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Collecting Ancient Pottery

Ancient Pottery for Sale in the Forum Ancient Coins Shop


Amiran, R. Ancient Pottery of the Holy Land From its Beginning in the Neolithic Period to the End of the Iron Age. (New Brunswick, NJ, 1970).
Ben Tor, A. Two Burial Caves of the Proto-Urban Period at Azor, 1971; the first season of excavations at Tell-Yarmuth, 1970. Qedem 1. (Jerusalem, 1975). Available Online
Ashmead, A. & K. Phillips. Classical Vases, Excluding Attic Black-Figure, Attic Red-Figure and Attic White Ground. (Providence, RI, 1976).
Cook, R. Greek Painted Pottery. (London, 1961).
Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum - CVA Online - https://www.cvaonline.org/cva/
Dayagi-Mendels, M. & S. Rozenberg. Chronicles of the Land: Archaeology in the Israel Museum Jerusalem. (Jerusalem: 2011).
Dothan, T. Excavations at the Cemetery of Deir El-Balah. Qedem 10. (Jerusalem, 1979). Available Online
Ephraim S. Excavations at Tel Mevorakh (19731976). Part One: From the Iron Age to the Roman Period, Qedem 9. (Jerusalem, 1978). Available Online
Ephraim S. Excavations at Tel Mevorakh (19731976). Part Two: The Bronze Age, Qedem 18. (Jerusalem, 1984). Available Online
Flinders, P. & J. Quibell. Naqada and Ballas. (London, 1896).
Giorgos, G., M. Webb & D. Frankel. Psematismenos--Trelloukkas: An Early Bronze Age Cemetery in Cyprus. (Nicosia, 2011).
Gitin, S. (ed.). The Ancient Pottery of Israel and Its Neighbors, Volumes 1 and 2: from the Iron age through the Hellenistic Period. (Jerusalem, 2015).
Gitin, S. (ed.). The Ancient Pottery of Israel and Its Neighbors, Volume 3: from the Middle Bronze Age through the Late Bronze Age. (Jerusalem, 2019).
Hayes, J. Greek and Greek-Style Painted and Plain Pottery in the Royal Ontario Museum. (Toronto, 1992).
Hayes, J. Greek and Italian Black-Gloss Wares in the Royal Ontario Museum. (Toronto, 1984).
Hayes, J. Handbook of Mediterranean Roman Pottery. (Bath, 1979).
Hayes, J. Roman Pottery in the Royal Ontario Museum. (Toronto, 1976).
Hendrix, R., P. Drey, J. Storfjel. Ancient Pottery of Transjordan - An Introduction Utilizing Published Whole Forms Late Neolithic through Late Islamic. (Berrien Springs, MI, 2015). Available Online
Johnson, F. The Farwell Collection: Monographs on Archaeology and Fine Arts. (Cambridge, MA, 1953).
Kelley, A. The Pottery of Ancient Egypt Dynasty I to Roman Times. (Toronto, 1976).
Kenyon, K. Archaeology in the Holy Land. 5th ed. (1985).
Mackenzie, D. Palestine Exploration Fund Annual 1912-1913: Excavations at Ain Shems (Beth-Shemesh). (London, 1913). Available Online
Marquent-Krause, J. Les fouilles de 'Ay (et-Tell): La Resurrection d'une Grande Cite Biblique. (Paris, 1949).
Meredith, K. & A. Harnwell. Classical Vases, Excluding Attic Black-Figure, Attic Red-Figure and Attic White Ground. (Providence, RI, 1976).
Morris, D. The Art of Ancient Cyprus. (Oxford, 1985).
Negev, A. Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land. (New York, 1972).
Nicholson, F. Greek, Etruscan and Roman Pottery. (1965).
Nigro, L. Tell Es-Sultan/Jericho in the Early Bronze II (3000-2700 BC): the rise of an early Palestinian city, A synthesis of the results of four archaeological expeditions. (Rome, 2010). Available Online
Oman, T. A Man and His Land, Highlights from the Moshe Dayan Collection. (Jerusalem, 1980).
Pande, B. "Harappan Ring-Kernoi: A Study" in East and West, Vol. 21, No. 3/4 (September-December 1971), pp. 311-323. Available Online
Rotroff, S. Hellenistic Pottery: The Plain Wares. The Athenian Agora Vol. 33. (Athens, 2006).
Sala, M. "Early Bronze II pottery productions at Tell es-Sultan" in Tell Es-Sultan (Rome, 2010), pp. 253 - 323. Available Online
Skupinska-Lovset, I. The Ustinov collection: The Palestinian pottery. (Oslo, 1976).
Stewart J. Corpus of Cypriote artefacts of the Early Bronze Age, Parts 1-4. SIMA 3:14. (Gteborg, Jonsered, Uppsala, 1988 - 2012).
Talcott, L. "Attic Black-Glazed Stamped Ware and Other Pottery from a Fifth Century Well" in Hesperia, vol. 4, No. 3, (1935), pp. 476 - 523.
Tushingham, D. Excavations in Jerusalem, 1961-67, Vol. I. (Toronto, 1985).

The list above excludes references for oil lamps. References for oil lamps are listed on the shop's lamps page.


Source: Malloy, A. Artifacts of Ancient Civilizations, 2000 Objects Under $300. (New York, 1997).

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 include Minoan, Mycenaean, 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 cherished. The fine artwork of the vase paintings are revealed even on fragments.

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 painting 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 Apulian 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.

The "Root" Forms of Ancient Pottery - Bowl, Jar, and Jug

Source: Hendrix, R., P. Drey, J. Storfjel. Ancient Pottery of Transjordan - An Introduction Utilizing Published Whole Forms Late Neolithic through Late Islamic. (Berrien Springs, MI, 2015).

