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3.9: Conclusion and Contrasts

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    Many of these ancient societies settled and thrived along major river valleys like the Nile in Egypt, the Yellow in China, or the Tigris in Mesopotamia, using the rich, fertile valleys to develop agrarian societies. Art developed along with the access to materials in settled communities through practical, decorated pottery or elaborate structures and buildings. A ruler class of kings or priests began to dominate the early cultures concentrating on the control of wealth and power in the province of a few. Specialized artisans grew; not only did the society need practical pottery or housing, but the wealthy also wanted a reflection of their power. Stone, marble, and clay became materials for ornate and decorative examples of the creative work reflective of the civilizations.

    The table demonstrates how different civilizations used their natural and abundant resource; clay. Some of the cultures, like the Longshan, had sophisticated potter's wheel and kilns to support extensive manufacturing of pottery while others like the Early Jomon still made coil pots fired in open pits.


    Raw Material





    Pottery making centered in Crete. The clay had a high iron content giving it an orange-red color.

    Early jugs had round bottoms and yellow surfaces. Spouted, oval shape bowls, nicknamed sauce boats, usually had a reddish or dark overall wash.

    Clay prepared by putting it in settling tanks to refine it. Potters wheels, fired in ovens

    Incised ornamentation with spirals or simple geometric patterns.

    Dark paint on light-colored clay with a white coat, or mottled red and black appearance.

    Early Egyptian Dynasty

    Made of reddish-brown clay called Nile silt.

    For everyday purposes, they were left undecorated.

    The red color of the fired pot was from oxidized iron compounds.

    A whitish color of clay was from lime.

    Hollowed out a lump of clay and pinched it to get final form. A flat tool used to press against the clay to make very thin-walled pottery.

    Decorations incised or painted. Slip made of a pigmented mixture of water and clay applied to the surface to add color. Wash was red ochre. Images of geometric forms, people, ibexes, flamingos.


    Mixed clay and water then let clay age a few weeks for easier use.

    Made pots, bowls, urns. Brushes made of animal hair to apply the glaze.

    Created a matte finish by rubbing with stones. Pinch potting, slab, coil building.

    Potters’ wheel was hand-turned for uniform thickness.

    An important part of the culture. Fired in open hearths with somewhat controlled heat.

    Indus Valley

    Clay made of river silt.

    Metal dishes made from copper, silver, bronze. Bowls, dishes, cups, vases. Favored using goats as decoration as well as humped bulls, pumas, birds.

    Clay pots made on the wheel turned. The finished pot put in a hot oven to harden.

    Most pots plain but some pots decorated in red and black.

    Patterns of leaves, flowers, other lines.

    More exceptional pots were colored blue, red, green and yellow.


    Clay made of river silt.

    Fast running pottery wheels, updraft kilns, significant manufacturing

    Early Jomon

    Clay made of river silt.

    Fast running pottery wheels, updraft kilns, significant manufacturing

    Neolithic England

    Made clay mixed with adhesive materials of mica, lead, fiber, crushed shells.

    Bowls, jars, vessels with narrow mouths and long necks, vessels with spouts. The primary purpose of storing items, boiling food, burying the dead.

    Open-pit fired.

    Built from the bottom with coil on coil then smoothed to form the pot.

    Surface patterns made with twisted rope or cord.

    1. Why was clay found in different colors?

    2. What are the different methods used to make pottery?

    3. What kinds of decorations did different societies use to embellish their pottery?

    4. Why did different cultures use diverse methods to work with clay?

    This page titled 3.9: Conclusion and Contrasts is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Deborah Gustlin & Zoe Gustlin (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .