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red clay plate with black designs on it

Mesopotamian plate, made by kids at Laurelhurst School, Portland Oregon

Mesopotamia is where the pottery wheel was invented

West Asia was not the first place on earth where people began to use clay to make pottery dishes and bowls and cups: that happened much earlier in China and Japan. But West Asia was the first place where people used a pottery wheel to make pottery much faster, starting about 5000 BC in the late Stone Age. This was the first spinning wheel, and it seems that people got the idea for wagon wheels from these early pottery wheels.

History of pottery
Invention of the wheel
Stone Age art in West Asia
The Stone Age in West Asia
All our West Asia articles

New decorations on the pottery

By about 3500 BC, at the beginning of the Bronze Age, people began to make geometric designs on their dishes, partly to make the dishes more beautiful, and partly to identify the city or tribe they belonged to. This plate is a copy of one from the Sumerian period, about 3000 BC. Using a pottery wheel, you could make circles very easily, so painters used a lot of circles to decorate their pottery.

Who were the Sumerians?
Bronze Age timeline
More about circles

A plate from northern Mesopotamia, about 5000 BC

A plate from northern Mesopotamia, about 5000 BC

Make your own Mesopotamian plate

You can make a Mesopotamian plate of your own by painting Mesopotamian designs like these on to a plain clay dish like those sold in garden centers to go under flowerpots. Or, make your own clay dish and then paint it. You could use felt markers, or tempera paint, or house paint. Or use crayons to decorate a paper plate!

More about Sumerian art

Bibliography and further reading about Mesopotamia:

Molding clay bricks
Bicycle racing
Backgammon project
West Asian games
A day in West Asia home