A great part of the history of pottery is prehistoric, part of past pre-literate cultures. Therefore, much of this history can only be found among the artefacts of archaeology. Because pottery is so durable, pottery and sherds from pottery survive from millennia at archaeological sites.
Before pottery becomes part of a culture, several conditions must generally be met.
- First, there must be usable clay available. Archaeological sites where the earliest pottery was found were near deposits of readily available clay that could be properly shaped and fired. China has large deposits of a variety of clays, which gave them an advantage in early development of fine pottery. Many countries have large deposits of a variety of clays.
- Second, it must be possible to heat the pottery to temperatures that will achieve the transformation from raw clay to ceramic. Methods to reliably create fires hot enough to fire pottery did not develop until late in the development of cultures.
- Third, the potter must have time available to prepare, shape and fire the clay into pottery. Even after control of fire was achieved, humans did not seem to develop pottery until a sedentary life was achieved. It has been hypothesized that pottery was developed only after humans established agriculture, which led to permanent settlements.
- Fourth, there must be a sufficient need for pottery in order to justify the resources required for its production.
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