THE POTTER'S WHEEL
IN BASIC ENGLISH
by
ERICK BERRY

I
EARTH, FIRE, AND WATER

There was a dry hole in the side of the slope, high and wide, but with a mouth so narrow that it was possible to keep animals out by rolling a stone across it. The man and the woman were pleased with their discovery, and had a good look at the place to make certain that there was no one living there . They had come a long way, journeying on the edge of a sand waste, looking for wood, water, and some place like this which would give them cover. The man had a cutting instrument of stone with which to put to death animals for food, and the woman got roots, seeds, and young green plants to put with the meat.
    When they had been in the hole for some days they came to the decision to go on living there. There was sweet water, and they had no trouble in getting meat. The man took his stone instrument and went off after animals. 'The woman was pulling up roots, and, needing a basket to put them in, she had a look round for some grass with which to make one. In the land from which she had come women made baskets
    - 7 -
    - 8 -
from grass and river plants and the young, green branches of certain trees. She saw some grass, but it was not good. When the basket was made it was rough and stiff, and would not keep together. She was troubled by this.
    Then one morning when she was getting water from the river-bed, she put her foot in some wet, red earth. It was sticky and her foot became caked with it. Here was a new material. When her feet were dry again she saw that they were still coated with the earth. So she got more of it and put it all round the inside of the basket. In time the sun made it hard and dry.
    " Here, " she said to herself happily, " is a new way to keep the seeds and berries and roots which we get. They will be safer from insects and rats than in the grass baskets." She made more baskets, covering them inside with earth from the river-bed.
    One day, when she was cooking a meal for the man, and had a very warm fire burning, she saw a great bear going in the direction of their living- place. It came to a stop by a tree to get some berries, and the woman, dropping her basket and letting out a cry, went running off to get the man to come and put it to death. The animal got away, but when the woman came back to the fire her food was burned and so was the basket, which had gone in the fire.
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That is to say, every bit of the grass was burned away and the earth forming the inside was quite black, but, strange as it seemed, no great damage had been done to it. There it was among the burned sticks, still keeping the form of the basket, a sort of rough, badly-made basin, without lip, or cover, or base, but at least a basin
    The woman took it up, and was about to put it on one side in disgust. Then, seating herself on an auth, she gave some thought to this new thing. Turning it over, she put it up against the light. and gave it a little blow with her finger. Its weight was almost that of stone, and it was impossible to see through and gave out a low note. The woman put it on one side, much interested in her discovery. At that minute the man's voice came to her ears crying " Where is my food ? " The woman quickly made another fire and put on more meat, all thought of the lbasin gone from her mind.
    But the day after, while she was working in their living-place, she had need for water. A basket of grass, however tightly the bits of grass were twisted in and out, would not keep water in it. Would this new basket of cooked earth be of any use ? She took it up and got water from theĽ river, and all that day not a drop of the water came through. Without doubt there was some strange power in the fire.
   
    This is not a true story. But it is not an impossible story. In some such way, five or ten , thousand, or more, years back, a woman made the first pot of the earth which is named ' clay." In
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these early days men went about from place to place, living on meat, roots, berries, and the green stems of young plants. They did no planting, and kept no animals , they had only natural produce, and when that was all gone in one place, they were forced to go on to another. In fact, the need for food kept them moving all the time.
    Then, by degrees, through the working of chance, there came a change. North Africa, where a great number of persons were living in these very early days, was slowly becoming dryer, turning into what is now named the Sahara. Animals and men were all massed together in the north-east, where at least they were certain of getting water all through the year from the Nile. Here for the first time men were starting to give up their old ways of living for a more complex form of existence.
    These early Egyptians were the first to keep animals inside walled spaces. Some of them, as we see from their early pictures, were most surprising animals, like the ibex and the hyena. Men were still in the stage of testing everything. If they had only got as far as keeping animals for their everyday use, these men would still have been forced to go from place to place, because they would still have had to keep on looking for new grass-land for their animals. But at almost the same time they got the idea of increasing their stores of food by planting roots and seeds.
