Ethno-archaeological research into pottery production
During several campaigns, ethno-archaeological research was undertaken for the study of traditional pottery production techniques that are still applied in modern Egypt. An understanding of these traditional production techniques can be very useful to understand and interpret archaeologically attested ceramics. In addition, the 'potters' craft' in modern Egypt is on the verge of becoming extinct (mainly due to the 'plastic-revolution'), so the documentation of the traditional techniques has become urgent. Several days were spent at two different potters' workshops to record the complete production process from the preparation and trampling of the clay to the firing of the vessels. The whole process was fully described, photographed and even some short films were made.
The first workshop is situated in neighbouring al-Rawda near the canal-side road, rather distant from the village. It is owned by two brothers, who, besides being farmers, have the pottery business as an additional source of income. The workshop is quite small and consists of a small hut, an open courtyard with trampling pit and two very small kilns. The brothers are specialized in the production of pots called gidr which are globular, porous containers with two or three handles and an out-turned rim for pouring. The large gidr is used for the storage and cooling of water, the smaller ones to hold milk. Besides the gidr, also very simple bowls are made, used for the feeding of poultry . All these pots are made by the same technique: they are formed in a hole in the ground with the use of the paddle and anvil-technique. When the vessels are finished, they are left to dry in the open courtyard and afterwards they are fired in the small kiln.
The Manfalut-workshop is situated just aside the provincial road that runs through Middle Egypt, in the province of Asyut. It is much larger and provides a full income for the whole family. The brothers Sayyid en Nasir are the moving forces of the workshop as they are responsible for the clay preparation and the throwing of the vessels. Their father, Abu Saïd is in charge of the loading, firing and unloading of the kiln and also of the drying of the vessels while the little brother Mustafa is a jack-of-all-trades. The potters apply themselves to the production of so-called zirs. These large ponderous containers can be seen all over Egypt and are generally used for the storage of water. In winter, the potters produce bowls that are used for milking water buffalo, as the demand for zirs is only high during spring and summer. During several days, we observed the whole chaîne opératoire of the production of zirs. These jars are made in different phases by a combination of two techniques, namely coiling and turning on the kick-wheel. For the coiling, enormous coils are used, one arm-length long which explains why the vessels have to be supported with rope strings.
The observation and recording of the whole production processes of both workshops helped us tremendously in the understanding and analysis of the ancient production techniques, their time investment, and the use of raw materials.