Early Egyptian Pottery


Egypt made pottery before the building of the Pyramids. This is evident from the presence in older hieroglyphic writing of characters which are pictures of earthen vessels. Pictures of pottery vessels and small pieces of pottery have been found in tombs of the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Dynasties, contemporary with and after the building of the Great Pyramid (about 2350 B.C.).

The art of covering pottery with enamel was invented by the Egyptians at a very early date. They applied it to stone as well as to pottery. Although it is not customary (except with the Chinese) to class in the ceramic art enamels on any other than earthen bodies, the enamelled stone of Egypt is so closely related to the enamelled pottery of Egypt that it must be considered with it.

Steatite (or soapstone, as some varieties are called) is easily worked, and bears great heat without cracking. From this material the Egyptians carved small pieces--vases, amulets, images of deities, of animals and other objects--and covered them with green, blue, and occasionally red, yellow, and white enamel, which when baked became brilliant and enduring. Objects in enamelled steatite are known of very early periods. One in the Trumbull-Prime collection, obtained at Thebes--a small cylinder--bears the cartouche of a king, Amunmhe III., of the Twelfth Dynasty, the Moeris of history, whose date is placed at about 2000 B.C. The enamel is pale-green, almost white, except in the engraved lines, where, being thicker, it shows more color.

In the Louvre collection, a cylinder of this material bears the name of Shafra, a king of the Fourth Dynasty, builder of the second pyramid; and the British Museum has three which have the names of kings and of a queen of the Twelfth Dynasty. The manufacture of this material was carried on till the time of the Ptolemies.

The knowledge and practice of this art at the time of the building of the Pyramids necessarily imply that the Egyptians could enamel pottery also at that early date. It is, in fact, impossible to say that there are any known specimens of unglazed pottery older than specimens of glazed and enamelled pottery. The histories of the two classes therefore begin together.
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