    At about this time someone made the discovery that it was possible for clay, which was soft enough to be worked by hand, to be changed into
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a substance as hard and strong as stone by first drying and then burning it. Before this they had baskets, hollow horns from animals, and skin bags, but these were of no use for heating water over a fire. The only cooking was done by putting meat on wood sticks over the fire, and by placing roots among the warm coals. But the first him rough cooking-pots made it possible for these men and women to make use of more grass seeds for food, and more roots, because this new of cooking in water made the food better for the digestion. These grass seeds were planted
    [ pictures of three pots ]
    Early pots made by hand.
and cared for till they became millet, wheat, and barley. In other parts of the earth different grass seeds were being planted, and in time these became maize, rye, rice, and so on.
    It is true that in some parts of the earth water- cooking has been done by dropping heated stones inn the water-vessel. But in no place where this system has been used have the men and women gone far in the development of more complex ways of living. The potter has good reason for saying that the early pot was responsible for giving men grain as food, and that this made men take up farming, and so it became possible for a great
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number living in one place to have enough food -- at which stage the arts and sciences of peace came into being for the first time. It is a discovery possibly no less important than that of fire or of writing. Without fire there would have been no cooking-pots. Without cooking-pots there would have been no development in which writing was needed or was possible.
    By looking with care at examples in our museums you may see how these earliest pots were made. The same processes are used today by groups at an early stage of development. You may, if you are interested, make pots for yourself, rough, but strong enough to be used, without any instruments or special oven, in the very same way as the men and women of early times made their pots.
    First the woman (the first potters were probably women), using her nails or a pointed stick, got clay from a field or the side of a river. Then she made these bits of clay soft with water, so that, by working them through her fingers, she was able to get out all the bits of stone. After this the clay was pulled and pushed and twisted about till it was mixed smoothly together, and every bit of it was like every other bit. If some of the clay was softer and wetter than the rest, one part of the pot would get dry before the rest, and it might become cracked even before it had been ' fired ' by being kept in the heat of the fire till it was hard. When this was done she made a start with the base of the pot. The base was formed inside a smooth, almost flat, basin made from a calabash, or possibly inside the curved base
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of the last broken pot, which she had been keeping for this purpose. You see, with long experience there had come the discovery that the rounder a pot is the less danger there is of its cracking.
    Now, taking more clay, she made long rolls of it, forming these into circles one on top of the other, and so building up the sides of the vessel. She kept some water near for her fingers, which, like. the basin she was forming the pot in, had to be wet so that the clay wouldn't become caked on them. With the help of the water every roll of clay was joined smoothly to the one under it. When she came to the top she made the last roll thicker, like a lip, so that it would be stronger. Turning the vessel upside down on its mouth, with a twisting motion, she took off the basin in which the base had been formed, and made the pot quite smooth.
    Now she had to let the pot get as dry as possible in the sun. After some days it might be ready for firing. She then came with her arms full of dry grass, leaves, and small branches, and put them with great care under, round, and over the pot, which was now dry, but in a condition in which it would be readily broken. The trick of firing is to get the same heat all round the pot, increasing it very slowly. If expansion takes place in one part of the vessel before the rest is ready, a crack is formed. If it is not dry enough, or not equally dry all over, or if the heat is unequal, the pot will become cracked in the same way. For this reason the woman took great are of her pot, moving the fire with a stick when necessary.
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When the tire was getting low, the woman took care to keep the pot well covered with the burning wood. It is almost as important for it to get cold all over at the same time as for it to be heated equally. There is the same danger of cracking. It may be a day before the pot is cold enough to take in the hands. Then the woman, hoping for the best, gives it a soft blow with the back of her hand. If it is equally thick all through, has no cracks, and has been fired long enough, it will give out quite a pleasing note. In the markets of countries like India and Persia everyone makes this test before getting a pot.
    At the end of this long process the woman had a basin, a cooking-pot, or a great water-pot for the door of her little house, not completely water-tight when it was new, but quite good for keeping water in, able to be heated, and strong enough for everyday use. It was rough and unpolished like a brick or a common flower-pot of today. But it was able to be used in ways which no basket, leather bag, cow's horn, or wood basin had ever been. It took a man months of hard work to make a basin of wood. To the early potter, and to you yourself if you have ever made one, a rough clay pot has a secret and beautiful quality which no one but the maker sees.
