Clay Pottery History


There are three types of pottery, earthenware, stoneware and porcelain. Pottery was hand-shaped at first, but evolved with the invention of the potter's wheel. The oldest pottery, according Artistic Tile and Stone, was found in Japan. Clay has been fired there for more than 8,000 years. According to History World, however, pieces found in in the Czech Republic, consisting of a Venus pottery figurine and several animals are much older.


The earliest potters took clay directly from the ground, soaked it for a few days, poured off the water, then worked it into a pliable mound. They rolled, coiled or shaped it by hand to make simple earthenware. Early earthenware was dried in the sun and was easily broken. When earthenware vessels were used for cooking, they hardened in the fire and true pottery was born. According to Victor Bryant's Ceramic History for Potters, "...fragments of tiny baked clay figurines the Czech from as early as 27,000 B.C."


Whether as simple decoration or a form of graffiti, someone decided to color clay. This early glaze was applied to earthenware in swirls, dots and lines with the fingers and the vessel was fired, becoming stoneware. Glazed portions repelled water better than unglazed portions, so it was logical to coat the entire surface of a serving dish. These moisture-resistant vessels made it possible to store water farther from its source, freeing primitive society from riverbank subsistence.


China clay consists of decayed feldspar, and was called kaolin, which means "high place," in Chinese. Chinese potters made porcelain during the Han dynasty, between 206 and 220 A.D. Porcelain wares are thinner than earthenware or stoneware. Admired for its delicacy and intricate decoration, porcelain is still viewed as a luxury.

Impressed and Incised

According to Artistic Tile and Stone, "...potters in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, northern India, and the high regions of Central Asia frequently decorated wares with impressed or incised designs." Potters carved or pressed a design into a seal or wheel, then fired it. Potters pressed the cooled seal into their creations or incised the clay using tools with various shaped edges. The designs were sometimes filled later using black or white slip to emphasize their beauty.

Modern Pottery

Once they learned the secrets of Chinese porcelain production, Europe's pottery industry was born. Meissen, Germany was the site of the earliest porcelain factory in the early 1720s. A factory was established in Sevres, France in the late 1700s, followed by a factory in Chelsea, England. Wedgwood china appeared between the late 1700s and early 1800s.

Keywords: clay pottery history, pottery types, pottery eras

About this Author

Jane Smith provided educational supports for 11 years, served people with multiple challenges for 26 years, rescued animals for five years, designed and repaired household items for 31 years and is currently an apprentice metalworker. Her e-book, "Giving Him the Blues," was published in March 2008. She received her Bachelor of Science in education from Kent State University in 1995.

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