The History of Pottery

People get confused over what is pottery and what are ceramics but in essence they are all the same thing. They are items made from clay, and usually are cups, cooking pots, dishes, plates, bowls etc. As a material clay is inexpensive and has made a fantastic base material for essential household items for thousands of years. It has also been the same material that has produced some of the finest and most expensive decorative art for centuries.

The First Pottery

East Asia is first cited as the place that started making clay pottery, it is documented that China and Japan were making pottery about 14,000 BC, and as it happened this was long before they actually began to farm.

The early pottery techniques were pretty rudimentary and was little more than poking a hole in a lump of clay. There is also a theory that pottery came to the fore by coating baskets with clay to make them water resistant, this sort of makes sense as in ancient Japan the early pottery was formed to preserve fish underground. These fermented fish were usually made into an early type of fish sauce they used in cooking.

American Pottery

The keeping and preserving of fish was also responsible for the growth in pottery in the Americas a few thousand years later. The Brazilians around 5,500 BC used to consume many shellfish and fish, and early earthenware jars were used to contain it.

Pottery soon spread further north and the great Indian tribes such as the Cherokee knew how to make pottery by around 4,500 BC, mostly around the region which is now known as Georgia and Florida.

The Mediterranean Region

News of pottery in China and Japan soon spread to the Eastern Mediterranean and Mesopotamia and the lands now called North Africa around 6,000 BC. It is thought that this early form of pottery was created to store grain during the barren months, and there is evidence that the Greeks also were making a type of fish sauce.

The Bronze Age

It was around the time of the Bronze Age in 3,000 BC, that people in parts of western Asia had developed a type of potter’s wheel. It was a rough disc of wood that the pot was thrown on that revolved. This meant that the potter no longer had to walk around his work to fashion it, he could simply sit in one place and turn the wood.

From the very beginning, races started to decorate their pots, this was a way of providing a social identity of who they were and how they lived, and indeed how they differed to others. These decorations were taken from designs on cloth of the time which were to identify one race from another. If you look at the early pottery it is all so different, West Asian pottery was completely different to Greek. Chinese pottery was not the same as Egyptian or Etruscan.

Pottery identified who you were, it was like a calling card to describe who you were and what you did. This all went on a long time before decorative pottery as art was even thought of.