Glossary of Pottery of the Bible

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Dictionary of ancient pottery of the Bible
1. Glossary of pottery of the Bible
2. Handbook of pottery of the Bible
3. Encyclopedia of pottery of the Bible
4. How pottery is made
5. How to identify ancient pottery

William G. Dever (1995: 204) has identified at least seven specific contributions which pottery analysis can provide, in addition to chronology:

  1. shifts in settlement type and distribution;
  2. continuity and change in local cultures;
  3. the degree of isolation or contact with other cultures;
  4. the level of technology,
  5. social structure, stratification in particular,
  6. subsistence, including adaptation to the environment and trade; and, not least,
  7. shared aesthetic and religious traditions





This glossary provides concise definitions of selected archaeological and ceramic terms. Synonymous terms are found after the abbreviation "aka" ("also known as"). Definitions have been gathered from numerous sources.


Alabastron. A very short-to-short, elongated, narrow-necked jug mimicking the early form made from alabaster (stone). It was used for the storage of perfumes and precious oils and often had a flattened lip useful for applying perfume without wasting it.

Amphora(e). A tall-to-very tall jar with two handles, normally on opposing shoulders. An amphoriskos is a very short-to-short version of the amphora.

Amphoriskos (-oi). See Amphora(e).

Analytical sherds. See Diagnostics.

Ansulate. Having to do with handles. Mono-ansulate is one handle and bi-ansulate is two handles.

Anthropomorphic. Form characteristic which includes elements of the human body. Appliqué. See Surface treatment.


Balsamarium. See Bottle.

Band (decoration). See Surface treatment. Bar handle. see Handle.

Barbotine. See Surface treatment.

Base. Part of the vessel which provides support There are many specialized forms (see table 2 and fig. 7):

Basin. A medium-to-large (diameter), intermediate-to-deep bowl. Beaker. See Cup.

Beer jug. See Beer strainer.

Beer strainer. A very short-to-tall spouted or necked jar. The body wall at the spout or inside the neck is punctured to form a strainer (aka: beer jug).

Biconical. See Wall profile.

Body. Main part of the vessel between rim and base (aka: body. There are many different forms (see table 1, and fig. 6).

Bottle. A very short-to-short jug (if it does have a pouring lip) or jar (if it does not have a pouring lip), often with a cylindrical body and generally without handles.

Balsamarium is a very short-to-short bottle, the implied function of which (to carry balsam), is not always based on analysis of its contents.

Unguentarium is a very short-to-short bottle used for conserving perfume oils, precious liquids, and balms.

Bow-rim jar. A jar constructed with an incurved rim inflection which formed a curved neck, characteristic of the Late Neolithic II period.

Bowl. The general term for an open vessel, with or without handles. Bowls are classified as "very small" (maximum diameter < 10 cm.), "small" (maximum diameter 10-14.9 cm.), "medium" (maximum diameter 15-24.9 cm.), "large" (maximum diameter 25-75 cm.), or "very large" (maximum diameter > 75 cm); and each of these may be "shallow" (vertical percent of the maximum diameter < 20%), "intermediate" (vertical percent of the maximum diameter 20-74.9%), "deep" (vertical percent of the maximum diameter 75-100%), or "very deep" (vertical percent of the maximum diameter > 100%).

Brazier. See Incense burner.

Buff. See Surface treatment, slip.

Burnishing. see Surface treatment.

Button base. See Base, knob.


Carination. Angular ridge around the body of a vessel (see Wall profile). Casserole. Sec Cooking pot.

Censer. A bowl or jar vessel for burning incense (see Incense burner). Chalice. See Footed bowl.

Characteristic sherds. see Diagnostics.

Churn. Closed, ovoid or lenticular vessel which is wider than it is high, with pouring lip and two handles enabling it to be suspended and swung back and forth.

Clay. Fine-grained earthy material composed of silica and alumina sometimes mixed with small amounts of iron and alkalies. It becomes plastic when mixed with water and hardens when heated (fired).

Closed. This describes a vessel, the minimum mouth diameter which is less than 50% of the vessel's maximum diameter (see fig. 12).

Coarse. see Ware. Coihnade. See Manufacture.

Collared-rim. This very distinctive decoration which is found on storage jars of the LB II through Iron II periods, consists of a raised band or series of bands at the base of the neck. The name "collared-rim" is a misnomer as the decoration actually occurs at the junction of the neck and body of the vessel rather than on the rim per se. The characteristic collared-rim style continued into the Iron I period, developed somewhat, and then continued on into the Iron II period. This progression has encouraged the attempt to construct a typology of styles associating style with locale and, optimally, with ethnic group. The nature of such a typology is hotly debated (aka: collar rim.)

Color. See Surface treatment.

Column jar. A short-to-tall jar with column-shaped support often for the purpose of holding a dipper juglet.

Combing. See Surface treatment, incising.

Cooking pot. A small-to-large (diameter), shallow-to-deep bowl or short-to-tall jar which was used for food preparation (aka: cook pot or cookpot). It was often made of clay mixed with a large quantity of calcite or quartz powder, which improved its resistance to heat and to temperature variation. The sides were of consistent thickness, a detail distinguishing it from other vessels. The bottom of the cooking pot was usually rounded. A casserole is an open, flat-based cooking vessel.

Cornet. See Cup.

Corpus. Literally "body," the word corpus refers to a collection of artifacts, in this case, a collection of pottery or sherds.

Crater. see Krater.

Cross-hatching See Surface treatment, incising.

Cross-pattern (burnishing). See Surface treatment, burnishing.

Cup. A very small (diameter), deep-to-very deep bowl, with or without handles. There are many specialized forms:

Cup-and-Saucer. This vessel looks like a smaller bowl attached to the inside of a flatter, wider bowl. Some were lamps, while the function of others is currently undetermined.

Cylindrical. See Wall profile.

Cyma. A curved form as in the top or bottom of an "S"-shape.


Decanter. A short-to-tall jug, most often with sharp angular shoulders.

Decoration. Exterior manipulation of the pottery vessel generally for aesthetic reasons. There is a very close association between decoration and surface treatment which is generally functional in purpose. The division between aesthetics and function is often blurred. See also Surface treatment.

Denticulation. See Surface treatment, impressing. Depressing. See Surface treatment, depressing. Design burnish. See Surface treatment, burnishing.

Diagnostics. Rims, bases, handles, or body sherds (when decorated) are used by the archaeologist to determine the form or periodization of the whole piece (aka: analytical sherds, characteristic sherds, indicator sherds, and significant sherds).

Dipper jug (dipper juglet). A very short-to-short jug, with an elongated body and used for dipping into other vessels.


Everted. Everted refers to any vessel part which bends outward toward the exterior of the vessel.

Excising/Excision. See Surface treatment.


Fabric. see Ware.

Finger impression. See Surface treatment, impressing.

Firing. Firing refers to heating clay vessels to varying temperatures in order to harden and/or melt the vessel or its coating. Temperatures usually range between 700° and 900° C. Red-firing is a term used to describe clay containing iron and showing brown or reddish color when sufficient oxygen available during firing. White-firing shows creamy or whitish color after firing a vessel at low or high temperatures, regardless of the presence or the absence of oxygen. Black-firing indicates the use of red-firing clay, but during the cooling period there was no flow of oxygen through the kiln.

Fishplate. A medium-to-large (diameter), intermediate (depth) bowl with an internal impression and doubled (pendant) rim and is most commonly found during the Hellenistic period.

Flask. A very short-to-short jug with ovoid or lenticular body. A pilgrim flask is a specialized flask which is an Iron II form with a round body (with ovoid cross-section) typically with painted concentric circles, most often with two handles—one on each side of the neck.

