The ancient Egyptians were masters at pottery making. They used clay for making just about anything imaginable. They used clay to make things like we use plastic today.Cups, plates, bowls, vases, toys, even rat traps have been discovered made from clay. However, the ancient Egyptians did not highly decorate their everyday items such as beer cups and bread molds. They used them daily so they were probably replaced often. The ceremonial burial vessels, such as the ones they placed the organs in were of courese highly decorated as well as the sarcophagus the mummified body was placed in. As in all cultures, the wealthier and more power you held the more decoration was placed on the vessels you owned.
Most Egyptian clay was made from a reddish-brown clay called Nile silt ware. Sounds fancy, but it was readily available along the Nile river. In upper Egypt, a mixture of lime and clay was discovered in the pottery. This clay required higher controlled fires than other clays, it was more difficult to work with. This clay was preferred for decoration.
Pots were made from molds or cores, usually made from wood, since the early dynastic period(18th to 16th BCE). Hand turned potter’s wheels were used around the 27th to 22nd BCE. Quite a long time span before they began using the wheel. This wheel they used had to be turned with one hand leaving only one hand to shape the clay. This sounds incredible to me being a ceramic student myself. The potter’s wheel is somewhat difficult to master with two hands I cannot imagine having to use this primitive wheel. The Egyptians were truly artists when it came to making anything it seems-pyramids, pottery, heiroglyphics, statues, the list could certainly go on.
Egyptians used many different tecniques to decorate their pottery. The decorations were incised onto the pottery(scratched on basically with a tool), painted on, smoked for blackness, slip(watered down clay) was placed on top for decoration and dimension, pigment washes such as red ochre were used, and glazing began during the 4th millenium BCE called mezzomaiolica( a bluish green color).This is a wonderful glaze, that in my opinion, is unmatched in beauty today. Egyptians used geometric shapes and symbols on their pottery as well as people and animals. During the Middle Kingdom, influences began to show up in Egyptian pottery from Greece and Syria.
The Egytian way of life is uncovered as you begin to look at their pottery.So many of us have seen pictures of the beautiful tombs and their contents of Egyptian Pharoahs and the wealthy, but it’s not until we see the everday items of this culture that you get a small window into what they were thinking and doing everyday. Ancient Egyptians certainly were amazing artists, but they were also a smart, playful, religious, caring people reguardless of the aristocracy. Egyptians didn’t just make things from clay they were really one with the clay. I was amazed to discover that they made clay toys for their children to play with and rat traps out of clay, how ingenious. This study of Egyptian pottery has unearthed a whole new way of thinking for me about the ancient Egyptian people.