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Chapter

Mason's Handbook: Part One


Department
Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations
Course Code
NMC469Y1
Professor
Mason

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Wednesday, September 21/11
Mediaeval Middle Eastern Ceramics
R. Mason
Mason’s Handbook: Part One
An Introduction to Pottery
Pottery cannot corrode or rot and is therefore the most common find on archaeological sites
It reflects contemporary tastes and cultural ideals and is therefore a widely studies subject in art
history
Different shapes and decorations were used at different times, by different people, for different
purposes
By studying pottery archaeologists can date and say a great deal about ancient cultures
Provides information about technology, craft specialization, trade, industry, art, diet, etc
What is Pottery?
Clay: a naturally occurring fine-grained sediment
To be useful for pottery, clay must be made mostly of clay minerals
There are various types of clay minerals and not all can be fired a high temperatures
Clay minerals:
The Koalinite Group
Al2Si2O5(OH)
Montmorillonite/Smectite Group
(Ca, Na, H)(Al, Mg, Fe, Zn) 2(Si,Al) 4O10(OH)2-xH2O
Illite (or clay-mica) Group
(K,H)Al2 (Si, Al) 4O10(OH2) -xH2O
To turn clay into pottery it must be fired by being made very hot in a fire or kiln
Clay minerals include water in their atomic structure
When clay is fired the structure of the minerals is destroyed forever and they become a
glassy mass - this fixes the pottery in its shape permanently
There are 3 main types of fired-clay ceramic
Earthenware: low-fired clay ceramic (about 700 degrees celsius)
Stoneware: fired to a higher temperature (about 1200 - 1300 degrees celsius)
Porcelain: highly fired ceramics (about 1300 degrees celsius)
Another type of ceramic body is primarily made of crushed quartz
Egyptian and Mesopotamian faience (which was generally a mix of quartz and glass)
Stonepaste (Islamic world) is a mix of quartz, glass and clay
European softpaste porcelain which is technically derived from stonepaste
An important aspect of firing is the fugacity of the kiln
Refers to the amount of oxygen in kiln
An oxidizing environment has oxygen
A reducing/anaerobic environment has no oxygen
Temper
Clay may be unsuitable for making pottery at first
Therefore, clay may be tempered with additives.
Too fat = clay content is too high and clay will shrink. Add:
Aplastic inclusions (parting agents): sand or grog (a term archaeologists use for
crushed pottery)
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Wednesday, September 21/11
Mediaeval Middle Eastern Ceramics
R. Mason
Mason’s Handbook: Part One
If not plastic enough:
Dung could facilitate problem
Carbonates (shell, or calcite from limestone or marble) as very common in cooking pots
while large quartz grains are practically unknown
Adding plant fibre will cause pot to be lighter
Temper has four main objectives:
Aid workability during forming
Reduce shrinking during drying
Provide desirable properties during firing
Provide desirable properties to finished vessel
During firing it is important that the temper does not shrink more than the rest of the body,
expand more, outgas more, etc
Forming
Pottery formed without mechanical aid is called hand-formed. This includes:
Pinching - not so popular
Drawn - pinched, then pulled
Modeling - creating shapes/figurines
Coil - building up in coils
Slab construction - made of slabs of clay
These forms can be worked with the paddle and anvil technique
Mould-constructed - object formed in mould
Turned - subtle difference between throwing. First throw it, then let it site and get hard,
put back on wheel and create better form
Shaved - not turned
Paddled - sometimes want to show pattern with paddle marks
Trimmed
Wheel-thrown - slow wheel or turntable or fast wheel
Object may be formed by subtractive forming (trimming/shaving with a knife, or turned on a
wheel)
Could use a number of techniques on one vessel
Decorative forming
Refers to any form of modification of the clay which is not structural forming but meant to be
decorative. These include:
Burnishing- using a hard object (ex, pebble) and rubbing the surface to achieve a polish,
distinguishing from slips by a facetted appearance
Incision - a pointed tool is used to incise a line (take note if it was made when soft or dry)
Combed - a tool with teeth is used to make parallel incisions across surface
Excision - parts of clay are actually removed
Moulding - decoration obtained during the moulding process
Applique - clay is applied by hand on the object
Impressed - something is impressed into object
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