Earthenware burial jar, coil built and decorated with unfired pigments, Gansu, Majiayao culture, Banshan phase, ca. 2600-2300 BC
Height: 39.0 cm, Width: 39.0 cm
World Ceramics, room 145
Bought from S. Segredakis, Paris
Jar with spirals
China, Gansu province
Large jars of this kind were used for storage and in burials. Examples have been found that contain food remains and children’s bones. The body was made from the fine, wind-blown soil called loess. The loess was formed into rolls of clay, which were coiled round and smoothed to build up the walls. This coiling technique was widespread before the invention of the potter’s wheel.
Unglazed earthenware, painted and burnished after firing
Museum no. C.286-1938 [September 2009]
This large jar is of a type used for storage and in burials, as examples have been found containing remains of food and children's bones. Like many Neolithic pots from Gansu province in north-western China, the upper part is boldly painted with a dynamic spiral pattern - which probably originally had some ritual or symbolic meaning - and it is made from loess, deposits of which are found throughout the northern part of the country. True loess is a wind-borne dust, derived mainly from the mechanical weathering of igneous rocks (those formed from magma or lava). Loess deposits become increasing fine the further they are blown. Wares made from loess may be red, buff, grey or black, depending on the conditions in which they were fired, and are fine in texture.
The jar was made by the coiling method, a basic forming technique found worldwide. This involved building up the vessel from the bottom with rolls of clay strips, pinching and smoothing them down, thus controlling the growth of the vessel's shape. After finishing by beating and scraping, and applying the handles, the jar would have been fired in a relatively sophisticated kiln, in which the fire was separated from and situated underneath the chamber containing the pots. An updraught system carried the heat of the fire up to a channel to bake the wares without damaging them. Temperatures of up to 1,020°C were already achieved at this early time. Finally the jar was painted in earth pigments and burnished, to smooth and seal the surface.