The varieties of pottery are so extensive that from the prehistoric age alone a thousand are figured, and the later ages give at least thrice that number. We cannot attempt to give even an outline of a subject which alone would far outrun this volume. A single most typical form of each main period is here shown, to illustrate the entirely different ideas which prevailed.
Forms. - In the prehistoric age many of the forms have no marked brim. The bowls, conical cups, and jars simply end at a plain edge, like this marked Pre. Brims were more usual in the later prehistoric age. A great variety of fancy forms appeared - double vases, square bottles, fish, birds, or women were modelled; and as the whole pottery was handmade, such were no more difficult to make than circular forms. On coming to the I st dynasty the forms were more clumsy, such as that marked I; and some of the earlier forms were continued in a very degraded state. The main feature is the class of very large jars, two to three feet high, which were used for storing food and drink. This class rapidly deteriorated and became almost extinct by the IIIrd dynasty. In the pyramid age some neatly-made pottery is found; thin sharp-brimmed bowls were usual, and the form marked V, with a sharply pointed base, was peculiar to this time. By the XIIth dynasty the globular or drop-shaped pot was the prevalent type, and varies in size from a couple of inches to a couple of feet. Drinking-cups of a hemispherical form, very thin, without any brim, are also of this age. The XVIIIth dynasty was begun with long graceful forms, such as XVIII; and later some beautiful long - necked vases are found. All of these forms rapidly degraded in the XIXth dynasty, and ugly small handles come into use, probably influenced by Greek design. In the XXVIth dynasty, lids with knob handles became common, and accordingly the brim disappeared, and a plain edge was used which could be easily capped. The large jars of this age are of Greek origin. During the Ptolemaic time debasement went on; and the most ugly, smug, commonplace forms belong to the Roman age. They are mostly ribbed, as in this marked Ro. The big amphorae begin with ribbing in the latter part of the second century, in broad fluting curves. These became narrower and sharper, until in the sixth and seventh centuries the ribbing had become almost a mere combed pattern around the jar. The jars also decreased in size, were thicker, softer, and coarser, until the type vanished with the Arab times.
Decoration. - The earliest painting on prehistoric vases was of white slip, in line patterns, copied from basket-work, and rarely in figures, such as fig. 65.
This white paint was put over a bright red facing of haematite; and such red and white pottery is still made with closely similar patterns by the mountain tribes of Algeria, where the style seems never to have died out. The black tops of the early red vases we shall deal with under Materials. The later prehistoric painting was in dull red on a buff body, such as fig. 66. In the pyramid age there was only a polished red haematite facing, and in the XIIth dynasty even this was not used. About the XVIIth dynasty a fine red polish was common, which ceased early in the XVIIIth dynasty; white on the brims, or dabbed in finger-spots over the inside of saucers, was also of the XVIIth dynasty. Black or red edges to pottery next appeared, and by Tahutmes III there was a style of narrow black and red stripes alternating. The use of blue paint, of copper frit, began under Amenhotep II, but it was not usual until Amenhotep III, and it was common until the close of the XlXth dynasty, though much flatter and poorer than at first. After this there was no decoration on pottery until the late Roman time. About the age of Constantine a hard, fine pottery came into use, with a thin red wash on it, and often of a pale salmon colour throughout. When the southern tribes pushed down into Egypt, the brown and red patterns which were usual in Nubia were carried with the invaders, and such painting was the main influence in the painted Coptic pottery.
Materials. - The prehistoric pottery of the earlier period is all of a soft body, faced with red haematite. As the pots were usually baked mouth downward, the brim was covered with the ashes; and these not being burnt through, reduced the red peroxide of iron to the black magnetic sesqui-oxide, such as is familiar to us in the black scale on sheet steel. The interior of the pots is likewise black, owing to the reducing gases from the ashes below; rarely the heat after the combustion has lasted long enough for the oxygen to pass through the pottery, and so redden the inside. Open dishes were also haematite-faced inside, and the iron is reduced to a brilliant mirrorlike coat of black all over. The reason of the polish being smoother on the black than on the red parts is that carbonyl gas - which is the result of imperfect combustion - is a solvent of magnetic oxide of iron, and so dissolves and re-composes the surface facing. On once understanding the chemistry of this, it is needless to discuss the old idea that smoke blackened this pottery. Smoke - or fine carbon dust - could not possibly penetrate through close-grained pottery, and the black extends all through the mass, naturally owing to the action of reducing gases to which the pottery is quite pervious. There may perhaps be some other kinds of black pottery influenced by smoke; but it is far more probable that all black pottery is due to black oxide of iron produced by imperfect combustion, which is accompanied by smoke.
In the later prehistoric age the pottery has a hard reddish buff body with white specks. In the pyramid period a smooth soft brown body is usual. Hard drab pottery also appears in the Vth and VIth dynasties. In the XIIth dynasty the common soft brown body is general, and extends to the XVIIIth. By the middle of the XVIIIth dynasty a hard drab ware with white specks and faced with a drab polish is very characteristic, and continues into the XIXth. Thence onward the brown body reasserts itself, with some inferior greenish drab ware about the XXIInd dynasty. Greek clays appear during the XXVIth, but probably all imported from Greece. Soft red pottery belongs to the Ptolemaic age. But the old soft brown rules in the Roman time, being at its worst in the early Coptic. The thin hard ware of the Constantine age is apparently not native, and may be due either to Nubian or Roman influence.
Modelling. - A constant use of pottery for modelling should be mentioned, although we cannot illustrate such a large subject here, as it is only subsidiary to stone-work in each age. In the prehistoric time rude figures are often found, both of men and women. Little is known of pottery modelling in the Old and Middle Kingdoms. Rough figures of cows are placed upon the brims of bowls about the XIth and XIIth dynasties. In the XVIIIth - XXVth dynasties a large use of roughly modelled ushabti figures of servants prevailed. But it is rarely that the other modelling is apart from foreign influence. A class of exquisitely formed figure-bottles, of women and animals, was made of fine foreign clay, probably by Greeks, at this age. Also rude solid figures of men and horses extend from this time onwards. The great age of pottery figures begins with the modelled heads of foreigners from the foreign quarter of Memphis, certainly due to Greek admixture. These are admirably done, and each hand-modelled singly. They begin about 500 B.C., and by about 300 B.C. moulded figures come into use. At first these are solid, but from about 200 B.C. down to 300 a.d. they are moulded hollow, being made of a front and back half united. The enormous number of these figures, and of figure-lamps made similarly, is very familiar from the Roman period. It is remarkable what good work is shown in some figures even as late as 250 a.d. The late dating of the figures and the varieties of the lamps are illustrated in Roman Ehnasya from my own excavations.