In addition to playing childish games in its dusty warm streets, Khuzestan (province) had us playing on hills that we later realized had cultural value. Given our young age, we didn’t know that these hills and a lot of pottery pieces at our feet belonged to ancient times. Looking back at my childhood, I cannot forget the Asieh abad hills in Ahwaz, Abu Fandowa hills of Shush’s Haft Tepe, Tepe Chogha in Gotvand and of course, the hills in Kazerun that were once our playground. One of the few memories I’ve retained from those days is the variety of scattered pottery on the hills in terms of length, width and even decorations.
Every now and then, I would travel with my father to different cities and villages and end up playing with kids my age on such hills. The circumstances drove me to wonder about the fragments of pottery and bricks that I saw whose significance I could not fully comprehend. The only thing I had heard about them was that “we used to eat and drink in these, just like our ancestors” while they pointed to a clay habbane which was used to keep water cool. I also recall stories learned in school, telling tales of families in ancient times whose only possessions were a carpet to lay on and pottery to live their days out. Those vessels have undergone an evolutionary course and entered our lives in a new form.
When we look at history, we realize that pottery is of great importance. In archaeological excavations, the most durable, variable and abundant artifacts found are usually pottery that plays a critical role in understanding pre-historic cultures and comparatively dating them. According to the pottery ware treasury of the National Museum of Iran, the majority of pottery from Elamite, Achaemenid, Parthian and Sassanid eras mostly belong to areas such as Khuzestan, Fars, Kashan, Lorestan, Dameghan, Nahavand, and Guilan. Pottery’s robust and durable material has also contributed to it being passed down from one generation to the next.
Archaeological analyses reveal that there were approximately fifty centers in Iran engaged in the mass production of pottery. In some of the regions, among those mentioned previously, pottery is still being produced to date.
Every time I have accompanied archaeologist friends to ancient hills or sites, such as “Choghamish” or “Dehno”, the diversity of pottery seen there has made me understand its significance in different eras of history and in the formation of societies over the millennia. That explains why every region with a specific cultural zone also has a culture and civilization with its unique pottery which can be identified and categorized according to its color, material, decoration, and form. As various archaeologists state, some civilizations or cultures are even recognized by their pottery, like the “beige pottery” and “red pottery” cultures. As mentioned, pottery discovered from ancient sites has numerous forms, decorations, and colors. Hence, invaluable information can be deduced from them such as comparative dating, identifying cultural layers, comparing the culture of several sites and recreating the lives of ancient humans.
But, what truly revolutionized pottery was the invention of the potter’s the wheel. With it, firing pottery came to be which in turn led to the drastic development of this field of art; an effect that reflects the role of the potter’s wheel. The pottery obtained from Shush (Susa) is a clear testament to this transformation. Among the artifacts discovered at Shush and Haft Tepe, pieces of glazed pottery and glazed statues can also be seen. This craft was probably passed on to the Elamites from Mesopotamia where the people
were much more advanced at the art of glazing. Though, according to archaeologists, upon the arrival of the Arians, different versions of pottery were made. These works have mainly been unearthed at Marlik, in Guilan province. In them, a distinguishable connection between pottery
and sculpturing is visible. For instance, a jug or an animal-fat oil lamp might be shaped like a human or animal. Writing this article gave me ample reason to revisit my childhood and teenage years and see myself standing atop the ancient hills which were covered in pottery and bricks. I recall the presence of nature’s elements all around since nature played such a central role in ancient people’s lives. As so, nature’s three elements of water, earth, and wind always appear symbolically in various forms in pre-historic works of art.
Among my observation of pottery in various regions, one of the things that have caught my attention and undoubtedly owes its significance to pottery’s status is the symbolic and figurative designs and decorations which have always been a means for conveying ideas. Ancient people used such designs to get their message across. It is for this reason that pottery, more than any phenomenon, represents Iranian ingenuity and artistry.
The rest of this article is published in the 1st volume of Gilgamesh international edition