Fluting. See Surface treatment. Footed. see Base.

Footed bowl. A very small-to-large (diameter), shallow-to-very deep bowl with a footed base.

Formatore. The individual who reconstructs broken pottery. Frying pan. See Pan.


Glaze. See Surface treatment.

Globular. See Wall profile.

Goblet. see Cup.

Grit. see ware.

Grog. see Ware.

Grooving. Sec Surface treatment, incising.


Hand burnishing. See Surface treatment, burnishing. Handmade. see Manufacture.

Handle. A handle is an accessory of the vessel, made of one or more coils, fixed at two points generally on the neck and the body. Handles styles include: bar, knob, ledge, loop, lug, and tubular styles (see table 2 and fig. 8). Bar, knob, and tubular are less common. Ledge handles may be envelope, plain, or wavy. Loop handles may be horizontal (flat, plain, or wishbone) or vertical (flat, including stirrup or strap; round including basket, ear, elliptical, grooved, or plain; stranded, including double or triple; or twisted). Lug handles may be pierced, plain, or pointed. It may be attached horizontally, vertically, or less often, obliquely.

Handle placement. The location of the handle on the vessel body is referred to as "handle placement." Handle placements may be rim-to-rim, rim-to-shoulder, neck-to-shoulder, shoulder-to-body, shoulder, or body (see table 2 and fig. 9).

Hemispherical. see Wall profile, globular.

Holemouth. A holemouth vessel has no rim or neck, rather the vessel lip attaches directly to the vessel wall. Most often, "holemouth" is used to describe a form of bowl or jar with a globular body or incurved wall profile the opening ("mouth") of which is simply a "hole."

Holemouth bowl. A very short-to-tall, open vessel with a holemouth opening. Holemouth jar. A very short-to-tall, closed vessel with a holemouth opening.


Impressing/Impression. See Surface treatment.

Incense burner. A vessel, pierced with ventilation holes, used for containing charcoal (aka: brazier or censer).

Incising/incision. see Surface treatment.

Inclusion. See Ware.

Incrustation. The calcium-carbonate residue built up on the surface of the vessel. Indicator sherds. see Diagnostics.

Inverted. Inverted refers to any vessel part which is bent toward the inside of the vessel.


Jar. A jar is a closed vessel used for storage, preservation, or transportation of goods. It was made with, or without, handles—typically two handles or none. In terms of size, jars may be "very short" (height < 15 cm), "short" (height 15-24.9 cm),"tall" (height 25-75 cm), or "very tall" (height > 75 cm).

Jerash bowl. A bowl with an outcurving rim inflection and ring base. It is characterized by its ware and by its geometric or naturalistic decoration. It is typical of the Jarash (aka: "Jerash") area and of northern Transjordan in Iron II period.

Jug. A jug is a closed vessel designed for pouring, usually with a pouring lip. It may have one handle or none—typically, one. In terms of size, a jug may be "very short" (height < 15 cm), "short" (height 15-24.9 cm), "tall" (height 25-75 cm), or "very tall" (height > 75 cm). Juglet. A very short jug.


Kiln. A kiln is used to fire pottery. It is made from bricks or packed clay (term pise) and could have many forms. Heat moves from firing chamber through a stack of pottery and then out through a hole or chimney. The design of the kiln serves to isolate heat and concentrate it around the stack of pottery.

Knob handle. See Handle.

Krater. A Greek name for a large (diameter), intermediate-to-deep bowl generally with a rounded biconical ("S"-curved) wall profile and a flat base, originally for mixing wine and water. Also spelled "Crater."


Lagynos (-oi). A short-to-tall, very narrow-necked jug from the Hellenistic period. Lamp. A vessel which is designed for lighting.

Leatherhard. A vessel which is allowed to air dry completely before firing reaches the leatherhard stage. Surface decoration (incision, slip, glaze, etc.) often added at this point before firing.

Ledge-handle. See Handle.

