skip content
what's new
frequently asked questions
complaints procedure
terms and conditions
feedback form
access key details


Pottery has been in use since Neolithic times and has been made in a variety of forms using differing techniques and raw materials. It is often possible to date pottery sherds quite specifically by these differences. As pottery sherds are a common artefact they are often used to date sites and features within those sites. The status of a site may also be assessed by the types of pottery found upon it, for example fine made and imported wares would indicate a higher status site than a locally produced ware.


Clay when dried loses much of its water, but regains it when wetted again. When clay is baked, further water begins to be lost from the molecules at c400ºC, and cannot be replaced – the clay is turned to pottery . Somewhere above 1000ºC the particles begin to fuse, but such temperatures were beyond the control of most early potters. Pottery has many advantages for making containers (the term is usually reserved for the material of vessels, terracotta being the term for baked clay used in other ways). Its raw material is common, shaping and baking it are simple, and it can be given an infinite variety of forms and decorations. The disadvantage that it is fragile proves to the archaeologist to be yet another advantage, since in sherd form it was discarded freely, yet is almost indestructible.


These factors give it enormous value in archaeology. It is one of the commonest finds on any site at which it was used, it is one of the clearest indicators of cultural differences, relationships and developments, and its techniques of manufacture can be comparatively easily recovered by ceramic analysis. It can be shown whether it was modelled, coil-built or wheel-made. The nature of its fabric, ware of body can be identified, as can any surface treatment such as slip, paint or burnish. The wide range of methods of decoration can also be studied. ease of decoration made it the medium which many early peoples first turned to for outlets for their artistic creativity, and so it can often tell us much which we cannot learn elsewhere.