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Pottery

Reprinted by permission from "Artifacts of Ancient Civilizations"  by Alex G. Malloy


The development of pottery over the millennia has resulted in so vast an array of pottery types that it would be difficult for the large museums to have a large, comprehensive collection. Severn types of pottery decoration can be found: 1) painted glaze and fired, 2) painted non-glaze, 3) two or more colors of clay fired, giving a multi-color pattern, 4) stamped incuse pattern applied to the vessel, 5) a repousse pattern applied to the vessel, 6) incised decoration and 7) hand molded with finger-induced design. Two types of plain ware are identified: 1) a plain ware with no slip, and 2) a plain ware with colored slip applied part of all of vessel. One or more of these types can be found on any vessel.

The soils and clays help us identify the various locations of manufacture. The earliest pottery was hand molded. This procedure finally gave way to the pottery wheel. The Greeks produced pottery vessels of high quality. The greater potters even signed their names along with the Greek vase painters.

The earliest evidence of pottery occurs during the 6h millennium B.C., during the Neolithic period - sited fro Anatolia and the Middle East revealed early forms of pottery. The most spectacular finds are from Hacilar in southwest Turkey, and at Catal Huyuk. The 6000 B.C. communities of town-size proportions saw the early emergence of civilization with an agrarian and hunting lifestyle. Clay vessels were made during the Pottery Neolithic A period in the Middle East during the 6th - 5th millennium B.C.  Also, all of the great civilizations of the Near East produced pottery. Plain ware and painted ware were manufactured, and by the close of the of the 3rd millennium B.C. pottery was made throughout the Western Asiatic region. During this period, the proliferation of the wheel made pottery much easier to create, an it soon become accessible to everyone.

Pottery from the Fertile Crescent, the Holy Land, Persia, Anatolia, and early Europe used simple decoration techniques. They used slip over the vessel, incision design, and painted geometric patterns. The shapes, for the most part, are simple but sometimes include tall necks, flair rims, elongated spouts, strap handles, and many times, rounded bases.

Predynastic pottery is one of the most interesting of Egyptian types. Black top jars and crimson buffware are among the most sought after of the potteries. The Egyptians manufactured, along with with the plainer pottery vessels, fine carved stone vessels and brightly colored blue faience.

Greek pottery, in all its many places and periods, is the most sought after. It is a most satisfying area to collect. The earliest dates are from around the 2nd millennium B.C.  The potter's wheel was introduced as a means of achieving finer manufacture. The vibrant black and red colors of Greek pottery were a result of the slips and paints which contained iron. This resulted in firing to cause a chemical reaction to the conditions in the kiln. They used a three-step firing cycle. The first stage was letting oxygen in the kiln, producing the red-orange color. In the next step, no oxygen was let in, and the firing procedure would begin using green wood. This produced the black colors. The last step was the reissuing of oxygen. Here the ferrous oxide turns back to red. Whites and purples were added before firing. This produced some of the most beautiful ancient objects known.

The categories of Greek pottery are Minoan, Mycenian, Proto-Geometric, Geometric, Corinthian, East Greek, Athens (Attic black figure, Attic red figure), South Italian, Hellenistic (Gnathian, Calen, and Megarian), Etruscan (Bucchero, Etrusco-Corinthian) and Cypriot.

Not only whole Greek vases are collected. Vase fragments are highly cerished. The fine artwork of the vase paintings are revealed even on fragmets.

Western Asiatic pottery

The wealth of ancient pottery found in Western Asia is vast, to say at least. The very early pottery from Hacilar, in Turkey, during the Chalcolithic period, is highly sought after. The collector should be warned that many fakes of this pottery have been found on the market in the past. Pottery from Mesopotamia is not widely offered for sale. The fine painted examples from the Halaf period are widely sought, but not found. Pottery found in Iran and Syria have been more available to the collector, but this has changed with the uncertainty in the political climate today.

Central Asiatic pottery

Pottery and terracotta sculptures from central Asia range from the many interesting examples of terracotta sculpture from the Indus Valley cultures, particularly figurines and chariot models, to the characteristic pottery and stucco sculpture of Gandhara.

Holy Land pottery

Pottery finds in all periods from the Chalcolithic on are usually extensive, and pottery is the tool archaeologists use most int he Holy Land to date finds. Much work was done by archaeologists to establish the dating of Holy Land pottery and it is now very well established. Although the pottery was often rather simply decorated, sometimes with a nice slip or incised geometric pattern, some periods, such as the bichrome period in the Bronze Age, saw the production of beautifully panted pottery.

