illustrated timeline of the history of pottery:
The following is an illustrated
timeline introduction into the history of pottery. It is by no means
complete and it is intended as an overview into this art form. Where
possible, modern adaptations of historical designs are also included.
making is one of the oldest activities of humankind. By exploring pottery
throughout the ages, we can glimpse into our cultural histories. Pottery
was a functional item in daily life with its creation utilizing readily
available resources and incorporating innovative designs into often functional
art forms. Many technique and design similarities appear throughout the
world at different times in history.
Used by hunter/gatherers in Japan; coil
Used by groups of
hunters and fisherman – Nile Valley. Designs were made by
dragging the spine of a fish across clay
pottery vessels of central Europe known as Bandkeramik
decorated with incised lines and infilled with dots or
cross-hatching – found from France to Hungary to Ukraine
Decorated pottery; red geometric design
Temple bureaucrats invented this incised cylinder seal to
replace stamps previously used on tablets. The seal could
be rolled over larger areas and was also used for official
The earliest known pottery representations of humans in the
Americas. All figures were highly stylized
In this example the simplicity of nude body contrasts with the
elaborate and stylized hairstyle
These standardized and sized pottery beakers were probably used
for mead or honey sweetened brew popular during this time frame
potter's wheel (thought to be invented by the Chinese circa
3,000 B.C.) was now widely used in the areas surrounding Crete.
Food storage vessels such as this were used
to deliver olive oil, wine, grain and other agricultural
products to such places as the palaces of Knossos in Minoan
Crete. The products were paid as a tax or tribute and much
of bounty was used to support royal household. Excess
products were also exported overseas. The following are
also examples of pottery of Santorini, Greece - Akrotiri -
during this same time period:
Decorative grooves in the clay are made with shells or impressed
with fabric or cord. This shard was found near Chiapas on
the Mexican/Guatemala border. It represents some of
earliest ceramics in Mesoamerica and may be related to Chorrera
ceramic tradition of Ecuador
During this time period burying the dead was mostly abandoned
and, instead, the dead were cremated with ashes buried in
funeral urn in cemeteries known as urn-fields. The urns
are known for uniformity and similar urns were used for the rich
and poor alike
Ceramic figurines and other ceramic objects of burials have been
found beneath floor of houses. The social class of
deceased was determined by number and type of objects buried
Red slipped pottery vessels with incised patterns, mostly
geometric, have been discovered in the western Pacific Islands
(including modern Tonga and Samoa)
Ceramic stamps were used to decorate skin and fabric.
Discovery of the stamps indicates historic trading between Latin
America including Costa Rica and Tlatilco, Mexico.
This fragment of a Chorrera ceramic
vessel design is reminiscent of Olmec motifs - possibly showing
trading between South and Central America.
Many Greeks expanded beyond their
borders due to lack of space. Their colonies influenced
their non-Greek neighbors and gave them a taste for wine and
perfume. Pottery vessels were used for these luxuries
beginning lucrative trade to now modern Italy. Amphoras,
first Greek then Roman (200 B.C.) were used for transporting
wine and olive oil.
The red figures on black illustrated
wine parties. Wine was drunk from pottery vessels. These
types of pottery were produced in the most famous workshops in
Attica (530 B.C.) These designs were widely copied
especially in the Greek colonies of southern Italy.
The areas now known as Switzerland and France imported the
potter's wheel from the Mediterranean world and incorporated new
pottery techniques with decorative patterns of curving
spirals known as La Tène art named for the site first found in
Switzerland. These patterns are widely found on pottery
throughout western and central Europe.
Qin Shi Huangdi was the emperor who unified China. He was
responsible for the building of the Great Wall. He was
buried with thousands of life-sized terra cotta models of
warriors, chariots and horses. It is said that the
mausoleum and surrounding burial pits took 700,000 conscripted
laborers 35 years to build.
This terra cotta figurine represents Yakshi (the benign nature
spirit) and represents the dress of the period.
pottery found in Louisiana is similar to
Hopewell community pottery found in Illinois and the Ohio River
Valley indicating trade between the areas. The vessels
were used for storage, transportation and cooking.
Terra cotta bricks and tiles decorated with impressed patterns
were used for building palaces and tombs.