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2
LEARNING HISTORY FROM POTS

Hana was crying. The best water-pot was broken, and she had done it. It was a pot made of earth with two hand-parts, and round the middle, which was the widest part of the pot, it had a band of flowers, painted in black on the dark red clay. Its lip was wide and deep, so that the water came out smoothly.
    " There is no need to make such a noise about it," said her mother. " Why all this crying ? The boats will be here from Egypt in a short time and then you will be able to go down to the sea-side with your father and get another pot. But take all the bits now and put them with the rest of the waste, by the old -tree."
    So Hana's pot, which had come across the Adriatic and the Mediterranean all the way from Egypt, went to keep company with other broken bits of pots and waste material and this and that, under the tree.
    Four thousand years went slowly by. The town in which Hana had been living was burned down, and everything of any value taken away from it ; and other towns which came into existence in its place were attacked and burned in the same way.
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    The fig-tree and its seed, though it went on flowering for hundreds of years, was dead and gone now, and the place where the pot had been dropped was deep down under the earth.
    Then came men, a great number of men. Some had white skins, as different as possible from Hana's light, smooth, brown skin, and some had strange light hair, or hair which was brown and straight, quite unlike Hana's, which had been full of little waves and very black. Their clothing was strange, the colour of earth, and they had wide hats to give them shade from the sun and high boots which came to the knee, and they took with them spades of different sorts and cameras and trays with very small holes for separating earth from stones and so on, and complex measuring instruments, and even small delicate brushes with which to give the last touches to their strange work. With them were other men, dark as Hana had been, and possibly even of the same blood. But all the work they did was watched over with care by one of the white men.
    " Make a long narrow hole across here, and take care," said one of the white men. " And another which will go across it here. And one here," which was where Hana's fig-tree had been years before.
    So the dark men made a start with their spades, and slowly the earth was lifted from the place where house waste had been put thousands of years before. Every bit of earth was twice put through the tray with the holes in it, and then placed in a bag and taken away to have the same operation done again. At last they came across
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a bit of a broken pot, only a little bit, not more than two inches long and three wide, the curved bit by the lip.
    The dark man went running to the white man and said, " Come quickly, because we have got something."
    So for days and days, with very great care, the white man kept watch over the work. He came across Hana's water-pot, every bit of it, even after all these years, because the work of a good potter is almost as strong as stone, and sometimes when there has been a great fire, it is even less damaged by time. They came across other broken bits, some of them much deeper down and almost a thousand years older than Hana's bits. Less ornamented bits, roughly and badly fired, but still clearly pots, and still having on them the marks made at the edge by the grass cord which had been put round the pot when it was tired.
    Then all these bits, ticketed and marked and numbered with the greatest care, were put into parcels and sent off to an expert in London, who had more knowledge about pots four or five thousand years old than about how to get teacups at the nearest Woolworth's. The broken bits were all put together, one by one, and fixed into place. There was Hana's pot, looking as it had done five minutes before it had been broken.
    These men were ' archaeologists ' --- men who were interested in learning about the ' archaic,' or dd. They had come from the Universities of England and Italy, and from those of America and Germany and France, and even Japan, to get out of the earth everything which had to do with an
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earlier stage in man's history, so that they might have a fuller knowledge of the past.
    From Hana's water-pot, which they came across at the place where the town of Knossos had been in Crete, an island which had been expert in the arts long before the Greeks were anything more than keepers of sheep, the discovery was made that a great number of such pots had come from Egypt. This design was
    [ picture of ornamental pot ]
    Egyptian pot.
Egyptian, not Cretan, and the clay was of a sort which came only from one place in Egypt, a certain town on the Nile. It was not a very beautiful pot such as, for example, might have been sent as a special offering from a Pharaoh to a Minos. No, it was common clay, of the sort sent across the sea by traders, possibly in exchange for the dark-red colouring substance for which Crete was noted, or possibly in exchange for linen, or for fish or sponges. With the help of this broken pot , these men were able to make a map of part of the
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early trade ways across the Mediterranean , they were able to say when the water-pot was made, and where, and almost, but not quite, by whom. If it had been an offering to some ruler, designed and ornamented by one of the great potters, they might have had a knowledge even of that.
    Even in time of war, when an army has done its worst, taking away everything of value and burning the town, these records of man's past are safe from destruction. Who would see any value in broken bits of a pot put outside by the woman of the house ? And the only effect of the violent heat of a burning town on the soft and not very well-fired clay of early pots was to make it harder.
