Pottery is one of the oldest arts of mankind. Sun-dried bricks were used in
Egypt about as early as human beings are known to have been there~. China and
the European countries were discovering ways to use clay at about the same
time, give or take a thousand years or so.
Primitive people discovered a sticky mud that clung to their digging tools.
Unlike soil or sand it was hard to wash off their tools, hands and feet. It
didn’t crumble when they squeezed a handful as dirt does. In fact, it held the
shape of the hand that squeezed it. It shrunk a little as it dried in the sun,
but it retained the tiny lines of the palm of the hand.
Clay’s particles are very small and, when wet, they slide against each other.
When dry, they cling close together, making it hard. When baked to more than
1,000 degrees F, the particles fuse together.
I’ve often put a chunk of clay on a youngster’s high chair tray and watched
the child get acquainted with it. Once he gets by the “not to eat” stage,
he’ll poke his fingers into it, slap it or pound it out flat like a cookie.
With a blunt tool, he’ll dig and slice the stuff and make holes in it. Or they
roll it into worms or snakes. Would a primitive child do likewise? Of course.
Older children “explore” clay by making balls and throwing or rolling them
to each other -- or throwing them at each other. Some poke fingers in to make
eyes, nose and mouth. Then they add clay to make ears and scratch it to make
hair. Later they make animals or figures of people.
Primitive~ children probably did the same. I imagine that children in widely
scattered parts of the world helped their parents disco~ver the miracle of
The miracle is that heat makes the stuff hard and that lots of heat makes it
Perhaps the kids’ clay chunks dried in the sun. Rain would have dissolved
them, and the clay could have been used again. Perhaps someone tossed a dry
chunk into the fire to destroy it or to see if it would burn. Pieces not
thoroughly dry would have exploded with a loud noise. Later, poking through
the ashes, it was discovered that dry objects had survived, and water could
not dissolve them. What’s more, the ~maker’s finger marks survived, too!
Primitive people made baskets for gathering nuts and fruit, and they searched
for ways to carry water so they could travel farther in search of food. They
learned to line their baskets with clay and, when it was not completely dry,
the baskets would hold water. Once dry, the bottle baskets were useless and
were probably tossed in the fire. Some of the earliest chards have the print
of a basket on the convex sides.
Those finger marks prompted people to tell stories by scratching designs into
the clay with sharp rocks, sticks or animal bones. Early pottery tell us a
great deal about how our early ancestors lived.
It is said that the first stage of savagery involved learning to catch and eat
fish and to build fires. The second stage was characterized by the invention
of tools -- stone tools, bows and arrows, etc. The invention of pottery was
the third stage. It enabled people to store and cook food and carry water,
thus avoiding famine. Next came periods of barbarism when seeds were put into
the ground to produce food.