Book: Ceramics - Art or Science? Author: Dr. Stan Jones

9. Ceramic Development in the Middle East

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9.21 Tasian Culture (around 5,500 to 4,700 BC)

The earliest reasonably detailed Culture in Upper Egypt is based on findings in burials at the settlement of el-Tasa, and is therefore known as the Tasian Culture. The people were settled farmers growing emmer wheat and barley, with herds of sheep and goats. Pottery was reasonably well made earthenware with open bowls and bag-shaped vessels dominating.

Tasian lightly burnished brown ware pots, UC14162 and 14163 - Copyright of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UCL

Tasian lightly burnished brown ware pots,
UC14162 and 14163 - Copyright of the
Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UCL

It was made by hollowing a lump of clay by hand and pinching it to achieve the final shape. The Tasian Culture probably produced the earliest characteristic Egyptian black-topped red-bodied pottery. Earlier Cultures buried their dead within their settlements; between their huts or even under them, but in the Tasian Culture burial places were moved from the settlements to the edge of the cultivatable land. People were buried on their sides, facing west, with pots, food and weapons for the hereafter.

Flax is indigenous to Egypt as well as the rest of the Middle East and there is evidence of weaving wild flax into linen from around 5,000 BC and the first evidence of a proper loom around 4,400 BC. This is somewhat later than the weaving of probably domesticated flax in Catal Huyuk.

It is likely that the wool from sheep was not used in weaving until about 4,000 BC, in Mesopotamia. However, it was probably used before 6,000 BC for making felt (matted rather than woven) for thermal wall coverings in Central Asia. For comparison there are several references to the first evidence of weaving silk in China being from 2,850 BC, as opposed to the much earlier (6,000 BC) discovery of pottery silkworm chrysalides and shuttles mentioned in the previous chapter, so this issue remains in doubt. The production of cotton in the Indus valley appears to date from 2,500 BC.

9.22 Badarian Culture (4,700 to 4,000 BC)

The following Badarian Culture in Upper Egypt was based on the settlement at el-Badari where cemeteries dating to around 4,000 BC were excavated. It was, like el-Tasa, on the bank of the Nile by Asyut. The people lived in a number of settlements and carried out the same agricultural and pastoral practices as the Tasians, who were probably their predecessors. However, they had greatly improved artistic and technical skills. Villages had simple shrine buildings with bones or horns protruding from the façade. Outside a pole with a strip of cloth identified the local god. This became the basis for the later hieroglyph for “god”. There is evidence that early in the Badarian period contact was made with neighbouring countries. For example styles of pottery and furniture had links with Syria.

Badarian pottery was of surprisingly fine quality, hand made by pinching and hollowing, coiling and paddle-and-anvil methods. It was mainly women who were potters and they did not have a potter’s wheel. The pots would be dried in the sun and often covered in an ochre slip to enhance the red colour. It would then be burnished to a lustrous finish probably with fine pebbles or polished with strips of leather before the clay was completely dry. This beautiful pottery was extremely thin walled and well fired.

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