“BEND ME, SHAPE ME”
THE FIRST POTTERY
16,000 years ago
|This is a photo of an early Jōmon pottery vessel reconstructed from fragments (approximately 12,000 to 10,000 years old) at the Tokyo National Museum, Japan.
Credit: Photo by PHG, courtesy of Wikipedia.
Pottery (ceramic vessels) is usually associated with farming communities, but in fact the earliest known fired clay pots comes from hunter-gatherer populations of Japan called the Jomon culture. These ceramic pots could have held water or foods, or could have served as cooking vessels over a fire. It appears that fired clay pots were invented independently in the Near East a few thousand years later and then spread to Europe and Africa. Clay pots made it much easier to store foods as well as to cook by boiling food in water over a fire, thereby retaining more nutrients (fats, juices, etc.) within the vessel. Heating clay at a high enough temperature drives off the water and produces chemical changes that harden the material.
In the Upper Palaeolithic, ceramic figurines of humans and animals have been found at the site of Dolni Vestonice in the Czech Republic dating to between 25,000 and 30,000 years ago. No ceramic vessels have been found from this period, but pots do appear about 10,000 years later in the prehistoric record at Palaeolithic sites in eastern Asia (China and Japan) and in Russia. The first forms of pottery were made by putting the simple hand-shaped clay vessels into a bonfire (the fuel being grass, manure, or wood), which can reach temperatures of about 1600 degrees Fahrenheit and help harden the clay vessels. Between 8,000 and 6,000 years ago, pottery vessels began to be produced in Mesopotamia on a wheel, which made the craft easier to be standardized and mass produced. Kilns were also developed to fire the ceramics to a higher temperature than in an open fire, thereby producing much more durable pots.
|This Jomon pot is 7,000-6,000 years old. Impressions on the pot indicate that a chord was used to mark or decorate the pot.
Credit: Photo by Chris 73, courtesy of Wikipedia.
HOW DO WE KNOW?
Actual pots and fragments (potsherds) are known from Jomon sites in Japan dated to as old as 16,000 years ago. The discovery recently of pottery in an excavation in a cave in Hunan Province in southern China may date back to 17,000 or 18,000 years ago.
WHY SHOULD I CARE?
Pottery would become almost universal in the archaeological record, seen in Japan, East Asia, Central Asia, Western Asia and the Near East, Europe, and much of Africa. The ancestors of most modern humans would have gone through a ceramic period prehistorically.
This is a Wikipedia article about the Neolithic period, divided into periods by pottery phase.
This is a webpage about Chinese pottery production.
This is a site for Jomon pottery
This is a History.net article about the history of pottery and porcelain.
This webpage contains a brief, succinct history of pottery.