What can an ancient pot tell us about the past? A single pot can’t tell us much, but thousands of pots can tell us quite a lot. Archaeologists studying pottery consider how pottery changed over time, where different styles of pottery were found, and how many pots were unearthed in a given place. From shards of ceramic, they are able to piece together the stories of people who lived thousands of years ago.
Changing Styles, Changing World
By looking at the pots from a certain site, archaeologists can determine who ruled an area, who traded with an area, and how wealthy the inhabitants were. In some places, the pottery styles changed very slowly. These towns were probably isolated, resistant to change, and/or not wealthy enough to buy the newest varieties of pots. In other places, new styles of pots would very quickly replace older ones. These faster rates of change could suggest a change in trading routes or a sudden boom in local pottery making. By keeping track of where different styles of pottery appear and in what quantities, archaeologists have found evidence of the rise and fall of Greek influence in Southern Europe.
Analyzing Greek pottery isn’t only useful for reconstructing the history of the ancient world. Scientists are also studying the techniques that the artists used to create these ceramics and examining the pots on an atomic scale. These researchers hope to unlock secrets in their chemistry that will help in the creation of new materials, for use in computers, homes, and even outer space.
Watch the video below to learn about pottery techniques in ancient Greece. Then read the two articles for more on what Greek pottery can tell us about the past—and what it can teach us for the future.