    In Pompeii they came across special stores which did a trade in nothing but pots. There are, in addition, those places where the town waste was put in times so far back in the past that we no longer even have stories about them. Here the men go with their spades, working with all possible care, recording with cameras, maps, and notes everything they come across. Slowly one level after another is uncovered, one stage of history after another, and at every stage the discovery of what sort of society it was and which groups were present in the town is made, not from the jewels of rulers, or the records of men of religion, but from common cooking-pots which were broken and put out of the house as waste by their owners.
    In old Britain, Roman Gaul, and Italy, in France and Cornwall, in Peru before the Spanish got there, in Mexico and Yucatan before the days
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of recorded history, in the flat lands of Hungary, in Tartary, among the places of the dead in China and the south of Brazil, in countries all over the earth men are at work uncovering these things, putting them together, learning everything possible from their discoveries, and then giving us the outcome of their work. Of all the things uncovered by them, nothing is of so much value to these experts as the broken bits of old-time pots, things which had no value at all thousands of years back.
    [ picture of -- ]
    Fired brick of Babylon
    In later times the fired bricks of Babylon and Assyria, which have on them the records of the everyday existence of common persons, of armies and wars, and observations about the motions of the stars, make a library of great size and value, the first of its sort. Even now not all these books have been put into our language, though it is from these Babylon. records that most of our knowledge of these early societies comes. Bricks fired in ovens have been uncovered in most of the important places where there are signs of the old towns of Babylon. They were marked before being fired, with a stamp cut in wood, or earth, and a great number have on them the name of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon.
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    An interesting side-line of the potters was the making. of ' ostraka,' which were used in giving public political decisions. These were bits of pots used in the Athenian system of sending out of the town men who were looked on as a danger. On these bits of pot were put the names of certain public men who, in the opinion of their countrymen it would be wise to send out of the town for the public good. All the free men of the town came together once a year for this purpose, and at least 6,000 men had to take part ; the man who got the most marks against his name had to go away from Athens for ten years. There is a story
    [ images ]
    Ostraka from Athens.
of Aristeides, who, walking among the general public, was requested by someone of no education to put ' Aristeides ' on his brick. When requested to say what he had against the man he was desiring to send away, his answer was, "Nothing I am tired of hearing him named Aristeides the Good."
    These bits of pot, even some with the name of Aristeides on them, have come to light among the old stones of Athens. They are simply broken bits of pots, with the name of some man marked across them. Sometimes the wrong letters are used in writing the name.
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    However far back we go into history we never come to a time so early that any men were living completely by themselves, untouched by other groups, and without trade or some form of society. No one group, no one family even, ever seemed, like Robinson Crusoe, to make all its instruments of war, its pots and cloth, fishing nets and knives for itself. Some of the earliest pots, some of the earliest instruments, were made by groups of experts coming together from different groups and journeying from a distance to do their work together.
    It has even been said, with good reason, that among some early societies learners did the first rough working of the clay, and more expert workmen and women did the forming, the colouring, and the firing. Naturally, this would only be possible if men were living together in groups at peace with one another, not in the condition of every-man's-hand-against-his-brother which is so frequently pictured in history books about early men.
    Through present-day knowledge, through his spade-work and the delicate business of building up pots from broken bits, the archaeologist has gone even further. He has been able to make maps of the roads across Europe and Asia by which trade in jewels, in stone instruments, in pots, went from one small town to another, from places in the iiat lands to places in the mountains. Such a network of trade lines, stretching over a map of the earth as it seemed to men in these early times, is very like a railway map of today. Every time more of the early places of the dead and more early towns are uncovered, and looked at with
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great care, this network becomes more and more complex, till we are quite certain now that in early times, as today,there were men going from place to place with goods to be marketed, and trade connections with far-off places. Much of this knowledge has come from pots.
    The work which has been done in Yucatan in the past ten years by the Mexican Government and the Carnegie Foundation has made it clear that the Maya nation came, in our stage of history, from an older group of towns far south and west of the United States. They took with them their old ways of living, their beliefs and religion and fighting instruments, their surprisingly complex calendar, their knowledge of mathematics and the stars. But, and here is the strange thing, they did not take their pots with them. Archaeologists have made the discovery that the pots in the older towns far in the south-west are completely different from those uncovered where the later towns of Chichin and Uxmal were.