The Nazca culture created designs using anthropomorphic
characters and iconography on their pottery objects.
glazed stoneware jar from the Han dynasty; wheel made;
These Zapotec funerary urns were produced on a prolific scale -
stamped out from molds in a version of an early assembly line.
Persia was the melting pot of religions. Christianity was
the official religion of the Roman Empire and was practiced
alongside the Persian state religion, Zoroastrianism. In
addition to the official religions there were also many populist
faiths as evidenced by small bowls with inscribed magical
incantations in Aramaic, Syriac or Hebrew which were found
buried beneath the floors of Mesopotamian houses.
These glazed pots with distinctive indigenous styles were
used as ceremonial items.
decorated pottery with brown line drawings on a beige
background depicting scenes of
hunting, warfare, feasts and other aspects of daily life.
Grave goods including
ceramics for use in the afterlife were included with corpses dressed with objects of gold, lapis lazuli and shells
to indicate their relative wealth.
These Mayan ceramic ceremonial vessels were decorated with
monkeys and are examples of Toltec cultural influences
Historic and modern versions of whistles found in Peru and
This Zoomorphic Efficy Vessel represents a stylized puma or
jaguar with painted geometric motifs achieved using a resist technique
Cattle farming and milk
were an important part of diet. Milk was collected and stored in bag-shaped ceramic
This polychrome pottery was probably influenced through trade
contacts of Mayan civilizations to the north.
This Chinese glazed stoneware was fired
at extremely high temperatures in the Yue kilns of central China. The
glaze was usually a thin
silver- green glaze and the pots were either plain or adorned with incised decoration.
Many of the pots were then exported to The
Philippines, Indonesia, The Persian Gulf and Egypt.
Sinagua bowl combined geometric
designs and human forms.
such as a
rattlesnake with falcon wings and deer antlers were Mississippian symbols for the
underworld, the sky and the earth.
glaze ware from Kashan, a major center for
ceramic production in the Seljik era
This zoomorphic style known as Parita Polychrome is highly
individualistic and painted in red, black and purple.
These black on white
ceramics were common grave goods from A.D. 900 - 1200. Many have “kill” holes making
them useless for practical purposes as they were intended for mortuary purposes.
Korea's own distinct style
eight-petaled porcelain cup on an inverted lotus. This technique was derived from
Sgraffito-ware pottery was developed by Iranian potter.
The word "sgraffito" is derived from the Italian
word “sgraffire” meaning "to scratch." The vessel is covered with a white slip and
a design is
carved through it. Glaze is applied before firing.
traded as far south as southern Mexico and
into southwestern North America
it is still a tradition that
lives on today in the region:
The Chancay ceramics of Peru specialized in the production
of human statuettes, usually couples with outstretched arms and caps.
The Middle Eastern ceramics of Iran displayed innovations such and
blue and black painted underglaze decorations technically demanding for uses such as
covers for entire tombs and niches in mosques (mihrabs).
Blue and white ware of
fine porcelain and decorated commonly with a
stylized peony motif .
From the former Ottoman empire including current Rhodes, Greece.
The pottery often were designed as imitations of blue and
white ware from China.
Wheel-thrown Earthenware Dish from Deruta,
that lives on in Tuscany today:
Catalonia: an earthenware
apothecary storage jar;wheel-thrown and decorated with
designs of geometric influence
Spanish pottery today:
platter with molded relief
A salt-glazed "Bartman" pitcher with
applied molded medallions
A soft paste
porcelain enameled teapot with 2 spouts
hand-built pottery with painted decoration by Lucy Lewis
Modeled in natural form
of vegetables by Thomas Whieldon and Josiah Wedgewood in Staffordshire, England
A stoneware vase with
relief decoration by Comfort Tiffany
earthenware platter by
Naomi Bitter and Nora Kochavi
Baltimore, MD, USA
Portland, OR, USA
Louisville, Kentucky, USA
Also check the "Journeys" and "Video" sections of our website for other examples
of contemporary pottery
Timelines of the Ancient
world – Smithsonian Institution – 1993 – Chris Scarre
Ten Thousand Years of Pottery –
Emmanual Cooper – Fourth Edition – 2000 – University of Pennsylvania Press
Misc. Photography by Sarah Young -
2001 to Present