay is cleaned, washed, filtered and let to rest for some weeks. Being too thick, in order not to get stuck through the fingers, degreasing compounds are added: pumice stone powder, pounded shells, mica, sand, fiddled straw, chaffs and so on.

The degreasing compound takes away the possibility of cracks appearing after drying or burning the clay. The clay is broken and beaten with the degreasing compound till it gets homogeneous. The modeled clay was dried in the Sun and, after that, burnt; at the beginning on fireplaces or in simple holes, with negative impacts on the quality.

6-7,000 years ago in the Middle East, the pot burning oven with reverberation was invented. This oven, made of two chambers, the fire chamber and the burning chamber over the first, made the burning to be even. Depending on the air direction, people could achieve different colors to their pottery (shades of black, gray, red and yellow).

The potter's wheel appeared 6,000 years ago in Mesopotamia and soon it became widespread. 5,000 years ago, the potter's wheel was known in Egypt, 4,000 years ago in Crete.

Probably, first the platform (dish) over which the potter processed the clay emerged. After that, the dish with the convexity to the ground appeared and in the next phasem, the wood dish is attached to a vertical ax, around which was rotated by hand. The lower end of the ax rotated in a floor groove or a stone cup.

In the last phase of development, the lower part of the ax was attached to a large wheel, moved by feet and which kept on rotating due to its own weight, fact that allowed the potter to model unhampered the pot. The clay clod was laterally pressed.

The potter stuck his fingers in the clay cylinder, modeling its profile. From time to time, he soaked his hand in a pot loaded with soft clay to smooth his work. After that, the wheel was stopped, the potter stuck two handles on the pot and with a rope, the pot was detached from the wheel and put to dry.
The thinker of Hamangia (Romania), clay figurine from Neolithic
   The thinker of Hamangia (Romania), clay figurine from Neolithic

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