Ancient Egyptian Pottery

Egyptians not only made articles and artifacts from gold and stone, but also from clay, a substance that served an everyday purpose. The study of Egyptian Pottery has helped historians tremendously to study all periods of Egyptian history. It was believed that Khumum, the potter created man.

Classification of Egyptian Pottery

There is an international classification system for classifying Egyptian pottery known as the Vienna System. Egyptian pottery may be divided into two categories; Nile silt ware and the whitish marl. Most of the pottery manufactured in Egypt was made of reddish brown clay, which was ubiquitous, and is called Nile silt ware.

It was often left undecorated. The red color of the fired product was the result of iron compounds oxidizing. This type of pottery was used for common, utilitarian purposes, though at times it might have been decorated or painted.


The second type, the whitish marl was used for decorative purposes as it was considered superior to the common Nile silt. It was often burnished, leaving a shiny surface similar to a glaze.The oldest pottery technique consisted in hollowing out a lump of clay by hand and pinching it to give it the final form. Later a flat tool was used to press the clay against the other hand. This simple procedure brought forth the elegant and astonishingly thin-walled vessels of the Naqada II period (4000- 3000 BC).

From the Naqada period until the dynastic period, pottery was decorated with depictions of animals, humans, boats and various other patterns and symbols. It was during this period, that perhaps some of the greatest pottery was developed.

Predynastic Egyptian Pottery

Predynastic Egyptian pottery was often of a surprisingly fine quality. Badarian period pottery was made without the use of a potter’s wheel, and it was usually the woman who turned out the pottery.

ancient-egyptian-potteryThese beautiful pieces were burnished to a lustrous finish and fired leaving a black upper section and lower, deep red section. The potter’s wheel evolved during the old kingdom, evolving as hand turned and later the kick-wheel turned.

The pottery was made by firing in open bone fires or archaic furnaces. Potter’s first task was to ‘puddle’ the clay, spreading it out with their feet so as to break down lumps of the clay. At this stage that roughage was added as a bond.

After the pottery is formed, either by a potter’s wheel or more primitive means, it would have been left to thoroughly dry. If the surface was to be furnished, after drying the pottery would have been polished with pebbles and the painted and perhaps engraved.

Idols, funerary offerings, temple deposits were often made of clay. Toys, dolls, games were made by the poor out of clay as it was cheap. Sometimes, the ancient Egyptians used pottery or burial purposes.

In addition, large numbers of smaller objects in enamelled pottery were deposited with the dead. The most common were those now called Osirian figures, usually representing mummies.