Ancient Egyptian Pottery
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say ancient Egyptian pottery? Or any ancient pottery for that matter?
Yup, you’re right, it’s one of the most useful tools in archeological studies. It has a wealth of hidden information just waiting to be discovered…
With ancient Egypt, this is especially pronounced in the pottery of the pre-dynastic period. What it was made of and what it was used for has given us lots of interesting clues into the daily life of ancient Egyptians.
Some of the uses of pottery in ancient Egypt include:
- Food and drink containers
- Fermentation jars for wine
- Funerary cones to identify the owner and family of non-royal tombs during the New Kingdom
- Broken pieces were used like “scrap-paper” for art students to practice on and have their tutor correct with a different color
- Dishes and vessels
Here are some interesting examples:
King Scorpion’s tomb was full of wine jars, and researchers say that this is ancient Egypt’s oldest wine. More than that, the residue they analyzed seemed to contain residues of resin, herbs and other ingredients. But since these wines were older than Egypt’s first vineyards, they found that they were imported from the Jordan River Valley.
On the opposite end, ancient Egyptian pottery made of the mud of the Nile were found in places outside of Egypt, such as Palestine, meaning that the Egyptians exported their goods as well.
The ancient Egyptians didn’t only use pottery for their daily lives… pottery was a central feature in tombs as well – – where they would leave containers of food and goods for the deceased to use on his/her journey through the afterlife.
The pottery would be engraved or painted with religious incantations to help the soul.
A funny ritual that some people had was to write letters to the deceased inside a bowl of food, asking for the help of the deceased in different things. They would actually trick their dead family member by adding food over the letter so that he/she would first eat and then read the letter, and then feel obliged to do as the letter asks after getting a full belly… Sneaky!
The Making of Ancient Egyptian Pottery
There are two types of clay that was used by the ancient Egyptians. The first and more abundant one is the Nile clay, the other is the marl clay found in Upper Egypt.
After collecting the clay material, the potters had to lay it out and step on it with their feet to even out any lumps. Then they would start to mould it…
In the pre-dynastic period (before 3100 BCE), pottery wheels didn’t exist – it was all made by hand, usually by the women.
The clay was polished and then fired in an open fire or in a primitive oven. Afterwards they did develop a potter’s wheel which made the making of pottery much easier and faster.
The wheel itself started out as a primitive invention but was improved upon later.
Once the mould was made, it was left out to dry. After drying, potters would either leave it as is or they would polish it until it was smooth – and then they’d have it painted… Once the pottery was finished, the final step would be to have it fired, either in an open fire or in an oven.
And that’s how ancient Egyptian pottery was made!
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