Taking A Historical Perspective on Pottery

Pottery could be described as an example of craftsmanship that has endured through centuries to be revered even today. In fact, if the archeological findings are to be trusted, then pottery would easily qualify as one of the ancient forms of creativity known to mankind. Shards that have been unearthed at several sites around the world have been eloquent not just about our cave dwelling ancestors' love for this activity but also of its durability owing to having survived the onslaught of time. 

There were a number of reasons as to why early humans loved pottery and primary amongst them was the easy availability of clay. The second reason was that early civilizations were mostly agrarian in nature which meant that people had time to create models out of clay and heat them sufficiently so that they would not break. Although kilns were still in their rudimentary phase, they still served the purpose of generating heat and the quest was underway to find ways which would enable temperatures to soar.  

Ancient civilizations regarded pottery as being a cost effective and suitable solution for acquiring vessels pertaining to daily use and as such resorted to simple techniques. They carved their creations with whichever type of clay was available to them and shaped their vessels with hands at such angles so as to minimize cracking. Credit for having invented the potter's wheel goes to the Mesopotamians and it transformed the entire concept of shapes and sizes associated with this field. Galzing had not yet been discovered but kilns were in vogue wherein the type varied from one civilization to another. 

Earthenware was the first form of pottery to have been used by mankind and while it had its plus points, it had its downsides too. A major advantage of earthenware pots was that they facilitated storage and lasted longer than leaves, stones or any other elements of nature. Their only drawback was that of high porosity and this placed a limitation on the storage of liquids. Some of the earliest generations of earthenware pots were most basic, namely they were roughly shaped ny hand, lacked any decoration and served as household utensils. 

It was somewhere during the 7th century BC that porcelain surfaced in China under the patronage of the Tang Dynasty. Historians attribute this development to naturally occurring kaolin deposits and it was just a matter of time before China carved a reputation for itself for creating and designing porcelain objects. Porcelain art remained exclusive to China for the next ten centuries and surfaced for the first time in Japan and Korea during the 17th century. 18th century was witness to the art transcending geographical boundaries for the first time and being used in other countries. 

Regional Significance of Pottery

Ever since its inception, pottery has served as a canvas for people to express themselves and as such has been a vehicle for cultural and religious propagation. So distinct is the design that for an onlooker it is possible to identify its origins just by carefully observing the design. Discussed as follows is the region wise segregation of pottery -


Excavations carried out in Xianrendong Caves in China revealed some of the oldest samples of pottery and these were long before China perfected the art of handling porcelain. When porcelain took a priority, it bore a distinct mark of Chinese culture and hence was regarded as being typical oriental. 

Japan was a pioneer in Jomon pottery wherein impressions are made on the surface of the vessel by pressing a rope prior to subjecting it to heat. 

In India, pottery was a way of life during the Indus Valley Civilization and ranged from ceramic to Ed-Dur vessels. 

Middle East Asian countries were also cognizant of pottery and practised it over four eras namely Hassuna, Halaf, Ubaid and Uruk. Amongst these it was the Ubaid period that witnessed the invention of the potter's wheel and development of this craft as artisans organized themselves in small groups and began creating exquisite designs for commercial purpose.   


Greek and Roman civilizations were central to this region and each practiced its own distinct style of pottery. While Minoan depicted natural themes, amphoras focussed on geometric figures and Roman style was reflective of its own unique culture. 


This form of pottery was marked by characteristics like fritware, lusterware, tin-glazing and maiolica all of which rendered identification of this style easy. While decoration of tiles was emphasized upon, opening of the silk route resulted in Chinese influences on Islamic pottery and vice versa. 


African association with pottery began in 9500 BC and evolved as a part of Egyptian civilization and as a part of Bantu culture.