At the invention of the Pottery Wheel, a new process of pottery making began. The potter placed a lump of clay on the wheel and squeezed, lifted, and shaped it. Potters could now make pots much faster than before. That begs the question of where did it get invented?
Who invented the pottery wheel? Most modern archaeologists agree that ancient Sumeria invented the pottery wheel. The Sumerians lived in Mesopotamia, the southern part of modern-day Iraq. They invented it somewhere in 4,000 BC. It revolutionized what people could do with clay.
If you’d like to learn more about the invention of the pottery wheel, please continue reading because we’re going to dive much deeper into the subject.
Sumerians—The First Urban Civilization
Archaeologists credit the Sumerians as the first urban civilization. The people settled into villages, and the villages turned into towns. From towns, the Sumerians had mighty city-states like Ur, Nippur, Eridu, Kish, and Lagash. Of the most sprawling, you had Uruk, which grew to an estimated 40,000 to 80,000 inhabitants as a thriving trade hub.
Historians characterize the Late Uruk period for its wheel-made pottery. None of it happened overnight. The pottery wheel first started as a slow wheel, and then they developed a faster-paced wheel. After the invention of the pottery wheel, the Sumerians no longer had to shape the clay with just their hands. The process sped up.
As an invention, the pottery wheel has significance because it allowed for mass production. They could now produce massive quantities of pots, which supported a larger population in the cities.
In particular, the pottery wheel made life easier for large administrative systems. The pottery let them hold large agricultural products like milk, barley, beer, and dates.
Some potters at this time specialized in the mass production of pottery. Specialized districts within communities emerged during this time, but despite the wheel’s invention, not everyone produced pottery on the wheel.
The Most Distinguished Pottery of the Sumerians
If you were to talk about the most distinguished pottery from the Sumerians, you would say that it came from the Late Uruk period with beveled-rim bowls, which they hand-molded. These bowls largely held no decoration, and they mass-produced them, becoming the most common at the time. An estimated 75 percent of all pottery found in ancient Uruk pottery sites were beveled-rim bowls.
What the Invention of the Pottery Wheel Meant
When the pottery wheel first appeared, it led to a division of labor and job specializations. They continually searched for ways to speed up the production of pots and looked at everything in the process, including the shaping, decorating, and firing. Because of the pottery wheel’s invention, trade exploded across the region and led to modern civilization’s development.
The techniques at the pottery wheel gradually improved as more people began to use it. What we see today as throwing wasn’t the first technique used on the wheel. They described the turntable making process as a type of fast coiling.
Role of Men in Pottery Changes
Before the invention of the wheel, women had responsibility for basket weaving, child-rearing, and making pottery through the coiling technique. At the emergence of the pottery wheel, men stepped into the dominating role as pottery makers. Historians believe that men took over pottery because of the massive demand for ceramics. Women had many commitments that they had to fulfill, from child-rearing to preparing food.
Many people during this time stepped into the role of full-time potters. In ancient Sumeria, the invention of the pottery wheel led to specializations. While you still had people who hunted or fished, some took on specific trades. We should point out that before the invention of the pottery wheel, societies in the Middle East were matriarchal or females held the primary positions of power in the villages. Slowly, society developed a more patriarchal slant in the urban communities.
The Wheel in Egypt
The earliest records of the pottery trade first show up in Egypt in 2500 BC. Here, we see the development of the pottery wheel and what led to its creation up to the Holy Roman Empire. Pictures in the hieroglyphics show up revealing the potters as shaping the clay with an assistant holding the bowl and smoothing it out.
In addition, you see the ancient Egyptians lighting a kiln. They take the pots from the kiln, and one man hands the pots to another. They carry this using a pair of wicker baskets and a wooden yoke across the back to hold it.
With the earliest wheels, we should understand how they didn’t turn as freely as today’s pottery wheels. The ones that they made most likely came from wood or stone. The potter would have an assistant or apprentice do the turning of the wheel as he made the clay. Gradually, they made improvements to the momentum, speed, and power.
When Did the Faster Wheel First Develop?
The earliest records of the faster wheel first show up in the 7th century in Cyprus, an island north of Egypt and southeast of Greece. What we have today is the most modern version of the electric wheel.
Invented in Sumeria?
We talked about the Sumerians being widely accepted as the first inventors of the pottery wheel, but you should understand how not everyone believes this. Some believe that China or southeastern Europe invented the pottery wheel. The Lung-shan culture of China, for example, was thought to have begun making pottery wheels 5,500 years ago, during the Late Neolithic period. Some also believe that the ancient Greeks first invented the pottery wheel. We point this out not for the confusion but so that you can understand the big picture.
Most evidence points to the ancient Sumerians in modern-day southern Iraq as the inventors of the pottery wheel. To give you an idea of its simplicity, the pottery wheel first started as a simple cart with a wheel. Over time, it developed into what we have today. Its first invention had a revolutionizing impact on the culture. It allowed our societies to urbanize and become much larger. During that time, Uruk is thought to have been the largest city in the world, supporting 40,000 to 80,000 inhabitants, and it should come as no surprise that the city-state had a reputation for ceramics.