Traditional pottery making was done with the hands and a few primitive tools that were used for adding texture and design. Potters today still practice the art of traditional pottery making by avoiding pottery wheels, using minimal tools and firing in earthen pits. Some potters actually prefer traditional pottery making to making pottery on a wheel.
Traditional pottery was created for function; to transport food items and water when ancient people began to settle and harvest rather than wander to follow the seasons and animals. Clay vessels were also used to hold food for eating and as cookware. The tradition of pottery making would eventually become an art form as well as a way to fulfill a practical need.
Gathering and Sifting
Traditional pottery making began with gathering the clay from natural deposits in the earth. Natural clay is found in shades of red, gray, yellow and white. The clay was often packed in animal skin bags or other previously made clay vessels to be carried back to the potter's home to be worked into pottery. Before the potter could begin forming the clay, he had to remove any hard, non-clay items, such as rocks, bones or twigs. This process required kneading the clay for a long time to remove all inconsistencies.
Coil pots were one of the two traditional means of making pottery. To make coil pots potters rolled out long, round strips of clay and then wrapped it around in circles to make bottoms of the pieces. Then the coils were stacked in circles on top of one another to build up the walls of the pottery pieces. Some pots were left with the coils exposed, while potters smoothed down the outer and inner surfaces of other pots, eliminating the bumpiness of the coiled texture
Pots worked entirely by the hands out of one solid ball of play were called pinch pots. In traditional pottery making, as well as modern day pottery making, pinch pots are made by first pressing the thumb into a ball of clay to make the initial opening. Then the potter will begin pinching and pulling on the sides of the clay to shape and form the clay into a piece of pottery.
Drying and Baking
The oldest pieces of pottery were earthenware, or unbaked pieces, that were allowed to dry by the heat of the sun. Earthenware pieces could only be used for transporting dry objects--when liquid substances were carried the earthenware pieces would become wet and turn back to soft clay; if the dry pieces were dropped or broken they would turn back into clay powder which could be wet and turned back into a pottery piece. Eventually, as archeologists theorize, ancient peoples discovered that when they placed clay in fire it would harden to stoneware that could never again be broken down into the form of clay. After baking in fire pits , the clay pieces were capable of holding liquids.