    So we are almost certain that the Mayas did not go on with their old process of making pots and their old designs, but took up, in pot-making only, the processes of forming and firing and painting used by whatever groups they came across in Yucatan when they got there, much as you might go to Mexico tomorrow and take with you everything from your house but the cups and plates. You might have done this because they were so delicate, or such a great weight that the trouble of moving them was greater than the pleasure of having them with you. When you came to Mexico, you got new cups with Mexican designs, and went on using that sort for the rest of your days.
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    For a complete nation to take over another nation's way of making something is very uncommon, the archaeologists say. They don't give us any reasons for it, or any account of what took place. It seems possible, however, that when the Mayas got to the new place, they may have had to make use of a completely different sort of clay, which was no good for the old processes which they were used to. After attempting to make pots in their old way, possibly with less firing, or possibly of more complex designs which were not right for the new clay, they wisely took the view that those who had been living in the country the longest time were the best judges, and so made use of their processes.
    [image of Greek water-pot]
    [ Greek water-pot. ]
    In the same way, from a water-pot ornamented with twisted flowers, we get some of our knowledge about old-time Corinth, one of the colonies of Greece. From its special colours, and specially from the way in which the flowers are twisted into a design, the expert is able to say that it is a pot of the sort which has frequently been unearthed in Chalcis, Asia Minor. From this it is clear to archaeologists that the potters of Corinth were at this time in touch with the designers of
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the far East. Possibly some pots coming from Chalcis by ship had such high prices given for them and went so quickly that the storekeepers gave orders for more pots of the same sort. Possibly a potter from the East made such good pots that his design was copied by potters of Corinth. There is some way simple reason at the back of all these changing designs and tendencies.
    Most of the knowledge which we have of men and women in far-away times has come to us through their pots. When instruments of different sons were made of metal in place of stone, pots were the only things still in use which were common enough and hard enough to come down through the Years and give us their story. Things made of parts of animals or plant material -- goods made of wool or grass, skins, wood, and baskets -- only keep in good condition in such dry, warm countrys as Egypt. Metal goods, other than things of iron, had value even when broken, and gold, silver, tin, copper, and other highly valued metals were first heated till they became liquid, and then used again year after year-though sometimes a dead chief had his gold and silver, or copper, put in the earth with him to be used by him in another existence.
    These early men were greatly helped in writing by the potter's art. Flat clay bricks such as they had in early Assyria were still used even in competition with the paper-like leaves of the papyrus plant. The brick, when the writing had been put on it, was dusted over with dry powdered clay and then rolled in a clay cover and tired. No one was able to see what was in the letter without
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cracking open the cover, and if a new cover was rolled on and fired, it would be seen that the brick inside had been fired twice. The clay brick was better for keeping than papyrus, or leather, or the outer skin of trees, or wood, or wax, or even the paper of today. It was, so it seems, almost as simple to make use of as papyrus, and simpler than stone and all the other writing materials used in the old days.
    The making of pots was one of the first stages in the development of art, and the old process of making things in clay still goes on, together with the old processes of cutting designs on stone and on wood, and painting on walls.
    Pots and stone basins were used by the early metal workers in working the first hammerheads of ' bronze ' -- a metal made of copper and tin -- which took the place of the earlier ones of stone. Vessels made of tired clay were used for heating the metals to make them liquid. The same sort of vessels are used today, though we have made the discovery of better clays, and tricks such as putting bone dust with them to make the material able to take greater heat.
    Pot-making gave us bricks for our walls, material for our roofs and floors, and drain-pipes for our water-system. It is still used today, in competition with wood, stone, iron, and other substances such as glass. Without burned clay in building, development would have been much slower.
    And lastly, as we have seen in this account, the early potter has given us material for forming a picture of society from its very earliest days , and with the more complete knowledge of ourselves which this gives us we are better judges of our powers, and are in a better position to get some idea of what the future of society may be.

    [ design ]
    The oldest ships on record : between 6,000 and 5,000 B.C.
(From a painting on a pot made before the time of the Egyptians.)

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