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

3. Background to Earliest Pottery

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It could be that they depict animals important for food or as predators, and the overtly pregnant female figurines could be fertility symbols, as breeding successfully was essential for the survival of the tribe. The Dolni Vestonice Venus was found in a Neolithic village in the Czech Republic along with many fragments of other figurines that are thought to date from 29,000 years ago.

Venus of Dolni Vestonice - source Wikipedia JbTv

Venus of Dolni Vestonice
- source Wikipedia JbTv

It was made from a mixture of clay and powdered bone ash. Why the earliest pottery has been found in Central Europe is not clear, and it may be that such ancient objects are widespread throughout the old world, but have not yet been found. Certainly small female figures of later dates have been found in other archaeological sites throughout the world, for example, in Russia dated 16,000 years ago.

Because modern man has been fixated from the earliest times with death and the hereafter, rituals and religions have been a constant thread from those times to the present. The relationship between religious rituals and pottery has always been strong, partly because “high quality” pottery was seen as a valuable asset and status symbol, partly because it is inherently everlasting and partly because it is easy to model into any shape. The driver for pottery improvement through the ages has therefore been split between quality ritual pottery and utilitarian domestic wares. It is likely that early pottery always had a specific function in the socio-economic structure of the people, as it was likely to be too expensive in time to produce items for merely decorative purposes.

It is said that the single most significant material item excavated from any pre-historic site is pottery. As pottery is extremely resistant to degradation, although brittle, it is found everywhere man has inhabited, often in large quantities. The importance of pottery in archaeological studies is illustrated by the fact that most archaeological cultures of the world have been named after their predominant pottery wares, or the location they were first found. Pottery is also used extensively as a means of determining the ages of excavated layers in early archaeological sites, as the often-pristine pottery fragments can have characteristics of style, composition and decoration that experts, using various techniques, can often date relatively accurately.

Early man had used fire to cook food, but while he was nomadic it tended to be baked or roasted on open fires. There were two drivers necessary to push man into using fired clay for culinary purposes, the need to process food differently and to become more sedentary, so that the unwieldy and breakable pots would not have to be transported over distances frequently. The complicated link between climate, food supply, agriculture, animal husbandry and pottery are described in the next sections.

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