Sunday, February 21, 2010
By far the most common artifacts we find in Egypt are pot sherds- broken fragments of ceramic vessels. While not as glamorous as statues, inscriptions or gold jewelry, pottery often tells us much more. Pottery, though easily broken, is very tough stuff and lasts quite well. Also, since a broken pot was of little value in the past, people usually left it lying near where it had broken. As a result fragments of pottery can tell us a great deal about the date, function of a site, and the people who were present.
Archaeologists have standardized ways of drawing pottery for archeological reports (see: www.britarch.ac.uk/yac/YAYA_03_Drawing_pottery.pdf) and one of the things we have to do at the site is to collect samples of the many hundreds of sherds that cover the site and draw and photograph them. We have found some whole pots and ceramic objects at the North Village – an interesting cult stand, just today – but most are just fragments.
Still, even small bits of pottery can tell us a lot and the pottery from this site is particularly interesting. The late Eighteenth Dynasty was a luxuriant age and even the pottery, usually very plain in Dynastic Egypt, was finely finished and sometimes brightly painted. In the later half of the dynasty a new decorative motif of blue lotus petals was used to decorate pottery jars in imitation of floral garlands that had been used earlier to decorate jars at feasts and festivals. The petals were painted in a pale, cobalt blue pigment introduced during this period.
A wide variety of motifs were used besides the petal garlands, including papyrus, flowers, decorative bands, fish, birds and other animals. Vessels sometimes even displayed molded sculptural decoration including bunches of grapes, gazelle heads and heads of the goddess Hathor. The last were among the most favorite of motifs. Here is a sherd from the workman’s village with part of a Hathor head similar to the drawing of the vessel from Amarna above.
This beautiful pottery was found in such great quantities at the sites of Malqata and Amarna, it is sometimes called “Palace Ware.” Here is a pot with a Hathor head from the Metropolitan Museum’s excavations at Malqata.
Other examples of Malqata pottery can be seen on the Met’s website (www.metmuseum.org, collection database, Egyptian Art, search for Malqata).