Life in Ancient Egypt

Daily Life: Ceramic Dishes

PotsThe ancient Egyptians used clay to form many items, but none were more common or necessary than the vessels for storing or serving food. Beginning in the early Predynastic Period (ca. 4500 B.C.) and continuing throughout Egyptian history, ceramic jars, often filled with food offerings, were regularly left in tombs. In addition, thousands of shards, the remains of everyday vessels, have been recovered from settlement sites such as el-Amarna, Kahun, and Deir el-Medina. Illustrations from tomb and temple walls also supply information on the variety and quantity of pottery containers used by the Egyptians.

In the New Kingdom, typical food containers included large vessels, small jars, wide shallow bowls, small bowls, jugs, and cylindrical mugs; the shapes of each were somewhat variable. Large jars held grain, oil, beer, or perhaps wine, and immense storage jars have been found as well. Most of the large jars had pointed bases so that they could not stand on their own. Therefore, these vessels were placed either in holes in the mud floor of a house or in pot stands of clay or wood. Occasionally representations of these vessels show them simply leaning against a convenient wall. Wide shallow bowls bore food either in the kitchen or on a banquet table. Eggs, bread, fruits (including grapes, pomegranates, dates, and figs), vegetables (such as lettuce, onions, garlic, turnips, and beans), or butchered beef, fish, or fowl were often placed in these large bowls. Small jugs probably held beer, wine, or water at a table, whereas mugs and small bowls were employed as drinking glasses. Small jars are very common although what they contained is uncertain; most likely they functioned as a jug without a handle.

Excerpted from Reflections of Greatness: Ancient Egypt at The Carnegie Museum of Natural History by Diana Craig Patch.
© 1990 The Board of Trustees, Carnegie Institute.

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