In his article “Pottery in Antiquity,” Cristian Violatti examines why pottery was so widespread among different cultures, the techniques used to create early pottery, and what the complexity of those techniques suggests for societies at the time.
Pottery was not invented at one location and then spread to other cultures; rather, it was discovered by multiple societies, independent of one another, at various locations and in different periods of time. This is not surprising since the dominant material used to create pottery is clay, which is “abundant, cheap, and adaptable,” making it a perfect material for early societies to use to their benefit. Although there is not a direct correlation between pottery-making and an agricultural lifestyle, the two are closely related in history. Violatti claims that pottery and agriculture tend to correspond historically due to the need for “durable and strong vessels” to store harvests.
Pottery fragments can be analyzed on a chemical level to discover what kind of temperature they were exposed to during creation. Historians can then gain some insight into the kind of technologies a society implemented in the creation of pottery, and, as a result, the level of sophistication of other technologies that the society may have used. Furthermore, the “shape, type of surface, the colours, drawing patterns, and decorative styles” of pottery can give insight into the development of the arts in various societies. Location is also a telling factor when analysing the development of a society; if a pottery fragment is found far away from the source of its production, it may indicate “trade activity and exchange networks.”
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This article by Dr. Karen Carr briefly explores the origins of pottery in different regions. Dr. Carr claims that one of the reasons that pottery started to be made, both in East Asia and in the Americas, could have been to preserve fish. The article also goes into details about the use of the two different types of potter’s wheels. The first of these wheels is called a slow wheel, which West Asian people had begun to use around 3000 BC. The slow wheel consists of a small wooden platform which eliminates the need for the potter to walk around their pot by allowing them to turn the platform instead. The fast wheel is similar to the slow wheel in that it also consists of a platform; the main difference is that the fast wheel pivots on an axle and can be spun using a push or a kick. The majority of potters in Europe, Asia, and North Africa were using the fast wheel by 2000 BC. Each type of wheel incrementally increased the speed of creating pottery, which led to a decrease in pricing as potters were able to make a larger quantity of pots to sell.
Dr. Carr wraps up her article by talking about how pottery was used as a way of constructing social identity, and how technological and economic changes in different societies influence how pottery was made and what materials were used to make it.
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This links to a report on the excavation of early pottery in Xianrendong Cave in China, with a focus on the radiocarbon dating and social implications of this pottery.
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