The History of Pottery Making

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When it comes to making pottery, one aspect we really don’t look at is history. But history tells us a lot about what pottery making is, and here, you’ll learn about the history of pottery making, and even the history of different types. It is a fun subject, and here, we’ll talk about history in the deepest sense, but also the history of different aspects of pottery, including the wheel, and different types of clay as well, so you too can learn a bit about where it began, and some of the key parts of this.



The Beginning of the Origins

Pottery is very old, with the oldest-known dating all the way back to about 10,000 years ago. It originated due to the needs of people, and some of these aspects were the following:

  • The Middle East and Africa were transitioning from nomadic hunters to farmers
  • They also focused on gathering, which meant they needed handicrafts to hold liquids
  • This was before horses and irrigation, so they needed to water crops

Due to this need to water the crops, and the necessity of this, it was essential to find material that was fitting to certain criteria, and they were:

  • Being available
  • Being cheap
  • Being pliable
  • Being light enough to carry

The one material that fit the bill on this was, of course, clay. It was an abundant resource in this area, and in turn, early pots were created.

Now, early pots were made by putting rings on top of one another, and then smoothed out and fired in the ground. From there, they were used.

These pots weren’t decorated for a few reasons and that’s the following:

  • They were used simply to transport liquids
  • Sometimes due to the crude nature of this, they’d be disposed of after a singular use

So in the early days, it was not seen as an art form, but more of a necessity. However, we will touch on pottery based on each region later on, and how that affects the overall use of them.


Greeks and Pottery



Now the Greeks were known for being artistic with many of the items that they used to make life easier, but one aspect that they were best known for was pottery.

Some of the aspects of their pottery were the following:

  • The nature was utilitarian
  • However, they were decorated
  • The decorations were usually depictions of Greek mythology
  • They were mainly created for drinking, pouring, or storing both olive oil and wine

The Greeks were the first to experiment with this, but usually, they weren’t super intricately decorated. However, they were the first to experiment with color additions. This was done by the following:

  • Taking clay
  • Combining it with either ochre or potash as a natural ingredient
  • Shaping the pottery
  • Firing with a bonfire

This was still a very crude form of pottery, but it worked for them, and it helped start the beginning of a new era for pottery.


The Wheel and Origins of This

One aspect of pottery that many people are familiar with, is the wheel. However, there isn’t an actual date as to when this showed up, but people usually attribute it to about 3000 BC. Now, you have two types of wheels, and they are the following:

  • The Slow Wheel
  • The Fast Wheel

Both of these played a huge role in the making of pottery in this era, but they have their own characteristics, and they are as follows:

  • The slow wheel is a movable platform that allowed it to turn
  • This prevented people from having to get up and walk around

The slow wheel was the popular wheel for the longest time, but the fast wheel is similar to what we use for pottery today. However, it has its own characteristics and they are the following:

  • It is a platform similar to a slow wheel
  • You spin the axle like a toy top
  • With a kick or spin, the potter will be able to draw the pot out of the clay via a spinning motion

This showed up in Western pottery more than anything, and it was a breakthrough technologically for the sheer reason of ease when working quickly and being able to reproduce clay with a similar design.

However, the fast wheel is similar to the push or kick the wheel that we know of today, and the invention of electricity is how we get the motorized wheels that we are familiar with in this day and age.


Aspects of Early Pottery



Pottery in early history had different aspects that are important to discuss, and it’s definitely a part that we will talk about here. While a majority of this is prehistoric, and part of the pre-literate culture, it is very crude. You can still find shards of pottery due to how strong it is, and many are named after pottery too since it was identified at these sites.

But, for early pottery to be called early pottery, there were a few things that needed to be found in this area. They are the following:

  • You need to have clay readily available, and large deposits of it
  • In some ways, many countries had large deposits of many different clays
  • It must be possible to heat th3 pottery to change it from pottery to ceramic
  • If it didn’t have the hot enough fires to transform it, then it wasn’t technically pottery
  • The potter must have time to prepare, put together, and fire into pottery
  • It usually developed in areas where agriculture began, such as permanent settlements, or even in the ice age
  • There must be a need for pottery to justify using the resources for the production of this

These are the main characteristics of pottery, and what you see when you look at different pottery types. If you have this, then you have ancient pottery.

