Pre-Dynastic Egypt. Burnished black-topped redware jar. Late Predynastic period, Naqada II, around 3200 BC 31.5 x 17.7 cm.
A container for food for the Afterlife? From a tomb at Abydos, Egypt. These black-topped redware jars are characteristic of the finewares of the later Predynastic period. Burials of the late Predynastic period contain vessels of both fine and coarse wares. Even burials in the cemeteries of the poor often contained a black-topped vessel. They were perhaps filled with food for the Afterlife. The pots were made by coiling ropes of clay to build jars, bowls and bottles. The inside and outside of the vessel were smoothed and red ochre slip was applied. This produced a red colour if enough oxygen was available in the kiln. The black top was achieved by placing the vessel upside down in the kiln, so that the ashes of the fuel stopped oxygen reaching the slip. This resulted in a black colour. The vessel was burnished (polished using a hard object, like a pebble) to produce a shiny finish. Archaeological evidence from Hierakonpolis shows that fineware vessels were fired in special kilns, located in the desert valleys close to the source of the clay used to make them. Potters seem to have specialized in either coarse or fine pottery. The 'crescent-thumb' potter, so-called after his maker's mark, produced only coarse ware vessels. He lived and worked close to his clay source, setting out his wares in front of his house.