Lentoid. Descriptive of a vessel profile which is "lens-shaped." This cross-section is particularly common of flasks and pilgrim flasks..

Levigation. see Ware.

Lime spalling. This describes the tendency of fragments of calcium carbonate temper to expand explosively when heated during firing, producing voids in the fabric and especially at the surface (common in the Iron I period).

Line (decoration). See Surface treatment.

Lip. The lip is the uppermost edge of the vessel wall. Normally a lip is on the very edge of

the rim or neck, which, in turn, is the uppermost portion of the body wall. Lips are described in term of their lip profile (see Lip profile).

Lip profile. The lip profile may be flattened, rounded, squared, thickened, or thinned (aka: beveled or peaked). See table 1 and fig. 3.

Lug. A lug is a clay element fixed to a vessel for decorative and/or functional purposes. It may function as a means of holding a vessel or, if pierced, for hanging it up or for attaching a lid. A vestigial lug was more for decoration only, while a handle was more functional (for lug handle styles, see Handle).

Luster. See Surface treatment.

Lustrous (slip). See Surface treatment, slip.


Manufacture. The process by which pottery was constructed.

Metallic. Metallic clay describes a very hard fired clay. Metallic surface treatment describes a hand burnishing quality; see Surface treatment, burnishing.

Mohs' Scale. This arbitrary scale was invented by Fredrich Mohs (1773-1839) who established a range 1-10 (softer-to-harder). The test is applied by scratching the sherd: Hard = Mohs 7; Medium-hard = Mohs 4-6; Medium-hard, but powdery = Mohs 3; Medium-soft = Mohs 3-2; Soft = Mohs 2-1.

Mold. A form into which clay can be pressed into a certain shape and from which it shrinks loose when the clay dries. See also Surface treatment manufacture.

Molding. See Surface treatment.

Mortarium (-ia). This is a footed bowl with thickened rim profile and outcurving rim inflection.

Munsell Notation System


The Munsell Color Notation System was developed to standardize color name terminology and to establish alpha-numeric expressions for standard color names. In the Munson system, a color is described by three variables expressing its hue, value, and chroma.

Hue: relation to primary and secondary colors

black [achromatic, i.e., absence of color]



secondary colors orange purple



Value: lightness/darkness; 10 = absolute white, 0 = absolute black Chroma: saturation or brightness; 0 = weak, 20 = strong

Each color variation is designated by a unique combination of numbers and letters and a corresponding color name. Abbreviations "R", "YR" and "Y" stand for, respectively, the hues "red," "yellow-red" and "yellow." The number preceding the abbreviation expresses the degree of the hue. The numbers following it designate color value and chroma. In the example "10YR 3/4 dark yellowish- brown"; "10YR" describes the degree of hue ("yellow-red"), "3" the value, and "4" the chroma.


Munsell notation can be used to designate any color in the spectrum.

Archaeologists and ceramicists, however, use a limited range of Munsell terminology—about one fifth of the total possible combinations—to describe colors of excavated soil layers and ceramics. This range extends from red, reddish- yellow ("orange")-to-yellow, brown, and olive ("green"), along with the extremes of black and white. These hues are conveniently collected in the Munsell Soil Color Chart.


Wdk kldk reddish It dk

black grey* white** pink red yellow brown olive

(orange) (green)


2.5YR 2.5YR 2.5YR 2.5YR 2.5YR


7.5YR 7.5YR 7.5YR 7.5YR 7.5YR 7.5YR

10YR 10YR 10YR 10YR

2.5Y 2.5Y


more white more red more yellow

slow chromas in all hues **high values in these hues


1) Color readings should be taken of the dominant colors on the interior, exterior, and core of the sherd.

2) In citing Munsell notation, always give both color name and number. Neither alone is sufficiently descriptive.

