Exploring the Relationship between Pottery Wheel Technology and Vessel Formation in Classical Greece through an Experimental Archaeological Lens Open Access
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The study of classical Greek pottery has long been a cornerstone in the fields of classical archaeology and art history, but much past scholarship has focused on surface decoration of vessels, studying the iconography, styles, techniques, and processes that produced the elaborately painted decorations on classical Greek ceramics. Comparatively less attention has been devoted to examining the craft of producing the vessels themselves. Little scholarship has provided detailed discussion of the structure and operation of classical Greek pottery wheels, nor has there been detailed analysis of vessel formation techniques beyond brief descriptions of vessels being thrown on the wheel. Combining my experience as a trained potter with an experimental archaeological perspective and building on earlier research analyzing wheel technology and forming techniques in the Greek Bronze Age, my research examines pottery wheel technology and vessel forming techniques employed by classical Greek potters. In light of evidence from recent studies of Greek Bronze Age pottery production that suggest that coil formation and wheel-coiling techniques were used well into the Late Bronze Age, the object of this project is to question traditional interpretations that all classical Greek pottery was formed on the wheel exclusively through throwing. My work seeks to determine whether there is evidence to suggest a continuity of wheel-coiling techniques into the classical period. The central goal of this project will be to understand exactly how the vessels were physically formed and to determine if the capabilities of the classical period wheel would have allowed "true" wheel throwing. In the absence of surviving archaeological evidence, this project analyzes iconographic representations of pottery wheels and potters working on wheels shown on classical vessels. In addition, I consider references and descriptions in ancient literature that discuss the design and manner of operation of wheels as well as forming techniques employed by potters. This project also analyzes secondary literature and experimental archaeological programs, comparing conclusions regarding the formation of Bronze Age ceramics with those for classical pottery. Preliminary results indicate that for the largest of classical vessel forms, it is likely that the wheel-coiling technique used in the Late Bronze Age continued at least in some regions for the classical period. This research highlights the importance of the relationship between the capabilities of the wheel and vessel forming techniques, which impose technological limitations upon the potters themselves, influence the types of vessels produced, and thus affect what is preserved in the archaeological record.