The Egyptians created pottery beginning from primordial times. Even before the construction of pyramids, they were engaged in the making of pottery. The study of pottery sheds tremendous light on the pre dynastic era of ancient Egypt. Ancient Egyptians used pottery in the same manner we use plastic containers today. The studies of pottery material, expertise, and types have been a great supply of information for archaeologists to date sites in the absence of other sources of data. Early Egyptologists like Flinders Petrie used pot shards to discover chronological dates for pre dynastic eras. Pottery is also used to assist the study of trade and regional development in old Egypt.
Egypt in the pre dynastic period produced pottery of very high quality. During the Badarian period the potter’s wheel was not used and typically ladies prepared it. The upper segment was adorned in a radiant black color and the lower segment in deep red. The pottery was made by firing in open bone fires or archaic furnaces. From 40000 to 3000 BC. i.e. until the Dynastic era from the Naqada era, pottery was decorated with depictions of animals, humans, boats and various other patterns and symbols. It was during this period, that perhaps some of the greatest pottery was developed.
The potter’s wheel was not invented in Egypt until the Old Kingdom. It was only during this era that the potter’s wheel made its first appearance and started to be used for commercial purposes. The wheel was very simple, like a turn table in the beginning, but latter it advanced into a true potter’s wheel. The wheel was at first turned by hand, and later the kick wheel variety developed during the Ptolemaic epoch. At this time, there was an increase in the quantity of pottery produced. However the introduction of the potter’s wheel did not wipe out absolutely all the traditional forms of making pottery. For example, bread moulds were still often handmade
Egyptian pottery can be classified into two broad divisions depending upon the type of clay used in the manufacturing. It is an international classification system known as The Vienna System.
1. Pottery manufactured from Nile clay. It is also known as Nile silt ware. When it is fired it gets covered up with a red-brown color. Sometimes the pottery was decorated or painted in blue. It was mostly used for common everyday purposes. It was not used for decoration although during the New Kingdom, blue painted pottery appeared.
2. Pottery made from marl clay. It was made from material found in the region of Quena in Upper Egypt. This pottery was superior to the Nile silt ware. It was sometimes polished leaving a lustrous surface. It was used for decorative purposes as well as for other functions. However, the actual glazed pottery appeared only during roman times.
One can further make a classification of Egyptian pottery with the examination of additives in the basic fabric of the pottery, as well as an analysis of the natural impurities present in the clay.