History of Ceramics

History of Ceramics


Although you might have only started hearing about ceramic cookware in recent years, ceramics have a long and celebrated history. In the past several decades alone, archeologists have uncovered numerous ways in which humans have used ceramics over many millennia. In fact, one of the oldest known ceramic figurines in the world dates back to at least 24,000 BCE. Today, ceramics are used to make components and products that require high levels of performance and reliability. In this article, we explore the history of ceramic in order to understand how we arrived at many of the ceramic products we use on a daily basis.

1-Quart Versa Pot

History of Ceramics

As you now know, the earliest examples of ceramic pottery were made thousands of years ago. The Venus of Dolní Věstonice was found at a Paleolithic site in a Moravian basin south of Brno, Czech Republic. These first examples were primarily made of animal fat and bone mixed with bone ash and a fine clay-like material. Research suggests that figurines, slabs, balls, and other artifacts from the Upper Paleolithic period were naturally contaminated with charcoals, bone fragments, and parts of mammoth ivory. Some experts suggest that bone material was used in archaeological ceramics to temper the clay and it was also widely used as fuel.

Ceramic sherds found in the Xianrendong Cave, Jiangxi Province in China date back about 20,000 to 19,000 years, which is 2,000 to 3,000 years earlier than other pottery fragments found in East Asia and other locations. Pottery sherds from the Jōmon period in Japan, for example, are believed be made from 16,000 to 14,500 BCE. Jōmon bowls are characterized by cord marking but they continued to develop and feature more elaborate patterns of decoration over time. Experts propose that the round-bottomed and ensuing flat-bottomed bowls were used for boiling and storing food.

At the height of the Neolithic Revolution, small and mobile groups of hunter-gatherers transformed into sedentary societies that farmed and worked the lands they inhabited. Meanwhile, humans discovered that clay was abundant and could be formed into various objects. After forming, those early ceramics were fired at temperatures between 900 and 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit in domed or horseshoe-shaped kilns that were partially dug into the ground. It is not yet known how those earthenware vessels were used, but the first use of functional pottery is thought to be in 9,000 BCE.

In 6,400 BCE, the Yarmukian people of prehistoric Israel were the first to manufacture pottery in an array of shapes and sizes. In 5,000 BCE, the Yangshao people of prehistoric China began making white, red, and black pottery that often featured facial, animal, or geometric designs. Following in the footsteps of their predecessors, people of the Longshan culture handcrafted pottery that was thin-walled and polished. These pieces became widespread in northern China, along the Yangtze River valley and as far as the coast. Although there are contrasting claims as to which culture created the potter's wheel, two of the most likely candidates include people of the Longshan period and the Sumerians of Mesopotamia. With the introduction of the slow wheel, hand-powered pottery production became more efficient.

Little is known about the first attempts to make glass. Some theories suggest that the presence of calcium oxide (CaO) containing sand combined with soda may have resulted in a colored glaze on ceramic artifacts. Although the production of glass was progressing in Egypt and Mesopotamia by 3,500 BCE, experts believe that it wasn't until 1,500 BCE that glass was produced independently of ceramics. Egyptians began building factories to create glassware for ointments and oils. Egyptians and Mesopotamians were also some of the first to use ceramic tiles in decorating their dwellings and creating mosaics. As ancient people began to use the wheel-forming technique to produce symmetrical ceramic artifacts, pottery evolved in its use of elaborate paintings, oxidation, and more.

In ancient Greece, pottery was used to store, transport, and drink liquids such as wine or water. Small pieces of pottery might have been used to store perfumes or unguents. In Mycenaean tradition, Greek pottery took on a geometric aesthetic that featured a network of fine patterns. Shortly thereafter, Greek pots began to reveal narrative scenes from popular myths. Later, the Romans made pottery in colors ranging from pale orange to a fiery red. Fine ware was often glazed with a red gloss and finished with relief ornamentation. Course ware was mainly used for cooking, carrying liquids, and eating. Amphorae are probably the most recognizable artifacts from the Greek and Roman eras. An amphora is a two-handled pot with a neck that's narrower than the rest of the body. These ancient vessels were likely used to transport olives, cereal, oil, and wine. Large amphorae were later used as grave markers to honor the dead.

By medieval times, people began mixing sand and clay to produce cooking pots that were strong enough to be placed over an open fire. In the 13th century, German potters began to produce stoneware made of finer clay that was fired at higher temperatures than earthenware was. The ensuing tan and gray stoneware was strong and naturally nonporous. Raku ware also represents a pottery style of special interest. This traditional form of Japanese pottery was used to create ceremonial tea bowls for Zen Buddhist masters. Today, it is used to make funerary urns and other artifacts. In the Americas, ceramics were used as cooking vessels, storage vessels, domestic tiles, sculptures, and so much more.

In the last century alone, ceramics have developed drastically. Art galleries and pottery studios are just some of the venues that celebrate this ancient handicraft. Ceramic may be one of the oldest known cooking surfaces, but it is still widely used today in the form of cookware. Although modern ceramics differ from the baked clay figurines and objects made throughout time, they feature the same wide range of properties that have helped ceramic stand the test of time:thermal insulation, wear resistance, chemical stability, and durability. Taking inspiration from millennia of ceramic innovation, our pure ceramic cookware is handcrafted in a manufacturing process that takes 20 days from start to finish. If you have any questions about this article or our ceramic cookware collection, please contact us today.

about the author

Erik Bergstrom

Erik Bergstrom

Erik Bergstrom is the Digital Media Manager at Xtrema Cookware, and he oversees the online presence of the company! Erik has personally seen family members struggle with chronic illness, and it fuels his passion for helping others understand the importance and value of cooking clean. Erik enjoys cooking, educating, and creating healthy meals for his friends and family. He is always seeking out new information from wellness professionals to grow his knowledge of what toxins do to the human body and the value of cooking without them!

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