Home > General, Science & Technology > Potter’s Wheel ~ A brief history

Potter’s Wheel ~ A brief history

Pottery, the art of making pots out of burnt clay, is an ancient art. Pieces of pottery are inevitable parts of an archeological digs all over the world. The oldest evidence of pottery dates back to 10,000 BC in Japan. The concept of clay made vessels sprung up when the society shifted from nomadic to agrarian. The society was in need for stable but heavier containers, leading to the art of pottery.


Spinning the potter's wheel with a stick

Spinning the potter’s wheel with a stick

Before the invention of the wheel, pots were shaped by coiling clay and then turning it repeatedly by hand. The disadvantage of this method is that a single vessel could take quite awhile to create. As society grew and trade and commerce flourished the demand of clay made vessel grew. The old method for making pots gradually became insufficient for keeping up with the demand.

As the demand for pots increased, number of methods were developed to increase the coiling process. Some potters used a platter (slow wheel) that could be easily turned as a surface for coiling pots. This prevented the potter from moving round the pot, thus saving time to some extent.

The wheel was invented in ancient Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) around 3,000 B.C. Within a short time, the Sumerians adapted the wheel concept to a faster method of turning and shaping pottery. These first turntables were slow, but they were a vast improvement over the previous methods of shaping pots.

With the mass scale production of pots the pot making soon turned into an industry. An ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphics on a tomb wall records the mass scale production by use of potter’s wheel.

Soon techniques were adopted to make the wheel faster and smoother, thus increasing the potter’s ability to make finer clay vessels with sterns, smooth spirals and true circles.

A typical potter's workshop

A typical potter’s workshop

In the 19th century the concept of throwing pottery, as we know it today, flourished due to potter’s wheel that could achieve higher spinning speed. This is partially due to the French development of momentum wheel . a wheel that took advantage of low friction and high weight to achieve speed.

Today the potter’s wheel have been fitted with ball bearing and is run by electricity but the basic principle remains the same.

The following photos were shot in the People Institute of Development and Training (PIDT) workshop in Madhupur, Jharkhand. I was invited in this worshop to deliver a presentation on the terracotta temples.


Special Thanks:

  • Ms Indira Dasgupta and all the master craftsmen, staff and members of PIDT.

  1. March 3, 2014 at 1:32 PM

    Hi, I read your new stuff on a regular basis. Your story-telling style is witty, keep it up!

  2. kabruk c. d.
    July 23, 2017 at 2:55 PM

    very interesting piece of an information on the potter’s wheel. thanks you.

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