Deposits of pottery remains constitute the bulk of archaeological tells of Mesopotamia. The term pottery differentiates clay vessels and other household objects from figurines (called terra-cotta). The different shapes, decoration, burnishing, glazes, and sizes of pottery, the result of changes in taste and technology, furnish valuable and often vital clues to the relative dating of the object and its context. The technique of establishing pottery sequences was pioneered by the archaeologist Flinders Petrie in the 1890s in Palestine. It is particularly useful for prehistoric periods, but pottery sequences are also relevant in later periods.
   Pottery was invented in the Neolithic period about 7000 B.C. Such early pottery was made in a slab construction method and only lightly fired. The earliest known kiln comes from Yarim Tepe and dates from 6000 (see HALAF; HASSUNA). The most beautifully fashioned, thin-walled, and hand-painted pottery in the Near East dates from the Chalcolithic period. Decorated with centrifugal designs and of elegant shapes, such tableware was in much demand throughout Mesopotamia and seems to have been used for banquets and other special occasions that called for the display of valuables. Coil-made pottery dominated until the invention of the slow wheel, a turntable rotated by hand, which first appeared in Mesopotamia around 4000 B.C. and was used mainly to fashion coarse, mass-produced jars.
   Exquisite pottery became less important in the historical periods; gold and other metals replaced fired clay in prestige tableware. The fast wheel, used to “throw” pottery, was introduced in the late third millennium B.C., again for mass-produced ware. Potters often worked together in separate quarters of Mesopotamian cities; they could work for a large organization in teams (as in the time of the Third Dynasty of Ur) or as private craftsmen.
   See also ART; CRAFTS.

Historical Dictionary of Mesopotamia. . 2012.


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