When it came to the uses of pottery and means to create it, there were a few different ways that pottery was done, and some of them are as follows:

  • Most were done from hand shaping, including pinching and cooling
  • The firing was done by bonfires and was short due to the high temperatures wanted
  • Early potters used any types of clay that they could find, with the common type being red clay that they fired at low temperatures
  • The early wares were made with rounded bottoms to stop the sharp angles that might happen which can cause cracking
  • They were not glazed
  • The molds were used by the early Etruscans
  • Slipcasting was used for irregularly-shaped pots and was used initially in China
  • The earliest intentionally constructed potteries were the pit kilns or trench kilns
  • Pit fire methods were used commonly for earthenware, but not for other types of pottery

These are usually what you’ll find in these early types, and for a good reason, because they were primitive, but they did the job.


History of Pottery Types



Pottery types are vast, but they fall into three categories, earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain. Here, we’ll talk about the different pottery types and the history that was attached to each of these.

  • Earthenware is the earliest form and was fired in the pit fires
  • They were usually left undecorated, and usually, because the biscuit is porous, it was used rarely for storing liquids
  • However, it was soon made from her clays, and with the development of glazes, ti revolutionized this type
  • Stoneware is fired at a higher temperature and was developed early on by the Chinese
  • However, it was used in the middle ages, but it was less common due to the lack of materials
  • It was a specialty of Germany till the renaissance happened
  • Porcelain originally was made in China, but it is a bit controversial due to the definition used.
  • It was perfected by the Tang dynasty and was exported
  • Porcelain was also made in Japan and Korea until the 16th century, after which kaolin was found in other countries
  • Porcelain wasn’t made outside of East Asia until the 18th century

The different types of pottery each have their own unique history, and it’s important that, as you work with the materials, you see how they can be different, and the effects that come along with it.



Mold-Made Pottery

Now let’s talk pottery molds. You see these a lot in the usage of basic pottery, but did you know that pottery molds have been around for a much longer period of time than you can imagine. It began during the Roman empire, and it was one of the main places that saw the changes to the pottery industry. The reason for this is because of the following:

  • They painted the pottery red instead of black
  • They made it into molds in order to paint it
  • It was made quicker to keep up with the competing Phonecians who were making glass

Pottery molds became popular because people were using it to help create items in a more mass-produced fashion, and it also helped shape the glass blowing industry, since pottery cups were starting to fall out of fashion, and people were using cups instead made of glass.

By 100 AD, nicer pottery was starting to be used as well and was made in Northern Africa, and then shipped to Ireland and India.

Pottery molds still stuck around for some time, and they are still used today by beginner potters because of the following:

  • They are easy to make
  • They can be used for a lot
  • You can make different molds

It also helped with propelling the spread of pottery out west and changed the game for many of the different areas.


Pottery in Asia

When you hear about pottery in Asia, there are a couple of things that came out of this region that is of note.

The two most important ones include the following:

  • Porcelain
  • Glazes

Porcelain is probably the most popular type for durable pottery, and it’s made by kaolin clay mixed with a ground granite, and it was popular because of the following:

  • The color
  • The durability
  • The ability to sustain high temperatures

Now, because of that, it actually made this pottery very expensive to transport for the longest time, making porcelain that of luxury.

Glazes revolutionized decorating pottery because it made a big change in the use of it, simply because of the following:

  • It allowed for coloring
  • Can waterproof porous earthenware

This was probably the biggest development, and it was primarily used in porcelain cups and pitchers, and it was popular in western Asia too. It had to be carried from China to various places, and it did change the way pottery was used by many.

But, let’s also talk about lead-glazed pottery. Lead-glazed pottery, while it would be dangerous today to have it, was how people initially glazed their pottery. That’s because it allowed for the following:

  • The ability to make ordinary pots look shiny and white
  • Created imitation porcelain that was cheaper
  • Allowed for colored glazes to also come into the scene

Now, what this did, was make pottery cheaper for everyone, whether they were making pottery for themselves, or for other people. It made it more prevalent in society, and people could take advantage of this without having to pay the exorbitant prices that true porcelain had currently. Colored glazes came about around 1200 AD and soon spread to other countries at this point.

Asian pottery also had some unique characteristics that were used in this, not just for porcelain but other types as well, and they included the following:

  • Rope impressions were pressed into the surface before firing
  • Stoneware and Chinese porcelain were put together and were an art form in the region
  • These were used for decoration especially for the Chinese elite
  • Painted wares were considered a lower status, but were used for pillows
  • Blue and white porcelain during the Yuan dynasty was used for decoration and was borrowed from Islamic pottery
  • Porcelain was primarily made in the Asian areas and wasn’t produced outside the orient until 1709 within Germany

Pottery in Asia is probably the single most place where development happened, and it helped with growing this society to what it is today.


