Pottery in Antiquity–Mary Irwin

Cristian Violatti gives a brief background on the history of pottery and then elaborates on the technological advances associated with pottery making throughout early history in his article Pottery in Antiquity. He also details mechanisms archaeologists utilize to date pottery and archaeological sites. Pottery was developed in different locations at different times, which Violatti attributes to the abundant availability of clay. It was used both for artistic expression and for more practical uses: budding agricultural societies needed durable containers to store the fruits of their harvests. This early pottery was fired through an open firing technique, while later pieces were fired in kilns. The use of each different firing technique results in distinct chemical alterations of the resulting pottery pieces, allowing scientists to determine the technology available to the pieces’ creators. Going off of this, pottery can be dated through a variety of methods. These methods include analyzing the layer of soil in which the piece was found, radiocarbon dating, analyzing the piece’s typological sequence, and thermoluminiscence. Pottery can also be analyzed simply based on attributes such as shape, color, and style. The author stresses that nuances in pottery’s appearance and composition can be clues to the history of both the piece and of the humans who crafted it. I found this reading particularly interesting having thrown a few pieces of pottery myself. It is neat that humans are still practicing an art that began thousands of years ago, and even more fascinating that such seemingly simple objects can be windows to the past (despite their being opaque).

Mary Irwin (259)


Additional Information:

In the main article, Violatti touches on the means through which different varieties of pottery are created, such as through manipulating kiln temperature, along with other factors. Korean Celadon pottery is one variation that seems particularly interesting. Also known as greenware, the pieces are renown for their beauty and are still popular today, hundreds of years after the Celadon technique was developed in 9th century China. The pottery’s green color is a result of the environment it is fired in: an oxygen-reducing kiln that blazes at over 1,000 degrees Celsius. Additionally, an iron oxide glaze applied to the pieces prior to firing brings out their hallmark green tone.  The pieces were often ornately and painstakingly decorated: the works of true craftsmen. Clearly, Celadon pottery marks advancements in the technique and technology surrounding pottery, and shows that pieces were (and are) crafted to be not only functional but beautiful as well (the image below shows a Celadon jug).

Mary Irwin (put on site by RH)

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