The work done by archeologists in helping us put together a picture of life in antiquarian Greece is absolutely critical given the shortage of information from other sources. This is particularly true for the Dark Ages of 1100-750 B.C. when other evidence has been elusive.
Among the archeological evidence, pottery plays a critical part. The earliest pieces date from 29,000 B.C. when it is thought that clay figures were placed in bonfires to process them. Production was advanced when the potter’s wheel came into use sometime between 8,000 and 1,500 B.C. Pottery was the vessel of choice for the storage, transportation and consumption because there were no glass, plastic, tin, or paper or containers in the ancient world. Human beings used pottery in the home for storage, utensils such as drinking cups, and as objects of art.
In Greece, specifically, decorated pottery provides us with a specificity and chronological reference other artifacts do not. There are three reasons for its contribution. First of all pottery is virtually indestructible. Pots break but shards last forever. If a shard has decorations remaining, it can be identified and placed on the historical timeline.
Secondly, a pottery shard has no value so it would always be discarded. Other durable materials such as metals would be melted down and re-used.
The third reason is pottery's use as an expression of art and fashion. There was a continuous stylistic development of Greek pottery over the centuries which includes internal developed styles and influence from outside. The specificity is so remarkable, the time of creation of a piece can often be isolated down to a decade within a single century!
Below are the major periods in the history of Greek pottery.
1050 -------Protogeometic style develops out of debased Mycenaean forms
700s -------Animal and human forms appear
late 700s ---Protocorinthian and “Black figure”
530s -------Athenian “Red figure”
Greek pottery has not only told us much about Greek history, but also about the timing of Greek settlements in the rest of the world. When the Greeks left their homeland, they took the current style of pottery with them. That style, fitted to the timeline, tells us when the settlements occurred.
The photo on the left is copyright Marie-Lan Nguyen.