Egyptian pottery

Pottery is quite plentiful in Egyptian excavations. Unfortunately, with the exception of the predynastic and New Kingdom and Roman periods, it is usually quite utilitarian and plain in nature. Roman period pottery from Egypt is rather distinctive and ranges from the simple to the elaborately painted. Often it is decorated with interesting designs in relief, for example, the highly decorated pilgrim flasks which occasionally appear on the market. Some predynastic, new Kingdom and Roman pottery found in Egypt is painted usually in a geometric style. Types of pottery, as usual, include domestic vessels of various wares, oil lamps often with relief decoration, most of which date to the Ptolemaic/Roman periods, some ritual vessels particularly in the New Kingdom, architectural elements such as tiles, and various types of pottery used in the extensive Egyptian funerary rites. Pottery coffins have been found in some excavations.

Greek pottery

The earliest Minoan pottery was incised ware and painted ware with parallel lines and cross-hatching in various patterns. Early Minoan pottery has a beautiful flare spout in its pitchers and juglets. Magnificent stone carved vases are found from the Early and Middle Minoan phases. By the Middle Minoan period, many shapes were used, with butterfly, double axepations, swirls, branches, and various marine designs. In the later part of this period, wonderful polychrome vessels with dolphins, crabs, and stylized octopi appear. The Late Minoan is distinguished by finer baking. The designs become more complex with an emphasis on floral and marine patterns, A distinct two-handled goblet with a pedestal uses a single self-contained unit for decoration. All of the Cretan pottery is rarely on the market today, and commands strong prices.

The fine Greek pottery can be divided into four main groups. The Geometric wares are dated from 1000 - 700 B.C. The designs and origins were from many localities and were painted in brown or black monochromes. Trade contact with Egypt, Phoenicia and inland Western Asia resulted in the Orientalizing phase of Greek pottery. The images as seen on imported textiles, ivory, and metal objects from the East inspired the introduction of human, animal and plant forms on the new polychrome painting. Corinth was the center of this widely exported ware. Rhodes, Chios and the Cycladic Islands were also pottery centers. The Athenian potters during the 6th century until 530 B.C. developed the mature black-figuring technique. This was an expanded technique from Corinthian ware with details of the black figures incised. Athens was the center, but Chalkidian ware and East Greek wares were also produced. This stage of Greek pottery grew to such an extent that the artists began signing their works. Alongside the black-figure painting, the red-figure phase was invented around 530-520 B.C. This technique used a predominantly black black glazed background with figures and designs left in red-orange. The individual artists were rapidly developing skill in human anatomy, and the results are magnificent. Professor Beazley of Oxford was able to identify by style over 500 different painters. The height of this period is in the period from 480 - 450 B.C., when the generation of artists created a concept of ideal beauty. During this period, different wares also competed for excellence. White-ground ware ad the plastic vases were made, but not commonly found. Greek pottery declined during and after the Peloponnesian Wars. Many Attic artists moved their craft to Magna Graecia, where red-figure paiting lasted to the 3rd century B.C.

The pottery from Magna Graecia was varied and rich in quality. The red-figure pottery falls into two basic groups. One is Apulian and Lucanian, and the other group is Campanian, Sicilian and Paestan. The pottery from this area is the most collected today, A.D. Trendall estimates the total number of extant Apulain pottery is more than 10,000, Campanian at over 4000, and less than 1000 each of the other wares. The function of most south Italian vases was to hold water, wine, and oil. The funerary vases were not constrained by their function, but were designed more for visual appeal. Some were so large as to be unusable for holding water. This pottery was primarily used in the locality in which it was manufactured. The black glaze wares were produced with an unbroken lustrous surface. Its fine sheen resembles metal.

Roman pottery

Pottery is perhaps the most readily available of all Roman antiquities to the modern collector. Roman pottery ranges from the simple to the elaborate. Often it is mold decorated with interesting design in relief - for example, the Samian luxury ware - or etched with various patterns such as those found on North African redware. Some Roman pottery, particularly in peripheral parts of the empire such as Egypt, is painted. Types of pottery include domestic vessels of various wares, oil lamps often with relief decoration, some ritual vessels, architectural elements such as tiles, and various types of pottery used in funerary rites, such as cinerary urns. Many fine examples of the various types of Roman pottery can often be purchased by the astute collector for modest sums.