Early African Pottery

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Conical vase with a pointed base, cream with zig zag red lines: early African pottery

Early African pottery: Vase from Nubia (modern Sudan), ca. 3000 BC

The idea of making pottery got started in China and Japan about 14,000 BC. People probably used clay pots as a way of storing food or fermenting fish. Pottery-making slowly spread west to India, Iran, Mesopotamia, and then from there to Africa. People in East Africa started to make clay pots about 6000 BC. From Sudan and Ethiopia to Egypt, African pottery styles are very similar.

By 400 BC, pottery-making had spread as far west as West Africa. In West Africa, Nok and Yoruba potters made pottery. They were also using clay to make large clay sculptures.

Pot from the Congo, ca. 1000 AD

Pot from the Congo, ca. 1000 AD

About 200 AD, the Nok and Yoruba cultures in West Africa evolved into the Ife and Benin kingdoms. These kingdoms also produced their own distinctive pottery. Further south, in Congo, the Kisalian culture started to produce pottery about 900 AD.

Islamic pottery from Carthage (Byrsa Museum, modern Tunisia), ca. 1100 AD

Islamic pottery from Carthage (Byrsa Museum, modern Tunisia), ca. 1100 AD

After the collapse of the Roman Empire, North African pottery factories kept right on making pottery. They still sold their pots all over the Mediterranean area. When they became part of the Islamic Empire in the late 600s AD, North African potters kept on working. Imitating Chinese pottery that came to Africa along the Silk Road, North African potters now colored their pots white with various colors. They made their colors with metal and glass glazes as we do today. But during the Middle Ages, North African factories slowly lost business to pottery producers in Iraq and Iran and China. Instead of selling pottery, now East Africans bought Chinese and Iranian pottery.

Learn by doing: make a clay pot
Egyptian Pottery
African Red Slip pottery
Islamic pottery

Bibliography and further reading about African pottery:

Egyptian Pottery
Roman Pottery
Islamic Pottery
Early African Art
Ancient Africa
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By |2018-04-09T10:31:08+00:00May 19th, 2017|Africa, Art|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Early African Pottery. Quatr.us Study Guides, May 19, 2017. Web. December 18, 2018.

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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