3) Sherd colors may not match exactly those in the Munsell Chart. In such cases, cite the closest comparable color or chose two adjacent colors between which the color to be described falls. Such interpolations can be given numerical expression by using decimals for value or chroma. For example, a brown falling between "7.5YR 5/2 brown" and "7.5YR 4/2 brown" may be described as "7.5YR 4.5/2 brown." A brown falling between "7.5YR 5/2 brown" and "7.5YR 5/4 brown" may be described as "7.5YR 5/3 brown."

4) The selection of meaningful ceramic color readings requires some knowledge of pottery technology, especially how clay type and firing temperature affects ware and surface color.

To obtain a Munsell Soil Color Chart, write: Kollmorgen Instruments Corp., P.O. Box 230, Newburgh, NY 12551-0230.


Neck This is the part of the vessel which joins the body to the rim. A neck profile may be conical (V-shaped or A-shaped), curving (bicurving, incurving, or outcurving), or cylindrical (see table 2 and fig. 10).

Non-plastics. See Ware.


Ogee. This describes an "S"-shaped cross-section in regard to the vessel part profile. Omphalos. See Base.

Open. This describes a vessel, the minimum mouth diameter of which is 50% or more of the maximum vessel diameter (see fig. 12). Ovoid. See Wall profile, globular.

Oxidation. See Firing.


Painting. See Surface treatment.

Pan. A pan is a shallow platter with flat bottom and long handle apparently used for food preparation (aka: frying pan).

Paring. See Surface treatment.

Pattern burnish. See Surface treatment, burnishing, design.

Pedestal base. See Base, footed.

Pie-crust (decoration). See Surface treatment, impressing.

Pilgrim flask See Flask. Piriform. See Wall profile.

Pithos (-oi). See Storage jar.

Plate. This is a very small-to-medium (diameter), shallow bowl.

Platter. This is a large-to-very large (diameter), shallow bowl.

Polish. See Surface treatment, burnishing.

Pouring lip. See Rim profile, pinched.

Profile. A term for the outline or cross-section of the vessel.

Puncture. See Surface treatment.

Pyxis. This is a very short-to-short squat, cylindrical jar with angular shoulders.


Red slip. See Surface treatment, slip.

Reduction. see Firing.

Relief. See Surface treatment

Rhyton. This is a small zoomorphic jar, often shaped like a horse or mule head. Ribbing. See Surface treatment, incising.

Ridging. See Surface treatment

Rifled rim. See Rim profile, thickened.

Rim. Rim is the general term for that section of a vessel neck or body wall which is located immediately below the lip. It is sometimes confused with the "lip." There are several specialized shapes called rim profiles. Rim descriptions consist of (1) rim inflection, (2) rim profile, and (3) lip profile, i.e., "vertical, thickened rim with a flattened lip."

Rim inflection. Rim inflection is the angle at which the rim continues into the body wall (see table 1 and fig. 4). Rim inflection is not to be confused with rim stance (the angle of the rim relative to the vessel opening).

Rim profile. The rim profile is the general shape of the rim (see table 1 and fig. 5). Rim profiles may be doubled, flattened, offset, pinched, simple, or thickened.

Rim stance. Rim stance is the angle of the rim relative to the horizontal plane of the vessel opening. The determination of rim stance is used to estimate the angle of the body wall profile for the purpose of theoretically reconstructing (or drawing) the original whole form. Rim stance is not to be confused with rim inflection (the angle of the rim-body connection used in describing the vessel).

Ring (decoration). Sec Surface treatment. Rivets. See Surface treatment, appliqué. Rope relief. See Surface treatment, relief. Rouletting. See Surface treatment.


Sausage jar. This vessel is a tall, baggy storage jar from the Iron II or Middle Islamic period.

Scalloping. See Surface treatment, impressing.

Scraper burnishing. See Surface treatment, burnishing. Self-same slip. See Surface treatment, slip.

Sgraffito. See Surface treatment, incising.

