If you are looking for something fun to do and you haven't checked out ceramics it may be worth a look. Ceramics have been around for thousands of years with their proof in some excavations of ancient tombs and cities.
The ceramics we know today date back to around 24,000 BC when the first clay animals and pottery were found. It is believed that these were used in rituals during that time and were very sacred. As civilization moved forward and people needed certain utensils, ceramics made a very good tool.
About 10,000 years later there were many people who used tiles in Mesopotamia and India and there were many vessels used for water and food storage. This actually became an invention that was based on need.
Many historians believe that the Egyptians found a way to heat kiln like devices and were able to put a colored glaze on their pottery. This was used for many decorative pieces until around 1,500 BC when glass was discovered and there was now a way to make pieces out of something different than ceramics.
One of the issues when people study the history of ceramics is that there are different ways to look at these beautiful works. Some people made them to as decorations and others made them as functional pieces. Since ceramics have to be fired to harden, they have made a very good vessel for carrying many things.
Influence of different cultures and their ceramics
Many different cultures worked with ceramics. For instance, the Chinese produced three types of pottery --painted, black and carved. Much of what they did happened during the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D) because by this time they had developed a long history of firing kilns, so they were able to start producing many varied pieces.
If you have ever seen pottery in the movies a great deal of Hollywood movies showed pieces from the Ming Dynasty which was a time when you saw a lot of dragons or phoenix's on the pottery. In movies these were used as a way to show something mysterious or sacred.
By about 3000 BC there was an addition to the clay and water pieces when the potter's wheel was invented. It was used in Mesopotamia and at that time it was just a simple wheel.
As the 5th and 6th centuries evolved, the Greeks began to make a more sophisticated pottery with some of their pieces still being found today and in tact. They were able to develop the black figure pottery and the red figure technique. Both happened around 550 to 480 BC.
One of the interesting points about Greek pottery is that it was all functional. It was created in a variety of shapes and each was developed specifically for a certain task. As an example, there were some that were made to store wine, while others were created to heat or cool liquids. It is also interesting that by the 6th century, potters were signing their work, sometimes with the artist as well.
As the Greeks continued to make their pottery they realized that everything they made had one flaw. The flaw was that the clay would eventually become porous and start to leak. This created challenges for them until the 9th Century when someone finally discovered a glazing technique that took care of this problem. However, it wasn't seen as a practical application until many centuries later.
There does not seem to be a civilization that did not have some form of ceramic pottery. In Africa they created the terracotta figures and the 7th and 9th Centuries produced the T'ang Pottery that was basically figures that were found in the tombs. This indicates that perhaps the pottery was seen as only a ritualized piece.
The pottery that we have today is very colorful and sophisticated but it all had it's origins in the various pieces that we have described.