Virtually all vessels can be divided into these tbree basic categories which are called "root" forms: bowl, jar, and jug. A bowl is an "open" vessel, with a minimum mouth diameter that is >50% of the maximum diameter of the vessel.  Jugs and jars are "closed" vessels, with a minimum mouth diameter that is >50% of the maximum diameter of the vessel. If a closed vessels has a pouring lip it is a jug; if not, the vessel is a jar. Each "root" form has sub forms and types. Sub forms and types are determined by size, shape, and function.

Hendrix, Figure 12. Open and closed vessel forms. D = maximum outer diameter; M = minimum mouth diameter.)

The Sizes of Ancient Pottery

The size is a primary element in determining the type of an ancient pottery vessel. Some examples include: a very small bowl might be a cup, a very large jug might be an amphora, and a very small jug might be a juglet. The size of bowls is measured by maximum diameter and depth as a percentage (maximum height to maximum diameter). The size of jars and jugs is determined by the maximum height of the rim.

Hendrix, Table 4. Root form term/dimension correlations.

Determining Bowl Sub Forms Based on Diameter and Depth

Sub forms are determined by diameter and depth as a percentage of diameter as follows:

Type                   Diameter                                   Depth
Cup                    Small (<10 cm)                          Deep - Very deep (>75%)
Plate                  Small - Medium (<25 cm)           Shallow (<20%)
Platter                Large - Very Large (>24.9 cm)  Shallow (<20%)
Storage Vat        Very Large (>75 cm)                  Deep - Very deep (>75%)
Other Bowls       All sizes not included in the sub forms above

Determining Jar and Jug Sub Forms Based on Height

The sub forms and types of jars and jugs are determined only in part by height. The chart below addresses height. Other characteristics will be discussed later.

Hendrix, Table 4. Jar and jug form size matrix.

Typical Bowl Forms

Source: Hendrix, R., P. Drey, J. Storfjel. Ancient Pottery of Transjordan - An Introduction Utilizing Published Whole Forms Late Neolithic through Late Islamic. (Berrien Springs, MI, 2015).

Hendrix, Figures 17 - 20. Typical bowl forms.

Hendrix, Figure 21. Bowl forms relative to a human scale.

Typical Jar Forms

Source: Hendrix, R., P. Drey, J. Storfjel. Ancient Pottery of Transjordan - An Introduction Utilizing Published Whole Forms Late Neolithic through Late Islamic. (Berrien Springs, MI, 2015).

Hendrix, Figures 23 - 25. Typical jar forms.

Hendrix, Figure 26. Jar forms relative to a human scale.

Typical Jug Forms

Source: Hendrix, R., P. Drey, J. Storfjel. Ancient Pottery of Transjordan - An Introduction Utilizing Published Whole Forms Late Neolithic through Late Islamic. (Berrien Springs, MI, 2015).

Hendrix, Figures 27 - 28. Typical jug forms.

Hendrix, Figure 29. Jar forms relative to a human scale.

Describing The Parts Of Ancient Pottery

Source: Hendrix, R., P. Drey, J. Storfjel. Ancient Pottery of Transjordan - An Introduction Utilizing Published Whole Forms Late Neolithic through Late Islamic. (Berrien Springs, MI, 2015).
Hendrix, Figure 1: Parts of a pottery vessel (exterior darkened).

Hendrix, Figure 3: Lip profiles (cross section).

Hendrix, Figure 4: Rim inflections (angle of rim-to-body).

Hendrix, Figure 5: Rim profiles (cross section).

Hendrix, Figure 6: Wall profiles (cross-sections). Examples not scaled to each other.

Hendrix, Figure 7: Base profiles (cross-sections).

Hendrix, Figure 8: Handle Styles.

Hendrix, Figure 8: Handle Placement.

Hendrix, Figure 9: Neck profiles (cross-sections). Examples not scaled to each other.

Hendrix, Figure 9: Spout Styles (cross-sections). Examples not scaled to each other.

Grading Ancient Pottery

Ancient Pottery Grades
Superb - A completely intact piece with original surfaces and glaze or patina.  None but the most minute chipping or corrosion. A museum quality piece. When a fragment is offered, the grading is for jus that portion present.

Choice - An essentially intact piece with much of the original surfaces or patina.  Minor chipping or corrosion will be present, not affecting over-all form. It is in this grade that most antiquities are collected.  When a fragment is being offered, the grading is just for that portion present. Many pieces in fine collections and museums are in choice condition. 

Collectible - A piece that does not meet the standards for Choice condition but is still worthy of consideration by most collectors and museums. When a fragment is being offered, the grading is just for that portion present. Many pieces in important collections and museums do not meet the standards for Choice but are worthy of the collection because of their rarity or other unusual aspects.

Average - The majority of the piece is present although it may be reconstructed. The surfaces may be subject to wear, abrasion or encrustation. Much excavated material is found in this grade.
Condition Terms

Complete and intact - Describes antiquities that are complete (whole) and unimpaired. Small flaws should be described.

Complete - Describes antiquities that are whole without any missing parts, but repaired. Repairs should be described. 

Reconstructed - Describes antiquities when an item or section of an item is reassembled exclusively of its original fragments. If an absent portion is filled in with a modern replacement, the item is described as restored vice reconstructed

Restored - Describes antiquities when an absent portion of a reconstructed antiquity has been filled in with a modern replacement (either in the original color or a "patch" color) in order to better convey the original form or shape of the item. 

Crizzled - Describes an antiquity or part of an antiquity with a network of fine surface cracks.

Weathering - Describes decomposition of the surface of an antiquity, caused by long exposure to moisture and chemicals in soil. 

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