Pottery 2: Pots and People


  • Fingerprints of the Maker, a printable version of the online resource used in this lesson, is available if you wish to have students work offline.
Pottery 2: Pots and People


To develop an understanding of the human perspective in the history of pottery making and ceramics.


This lesson is the second in a two-part series on pottery making. Though the lessons in this series complement one another, they are designed to stand alone. The creating and building of pots is an art form first developed in Neolithic times. When the food-gathering peoples became food-producing peoples through the cultivation of crops, there arose the need to store these crops in pots or baskets.

The lessons in this series provide students with a context in which to compare present technology with that of earlier times. Reading about other civilizations can help illustrate the central role that different technologies play. Examining what life was like under different technological circumstances in the past can help students understand how modern technology has shaped their own lives.

In Pottery 1: Pottery Quest, students learn that the production of ceramic pottery requires detailed knowledge of the physical properties of different clays and tempering materials, as well as knowledge about how these combine and react under specific firing conditions.

In Pottery 2: Pots and People, students explore the history of pottery from the perspective of the unknown men and women who contributed to the development of the early technology.


Begin the lesson by showing students some images of different types of pottery. The following pages provide some examples from which you can choose:

Ask students, "What do you suppose the people who made these materials needed?" Let students discuss this for a while. Possible answers might include: water, clay, paints, some students might even mention a firing kiln. If students mention clay, ask where they suppose the clay came from. Also, ask how they think the clay was hardened. From previous experiences, students should know that heating and cooling cause changes in the properties of materials and that many kinds of changes occur faster under hotter conditions.


To answer some of the questions posed in the motivation, students will use the Pots and People student esheet to explore resources found on the PotWeb site. Students will be directed to visit the following online exhibits:

After students have explored the resources, they will reflect on the process by which humans discovered that clay could be used as a material for making useful and decorative objects, paying particular attention to breakthroughs in techniques made by unknown individuals and how these techniques might have been passed on to subsequent generations.


Using the esheet to guide them, students will write a fictional interview with an ancient potter. The interview should cover details about a particular type of pottery, how it was made, its purpose, and any special techniques or tools used by the potter. The students should also include a sketch or drawing of a sample pot created by their fictional potter and a description of its purpose and how it was made.


To extend the ideas in this lesson, see the Science NetLinks lesson, Pottery 1: Pottery Quest.

For more historical information, explore A History of Pottery.

At PotWeb: Ceramics Online @ the Ashmolean Museum, students can compare the pottery they studied in this lesson to ceramics from other times and places. This is an online collection of pottery from Oxford University's Ashmolean Museum.

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