A selection of ceramics through the ages (5 second delay) Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology The Collections:
PotWeb: Ceramics online
@ the Ashmolean Museum
Early Europe & Near East
Classical to Medieval
Europe from 1500
Oriental & Islamic
Prospectus -- Ceramics in the Ashmolean
Egyptian Pottery in the Ashmolean
Largely derived from British excavations in Egypt and Sudan from the 1880s to the 1960s, the Ashmolean's collection represents every phase and aspect of ceramic manufacture in this area, and also significant foreign imports to Egypt, from prehistory to late antiquity.

Predynastic Egypt (about 3800-3050 BC)
Flinders Petrie, founding father of Egyptian field archaeology, used the stylistic evolution of prehistoric pottery to create his 'sequence dating' chronology of early Egypt, published in 1901. The Ashmolean holds the type-series of pots which he used for this research. Today, the wonderful hand-made vessels of this period are equally appreciated for their aesthetic appeal, and inspire the work of modern potters.
Polished red beaker decorated in white with Barbary sheep (Petrie's 'Cross-lined' ware, dating to about 3550 BC)

Analysing the material past
Significant historical developments, patterns of trade and communication, and the presence of new ethnic groups can be documented by observation and analysis of the style, fabric and even the contents of pottery vessels. Over the last three decades, the Ashmolean's comprehensive collection has played its part in many research projects.
Jug of 'Tell el-Yahudiya' ware: this distinctive black ware with impressed decoration is found all over Egypt and the Levant during the period 1750-1550 BC. A research project based on neutron activation analysis demonstrated that these small vessels suitable for costly liquids were being made of local Egyptian clays, even though their form, ware and decoration are quite foreign to Egyptian ceramic tradition.

Sculpture in clay
In the three thousand year span of Egyptian history, pottery in general never again attained the technical finesse shown in prehistoric times: but the prosperous peak of the New Kingdom saw an upsurge in demand for artful vessels and new decorative themes to satisfy a society that was consuming luxury goods from all over the Eastern Mediterranean.

Polished red and black vase in the shape of a hedgehog amidst lotus foliage, about 1500 BC - the size of the vase and its narrow neck suggest that it was destined to contain something like perfume

Nubia - a continuous tradition
In the ancient territory of Nubia (comprising what is now southernmost Egypt and northern Sudan), the production of hand-made pottery of the greatest finesse continued well into the historic period, and even with the change to wheel-made wares, the ceramic skills of this area remained especially notable and idiosyncratic. The accomplished and lively ceramics of ancient Nubia reflect both its interaction with Egypt, and its own strong traditions.

Wheel-made jar of gourd shape, 1st century AD, decorated in red, black and yellow with Pharaonic Egyptian motifs - royal cobras, lions and fans.

What PotWeb can achieve

The Egyptian collections of the Ashmolean, the most important in the UK after those of the British Museum, include over 4,600 ceramic items, the majority being complete vessels. Thanks to Oxford University's early participation in excavations in Sudan, the Nubian collection (including 700 pots) is the most comprehensive in the UK. A representative selection of pottery is displayed in the museum's four Egyptian galleries, and all items are recorded and typologised in a card index which researchers may consult by appointment. The outstanding Predynastic ceramics have been published by Joan Crowfoot Payne (Catalogue of the Predynastic Egyptian Collection in the Ashmolean Museum, 1993, repr. 2000), and other ceramic 'stars' are featured in P.R.S. Moorey's Ancient Egypt (rev. edn 2000). Ashmolean pottery is making a contribution to current research on the ancient resin trade, Palestinian and other imported pottery in early dynastic Egypt and the New Kingdom, pottery-production in the Dakhleh Oasis.

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last updated: jcm/9-dec-2002