Israel, 800-586 B.C.E.
- Clay: wheel-turned, slipped, and fired
- Height: 1 1/4 in. (3.2 cm) Diameter: 5 in. (12.7 cm)
- The Jewish Museum, New York
- Purchase: Archaeology Acquisition Fund, JM 12-73.22
- Digital image © 2006 The Jewish Museum, New York Photo by Ardon Bar Hama
Most of the artifacts uncovered by archaeologists working in the Middle East are made of clay. Such objects include cups, bowls, plates, jugs, cooking pots, oil lamps, storage jars, and figurines. One reason pottery is so common at archeological sites is that clay was widely used in the ancient world. It is plentiful and easy to obtain from clay beds. Clay is also relatively easy to work with, and when baked in a kiln becomes strong and waterproof. It was thus a very useful material for making everyday items.
Another reason is that pottery holds up better over the centuries than many other materials. Wood and most textiles decompose, but pottery does not. Although the ancient Israelites certainly used wood for furniture, building construction, and other purposes, archaeologists rarely find wooden artifacts from ancient times. In addition, because undecorated pottery was probably inexpensive to buy, clay items were often thrown away when they were no longer needed and were not saved or recycled. These discarded artifacts are often discovered by archaeologists.
People started making pottery thousands of years ago. By the second millennium BCE, the invention of the potter’s wheel made the production of clay pots faster and easier. Another technological advance occurred in the Roman Period, when clay lamps began to be mass-produced in molds.
Pottery offers insight into practical aspects of the daily life of groups of people, but it also reflects their cultural identity. Different cultures produced different styles of pots and decorated them with different kinds of designs. Today, archaeologists use the different styles of pottery to trace the interactions and movements of ancient peoples.