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PRIMITIVE

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V05, Page 707 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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PRIMITIVE POTTERY We can group together that great and widely-spread class of vessels made by the primitive races of mankind, whether before the dawn of civilization or at the present day, for it is interesting to note that many modern races still make pottery by the same rude method as the Neolithic races of Europe and Asia, and with striking similarityof result. In fact, the knowledgeof themethods and practices of the primitive potters of our own time furnishes the best possible guide to the methods of fabrication and ornamentation of the ancient specimens that are dug up from barrows, grave mounds, and tumuli. It is only natural that the materials and methods of such pottery are always of the simplest. The clay is used with very little preparation, and it is no unusual thing to find bits of stone, gravel, &c., embedded in the paste of such wares, though at a later stage of development they would have been removed. It must be remarked, however, that no race of potters practised the art for long without discovering that their vessels were not so liable to crack in drying, or lose their shape in firing, if fine sand or pounded " potsherds " were mixed with the clay; and when we are dealing with the work of races that have passed beyond the Stone Age and have learned the use of metals we find this custom universal. There are three methods of shaping which seem to be common to almost every primitive race: r. The scooping out of a vessel from a ball of clay. 2. The building up of a form, often on a piece of basket-work or matting, gradually raising the walls higher by applying and smoothing down successive layers of clay. 3. Coiling; in which the clay is rolled out into thin ropes, and these are coiled round and round upon each other and smoothed down with the hands and with simple tools of bone, wood or metal.The use of the potter's wheel is unknown, while it is remarkable how beautifully true and finely-fashioned much primitive pottery is. The primitive red a,nd black vases discovered by Flinders Petrie in Egypt, and the somewhat similar vessels of prehistoric date from Spain, are remarkable instances of this. Some primitive races leave their pottery without decoration, especially when they have a fine red-burning clay to work in, but, generally speaking, primitive pottery of every race and time is elaborately decorated, but only with the simplest patterns. Such decorations consist of lines, dots or lunette-shaped depressions arranged in crosses, chevrons, zigzags or all-over repeated pattern. All this ornament is scratched or impressed into the clay before it is fired. Simplest of all is, perhaps, the pattern which has so obviously been produced by pressing a twisted thong round the neck or bowl of a vase; though the thong may have been used in the first instance merely to serve as a support while the vessel was dried. At a later stage the ornament is generally obtained by scratching with a tool, by pressing the end of a hollow stick into the clay to form rows of circles, by using a stick cut at the end into the shape of a half-moon, or other equally simple decorative device. In certain tropical countries this rudimentary pottery becomes hard enough for a certain amount of use when merely dried in the sun, but in all northern and temperate countries it must have been fired, probably in the most imperfect way, in an open fire or in such a kiln as could be formed by sinking a hole into the ground and erecting round it a screen of stones. How imperfect the firing was is shown bythe ashen-grey colour due to smoke. In those countries where the ware has been more perfectly fired the pieces naturally become buff, drab, brown or red. The primitive vessels that have been found in the grave-mounds of England and the northern countries generally have received a number of fanciful names for which there is very little warrant except in the case of the cinerary urns. These are generally the largest vessels of this class, and as they were used to contain burnt bones there seems sufficient warrant for the sup-position that they were made for this and for no other purpose. Our knowledge of primitive pottery has been greatly improved during recent years by the labours of a number of American students connected with the United States Geological Survey, who have carefully recorded the present-day practices of those native tribes who make and use pottery in various parts of North America and Mexico; while, in the same way, Peruvian, Brazilian and other South American pottery has been as closely investigated by European observers. It should be noted that no primitive pottery reveals any trace of a knowledge of glaze, though much of it has been highly polished after firing, and in some cases a varnish has been applied which may perhaps be regarded as the earliest kind of " glazing " ever applied to pottery vessels. Kabyle Pottery," Journ. Anth. Inst. vol. xxxii. p. 245, and " Upper Egypt," ibid. xxxv. p. 2o; Myres, " Early Pottery Fabrics of Asia Minor," Journ. Anth. Inst. xxxiii. p. 367; Turveren Museum, Notes analytiques sur les collections ethnographiques du Congo, tome ii. (1907) ; Cupart, Debuts de l'art de l'ancienne Egypte (1903). (W. B.*)
End of Article: PRIMITIVE
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