Sherd. Fragments of pottery are separated into diagnostic and non-diagnostic sherds. Non- diagnostic sherds (normally body sherds, aka: bods) are not kept unless they are part of a mendable vessel. Diagnostic sherds (aka: analytic sherds) are normally rims and bases. Body sherds may be diagnostic if they have a particular surface treatment such as painting, etc.

Shoulder. This describes the point at which a vessel body wall curves or bends inward toward a neck or mouth.

Sigillata. This is a Roman period fabric, finely levigated and red, and is often impressed. Significant sherds. See Diagnostics.

Skeuomorph. This term describes a pottery imitation of a vessel which was originally produced in a different medium or which exhibits physical features intended to suggest a prototype that was originally made in a different medium. An example of a skeuomorph is a ceramic vessel imitating one originally made of metal or stone.

Slashing See Surface treatment, incising. Slip. See Surface treatment.

Slow wheel. See Toumette.

Slurry. See Surface treatment, slip.

Smoothing. See Surface treatment, slip.

Spilling. See Ware.

Spherical. See Wall profile, globular.

Spiral incision. See Surface treatment, incising. Splayed. See Rim inflection, straight.

Spout. This is a tube which was sometimes fixed into an opening in the body for the purpose of pouring liquid from the vessel. A spout can be angular (curved, cylindrical, straight, or trumpet) or vertical (pillar). See table 2 and fig. 11.

Spouted bowl. A small-to-large (diameter), intermediate-to-very deep bowl possessing a spout attached to its body. Smaller spouted bowls may be called "teapots."

Spouted jar. A very short-to-tall jar with a spout attached to the body. Smaller spouted jars may be called "teapot"

Spouted jug. A very short-to-tall jug with a spout attached, often at the shoulder. Stamping. See Surface treatment, impressing.

Stand. A ceramic collar placed under a round or pointed bottom vessel in order to support or stabilize the vessel may be called a stand.

Storage jar. A tall-to-very tall jar (aka: store jar, pithos).

Storage vat. see Vat.

Sugar jar. A Late Islamic jar used to store/prepare sugar.

Sugar pot. A Late Islamic V-shaped bowl used to store/prepare sugar.

Surface treatment. Exterior manipulation of the pottery vessel, generally for functional reasons. There is a very close association between surface treatment and decoration which is generally aesthetic in purpose. The division between function and aesthetics is often blurred.

  • Appliqué is a design made in clay and attached to the surface of the vessel with an adhesion slip. Rivets are conical clay knobs attached below the rim on Iron II period vessels.
  • Band decoration is a horizontal line of paint or other decoration. Barbotine is a decorative style combining incision and appliqué.

Burnishing is a technique of smoothing the wall of a vessel with pressure in narrow strokes by a tool (aka: polish). This treatment orients the clay particles parallel to the surface creating a shiny surface which usually endures firing and seals the porous surface somewhat while providing an aesthetic design.

  • Cross-pattern burnishing results in several strokes crossed in an approximately perpendicular direction by several other strokes leaving a checkerboard pattern.
  • Design burnishing results in an artistic pattern (aka: pattern burnish).
  • Hand burnishing results in uneven strokes in many directions as the vessel is turned by hand.
  • Metallic hand burnished ware is a hard-fired fabric with hand burnished surface treatment resulting in a "metallic" appearance. Scraper burnishing indicates the manner of application.
  • Vertical burnishing results in a series of vertical strokes.
  • Wheel burnishing results in very even, horizontal bands. Color is the chromatic tone which is recorded by a Munsell descriptor.

Depressing is decoration of the vessel by removing clay material from the exterior surface resulting in a hollowed area. The depression is not noticeable on the interior of the vessel (as distinct from impressing, which leaves a bulge).

Excising is a line or stroke cut out by a sharp, rounded, or pointed tool with which the potter extracted clay from the body of the vessel.

