Pottery and Pottery Making—Isaiah 45:1-3

Clay has been one of the most widely used materials in the ancient Near East. The technique for successfully making pottery appeared initially in the Neolithic Period. The first potters experimented with different materials and techniques until they arrived at a satisfactory method for manufacturing all kinds of objects. They had to learn how to control the drying process without the clay cracking, then perceived that baking the pottery made it more resistant and durable. Before producing actual clay vessels, they had learned how to make brick. While in some regions, people did not fire the bricks but only sun-dried them, they had already discovered that adding dry material, such as straw, into the mix prevented cracking or flaking. Also, they came to recognize the different results between using a kiln or just putting the pottery in a simple fire. Firing the pots in a kiln offered fuel economy, more stable and easier control of temperatures, as well as yielding much higher temperatures and stronger pottery.

At first, the ancients probably manufactured pottery in homes and just for family use, but with the development of walled urban centers (Early Bronze Age), potters’ markets or quarters begin to appear. A small, hand-turned potter’s wheel seems to have come into use as well during this period, though many pieces were still fully hand-molded. This type of wheel, known as “single wheel,” had to be slowly rotated by an assistant while the potter shaped the vessel. They then fired the pottery in kilns that reached and maintained temperatures between 700°C–900°C. While the potters had mastered temperature control by then, regulating the oxygen flow was more difficult, resulting in limited and mostly dull colors.

The Middle Bronze Age brought the introduction of the fast wheel into Palestine, permitting the development of new shapes and thinner ware. The fast wheel, also known as a “kick wheel,” enabled the potter to turn it himself with his foot, thus no longer requiring an assistant. It also allowed for faster production. Decorations on the pottery also changed, and the craft created new technologies for drying and firing the new types of vessels. It became common to add a clay slip to the exterior of the pots, which would result in a very light color when fired. Handles had to be attached after the shaping of the vessel.

During the Late Bronze Age, the technologies previously used began to regress. Potters seem to have returned to using the slow wheel, and the vessels they produced are thicker and coarser than those of the previous period. Very few had decorations.

The transition to the Iron Age brought back the effort to make better pottery. A dark red slip now appears and is often burnished, giving the clay a glazed effect. During Iron Age II, potters returned to the fast wheel, enabling them to fashion thinner, yet resistant wares.


Franken, “Pottery Technology in Ancient Palestine,” Anchor Bible Dictionary, 429-433.

Wood, Sociology of Pottery in Ancient Palestine: the Ceramic Industry and the Diffusion of Ceramic Style in the Bronze and Iron Ages.