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  • Writer's pictureKatherine Fortnum

Origin of pottery

Updated: Mar 6, 2022

Pottery is the first synthetic material ever created by humans. The term refers to objects made of clay that have been fashioned into a desire shape, dried, and either fired or baked to fix their form. Due to its abundance of clay and its durability, pottery is one of the most common types of items found by archaeologists during excavations, and it has the potential of providing valuable information about the human past.

Ceramics is one of the most ancient industries on the planet. Once humans discovered that clay could be dug up and formed into objects by first mixing with water and then firing, the industry was born.

As early as 24,000 BC, animal and human figurines were made from clay and other materials, then fired in kilns partially dug into the ground.

Clay is abundant, cheap, and adaptable, which makes it convenient for human exploitation. Because usable clay is widely available, pottery was independently invented in many parts of the world at different times. The earliest recorded evidence of clay usage dates back to the Late Palaeolithic period in central and western Europe, where fired and unfired clay figurines were created as a form of artistic expression. As early as 30,000 years ago, we can also see evidence of some experimentation with clay: at a site known as Dolni Vestonice (Czech Republic), figurines made of clay mixed with crushed mammoth bone were found.

Early Bronze Age Pottery

Almost 10,000 years later, as settled communities were established, tiles were manufactured in Mesopotamia and India. The first use of functional pottery vessels for storing water and food is thought to be around 9000 or 10,000 BC. Clay bricks were also made around the same time.

Ancient Mesopotamian Pottery

Initially, pottery was made in open fires. However, during the Early Neolithic era, around 8,000 BCE, special ovens used to parch cereal grains and to bake bread were being built in the Near East, which allowed people to control fire and produce high temperatures in enclosed facilities. The use of ovens added new possibilities to the development of pottery. Around the same time, some areas of South America were also developing pottery technology.

Glass was believed to be discovered in Egypt around 8000 BC, when overheating of kilns produced a coloured glaze on the pottery. Experts estimate that it was not until 1500 BC that glass was produced independently of ceramics and fashioned into separate items.

Year Development

24,000 B.C. Ceramic figurines used for ceremonial purposes

14,000 B.C. First tiles made in Mesopotamia and India

9000-10,000 B.C. Pottery making begins

5000-8000 B.C. Glazes discovered in Egypt

1500 B.C. Glass objects first made

Pottery is a vast subject and although I touch upon a few various examples of the areas I'm writing about, I do not cover the entire subject area in depth. There are many more example's of early pottery that I have not touched upon, lots more fun fascinating facts to read into and explore!

Have fun discovering more about the history of pottery in your searching!

If you'd like to learn more about ceramics and the processes involved book onto one of my workshops and explore the exciting world of clay!

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Christopher Carr
Christopher Carr
Aug 21, 2021

This article ignores very early early pottery in Japan and China. The Jomon in Japan produced pottery 16,000 year ago. Pottery fragments in a cave in China have been dated to 20k years ago. Pottery in the Far East predates that in the Fertile Crescent.

Katherine Fortnum
Katherine Fortnum
Oct 12, 2021
Replying to

Hi Azhari,

Yes as I mention, there are lots off other examples of early pottery, it is such a vast subject with so many fab facts to explore and learn. :)

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