Fluting is a design which is cupped out of the vessel body at regular intervals. Glaze is made from glass-forming oxides (silicates), fluxing agents (soda, potash), and strengtheners (aluminum oxides). The materials are mixed as powder with water and painted as a slip on the surface of vessel, and after firing, it becomes a glassy layer which is impermeable and allows for better cleaning of vessel

Impressing is a decoration of the vessel by means of pressing against the unfired clay. The impression is transferred into a bulge on the interior of the vessel (as distinct from depressing, which leaves no bulge).

  • Denticulation is triangular or chevron stamping.
  • Finger impressing indicates the impression was made with a finger.
  • Mold indicates the impression was made with a mold.
  • Pie-crust is a wavy edge on lips or handles formed by finger impressing or other indentation.
  • Scalloping is wavy impressing often found on clay bands, ledge handles, etc.
  • Stamping indicates the impression was made with a stamp.
  • Tool impressing indicates the impression was made with a tool.

Incising is a line, stroke, or notch cut by a sharp tool resulting in the clay being , pushed out on the sides.

  • Combing with a toothed tool results in a series of parallel incisions which are clustered in groups.
  • Cross-hatching is diagonal incisions on the outer surface of a vessel.
  • Grooving is a design wherein clay is removed or impressed to form wide, individual, regular indentions with rounded or angular cross-sections.
  • Ribbing is a series of horizontal ridges, grooves, or depressions created several at a time.
  • Sgraffito ware consisted of a hard, thin, red ware decorated first by carving designs through light slip exposing contrasting dark clay surface below, and then by applying a covering glaze. There were many types of sgraffito ware with different geographical origins. It was, however, common among Crusader and medieval assemblages in Palestine and Syria. It was most widespread during the 13th century. Local and imported sgraflito ware was relatively rare in Transjordan.
  • Slashing is a haphazard series of handmade incisions sometimes forming pattern or designs.
  • Spiral indicates the shape of the incision.
  • Wheel incision results in very regular, horizontal cuts. Indentation refers to any type of inward pressing into the clay.

Line decoration may be vertical or angular patterns of paint or other decoration.

Luster is the manner in which the surface of the vessel reflects light.

Molding is a design which has been added to the vessel so it stands out from the surface in relief (aka: mold).

Painting is a slip to which color has been added. It is applied to the vessel surface, often in designs or patterns which are typical of a particular archaeological period and/or cultural group. Paint is distinguished from slip in that slip covers large areas, normally with no patterns.

Paring is the large-scale removal of clay from the vessel wall by mechanical means such as a knife.

Puncture is a texture which results in dots that are poked into the surface to form patterns or fill space.

Relief is an applied or built-up design which stands out from the surface of the vessel.

  • Rope relief (or rope molding) is an upraised band at the collar of a vessel that is reminiscent of a rope design.

Ridging describes clay which has been formed into ridges for decorative purposes.

Ring(s) indicates decoration styled in circles.

Rouletting is a design pattern, especially typical of the Hellenistic, Nabataean, and Roman vessels, which is created by rolling a tool across the clay surface resulting in a continuous band of impressions.

Slip is a thin layer of fine clay applied over the vessel by dipping, pouring, or wiping it in a liquid clay. Slip is distinguished from paint by the fact that paint is applied in patterns while slip is applied to large areas, normally without patterns.

  • Buffslip is pinkish-to-light brown in color.
  • Lustrous slip reflects light.
  • Red slip is ubiquitous as a surface treatment, although the color varies somewhat purplish in the Middle Bronze Age, reddish in the Iron Age, and more orangish in the later periods. Red slip, in combination with variations in the type of burnishing, has been used as a period hallmark in the Iron Age.
  • Self-same slip (also "self' slipped) is made of the same clay as the body.
  • Wiped-on refers to the method in which slip is applied (aka: wiping or rubbing).

Smoothing any treatment which smooths the ceramic surface.

Wash is a thin, usually light clay suspension of creamy consistency which does not adhere well to the surface of the vessel (aka: slurry or wet slurry).