Pottery in Europe

Now obviously pottery didn’t really come out west for the longest time, but it’s still important to discuss what happened in Europe, including both the ancient pottery and how it grew into a more revolutionized state.

Early Europe developed pottery, in a way that was called linear pottery. Most of them had the following characteristics:

  • It was very simple and linear pottery
  • Didn’t have very impressive designs
  • Was mostly earthenware

However, Mediterranean society was probably the major place where this began, as the artistic achievement of the Greeks still survived.

There are also different types of western pottery as well, such as the following:

  • Minoan pottery which had nature themes
  • Classical Greek pottery which was well-crafted and had the human motif
  • Etruscan pottery, which was heavily influenced by Greek pottery
  • Ancient Roman pottery that was less painting, but less molded decoration, and was used for industrialized production
  • Samian ware which was produced in Germany and France, and it helped establish potteries there

This was usually what you would find when you looked into this type of pottery, and in truth, pottery wasn’t really seen in any of the Hellenistic times until the Renaissance. Many of the medieval wares weren’t all that impressive, and typically, they had the following characteristics:

  • Were coarse
  • Were made for utilitarian reasons
  • Didn’t really have decoration
  • Typically didn’t have glazes

Most of the Medieval societies typically focused on using metal vessels, and that’s usually what the elites used. However, when the imports from Asia came in, European manufacturers started to learn this, and from the 18th century on, European porcelain and other types of wares were extremely popular.


Pottery in Africa

African pottery is essentially similar to what the Asian pottery was at the beginning, which meant that they were working to create it for the same reasons that the Asian societies were, and they were the following:

  • Using for gathering
  • Using to store gain safely

However, despite the fact that they were making it at the same time that those in China were, it wasn’t all the same. They didn’t know about this, and they were making it for their own reasons, but, they used pottery to make fish sauce too that was fermented.

Pottery was super popular especially in Egypt, where ancient Egyptian pottery was quite popular. That’s because of the following:

  • It was sophisticated
  • It used a non-clay based ceramic which was known as Egyptian faience
  • It had an impressive style of pottery

Sub-Saharan Africa had pottery that involved the following characteristics:

  • Techniques you could see with your eyes
  • Techniques related to materials
  • The unique fashioning of clay

     This was how they differentiated themselves and ultimately did affect how it was spread to western cultures as well.



Pottery in the Americas



Pottery in the Americas isn’t just discussing North America, but America in general. Here, we’ll talk about ancient Native American pottery and some aspects of it.

Native American pottery was started for the same reasons as the others, but it was several thousands of years later than everyone else. However, it was used for different reasons.

Some of the reasons why pottery was made include the following:

  • To store fish
  • To preserve them via fermentation
  • To use to store items
  • Later on, used for decoration

Preservation was a key part of it, especially in Brazil. It started to push it upwards, especially in the Cherokee and the Mississippian areas, which are now parts of Florida and Georgia. By 4500 BC, they knew how to make it. People in the Pacific area of South America started to develop pottery too for similar reasons.

Most of this is fairly new, however, starting in the Archaic area and happening during the formative period. Most of this was found in Old Maya ceramics, which had different elements to them too, including the following:

  • Usually earthenware
  • Typically were finely painted
  • Were in the shape of beakers
  • Had several figures and texts on them

The Olmec began with terracotta sculpture, with most of the pieces being humans and animals. This was primarily what pottery was until it got modernized.

So, how did we get to where we are today? Well, there are a few reasons for this, and one of the primary ones is electricity. Electricity and manufacturing changed the way pottery was done, due to the following:

  • It made it faster
  • It made it mass-produced
  • It allowed for others to work with all bodies of clay regardless of the area

The ancient beginnings of pottery were changed with the discovery of electricity, for it helped power the machines. Since that point in the 18th century, it modernized and helped facilitate the growth of pottery, allowing for it to be transported to other areas and cultures in no time.

Pottery has a rich history that is super interesting, and really informative. If you’re looking to learn more about it, there are lots of texts and a lot about the different techniques. The ways to make pottery differs from culture to culture, and from different regions as well, so it’s worth mentioning that when you read up on this, you’ll be getting lots of new information that you may not have heard of before, and lots of important factors that can change your pottery making skills immediately.


History of pottery making

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