Wet smoothing is a slurry or wet hand surface treatment indicating the vessel was finished either by a rag or by hand while the clay was still plastic.



Teapot. See Spouted bowl or Spouted jar.

Temper. See Ware.

Terra cotta. This word means baked clay.

Tool impression. See Surface treatment, impressing.

Tournette. A small potter's turntable that enables the potter to turn the vessel in place while forming it (aka: "slow" wheel). Unlike with the faster weighted wheel, the tournette turned too slowly for centrifugal force to be a factor in the vessel's formation.

Tubular handle. See Handle.

Trefoil. See Rim profile, pinched.

Twin amphoriskos. This vessel is made of two amphoriskoi attached at their bodies. Twin cups. This vessel is made of two cups attached at their bodies.

Twin jars. This vessel is made of two jars attached at their bodies.


Underfiring. See Firing. Unguentarium. See Bottle.


Vase. This very subjective term is used to describe any pottery vessel that resembles a modern vase.

Vat. This is a large-to-very large (diameter), deep-to-very deep depth storage bowl. Vertical burnishing. See Surface treatment, burnishing.

Vessel. This is a general term for a pottery form.

Vitrification. See Firing.

Void. See Ware.


Wall Profile. This describes the cross-section of a vessel body. There are many examples (see table 1 and fig. 6):

Biconical has two cones back to back atop each other, joined at their maximum diameter. The two cones may be equal or unequal.

Carinated has three cones atop each other forming a very angular "S"-shaped cross-section.

Conical describes a truncated triangle. The wall profile may be V-shaped or A- shaped.

Cylindrical has parallel sides or may be barrel-shaped. It may be horizontal or vertical.

Globular can be hemispherical, ovoid, or spherical.

  • Hemispherical has a globular body shaped like half of a circle or ball.
  • Ovoid is a globular, egg-shaped body and may be horizontal, upright, or upside down.
  • Spherical has a globular body shaped like a circle or ball.

Pinform means pear-shaped and may be upright or upside down.

Ware. This describes the combination of clay and tempering elements which is then formed into a vessel and fired (aka: fabric, paste).

Coarse describes poorly levigated with large inclusions. See Levigation, below. Grit. See Inclusion, below.

Grog is ground ceramic used as temper.

Inclusion is either material indigenous to the clay and/or the material added by the potter to make the clay workable (aka: grit).

Levigation is the process of mixing clay and water to permit a separation of particles. Coarse particles settle while the finer particles remain in suspension. The clay mixture composed of finer particles is then poured off. This process is repeated resulting in a concentration of finer particles and a smoother, more homogenous clay.

Non-plastics are any kind of temper (e.g., straw or sand, etc.) as distinct from the plastic component of ceramic, such as clay.

Temper is the inclusion of non-plastic materials (sand, etc.) or organic material (dung or chaff, etc.) to increase the malleability or strength of the fired vessel.

Spaling is splitting, cracking, or chipping of a clay surface.

Void is any cavity in a vessel's fabric or surface.


Wash. See Surface treatment, slip.

Waster. A vessel unintentionally deformed in the kiln during firing and thus rendered unusable. They are frequently found around kilns or ancient kiln sites.

Wet smoothing. See Surface treatment, slip.

Wheel. The potter's wheel was a specialized machine upon which the potter formed the vessel: increasing technologically from pivoting tournette (up to the Early Bronze Age) to the more efficient weighted potter's wheel (Middle Bronze Age and later).

Wheel burnishing. See Surface treatment, burnishing.

Wheel incision. See Surface treatment, incising.

Wheelmade. See Manufacture.

Wiped-on slip. See Surface treatment, slip.

Wiping. See Surface treatment, slip, wiped-on.

Zoomorphic. Descriptive of something made in the shape of an animal body.

From: Ancient Pottery Of Transjordan, Ralph E. Hendrix, 1996



By Steve Rudd: Contact the author for comments, input or corrections.

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