The Long and Winding Road of Coil Pottery – Artabys (2024)

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Coil pots are one of the oldest forms of pottery, dating back over 10,000 years. Coil pot technique involves rolling clay into long, thin coils and then stacking them on top of each other to create the desired shape. Coil pots have been found in many cultures throughout history, including ancient Egypt, Greece, and Native American tribes.

The Ancient Art of Coil Pottery: A History Lesson

Since the beginning of time, when people first used this method to make vessels for storing and cooking food, coil pots have a lengthy and rich past. Coil pots were produced across a number of continents, including Africa, Asia, and the Americas, according to archeological data. Clay coil pots were used for ceremonial reasons in many civilizations and were decorated with elaborate patterns.

Coil pots are still used in contemporary kitchens for cooking and serving, and they are well-liked by artisans who make one-of-a-kind decorative items. Coil pots have developed to include a broad range of shapes, sizes, and designs as a result of the introduction of new materials and technology, making them a useful and well-liked type of pottery.

Coil pottery is one of the oldest ceramics techniques, going back to the Neolithic era. The method entails rolling clay into long strands or coils, coiling the ropes, and pinching them together to form the pot’s walls. Ancient Egypt, Greece, and China are just a few of the countries where the method was widely used.

Coil pottery saw a resurgence in prominence in the West during the Renaissance, with artists employing the method to produce elaborate and ornate vessels. As artists experimented with new shapes and methods, coil pottery underwent further development in the 20th century. For the production of one-of-a-kind, handcrafted clay vessels, coil pottery is still a common technique today.

What Are The Different Types Of Coil Pottery Pots?

Earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain clay were the three main kinds of clay used to make coil pottery pots during the Renaissance. The most popular form of pottery was earthenware, which is made of porous clay and is fired at a low temperature. Stoneware is stronger and less porous than earthenware because it is fired at a greater temperature. The most delicate and translucent of the three kinds, porcelain is fired at a higher temperature.

During this time period, coil pottery pots were used for a variety of reasons, including cooking, storing food and beverages, and serving as decorative items. Many items were highly ornamented with elaborate patterns and vivid hues, and they were regarded as works of art in and of themselves.

Coil pottery pots had cultural and social importance in addition to their practical uses. While pottery was used to commemorate significant life events like weddings and funerals in some societies, it was also used in religious rituals and as a fertility symbol in others.

Earthenware Coil Pottery

Coil pottery made of earthenware has a lengthy history. It is created by coiling and pinching the clay by hand using a straightforward method. Compared to other kinds of clay, earthenware clay is naturally porous and less resilient, but it is also less expensive and simpler to work with.

The common option for decorative purposes is earthenware coil pottery, which is frequently embellished with glazes, slips, or painted designs. Additionally, it is frequently employed in the production of useful things like bowls, plates, and vases.

The Mexican Oaxacan black pottery, which is made using a unique firing process that produces a glossy black finish, is one of the most well-known examples of earthenware coil pottery.

Due to its adaptability, simplicity of use, and aesthetic allure, earthenware coil pottery is an all-purpose and well-liked type of pottery.

Mexican Oaxacan Black Pottery

The coil pottery style known as Mexican Oaxacan Black Pottery was developed in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. It is created by hand-coiling the clay into the desired shape and then smoothing the surface with a stone or spoon. The pottery is dried, then fired in a pit kiln and coated in pine needles, sawdust, and other organic materials to give it a black finish. The pottery is renowned for its sturdiness, distinctive black color, and intricate patterns, which frequently include pictures of vegetation and animals. In Mexico and elsewhere, it has gained popularity as a memento and decorative object.

Stoneware Coil Pottery

A form of pottery known as stoneware coil pottery is made from a dense clay substance and is fired at high temperatures. Stoneware has been made for thousands of years, and it is frequently connected to useful items like jars, bowls, and vases.

Stoneware is made in coil pottery by rolling out long coils of clay and then coiling them up to form the vessel’s shape. The surface is then completed by carving, burnishing, or glazing after the coils have been combined smoothly.

From ancient China and Korea to medieval Europe and the Americas, stoneware coil pottery has been discovered all over the globe. In addition to sculptural and creative pieces, stoneware is still frequently used for practical pottery like dishes, mugs, and vases. It is a common option for baking and cooking because of its strength and heat resistance.

Porcelain Coli Pottery

Porcelain coil pottery is a type of pottery produced with porcelain clay, which is renowned for its fine and delicate characteristics. The smooth, glassy surface of porcelain coil pots is frequently embellished with complex patterns. During the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), porcelain coil pottery first appeared in China and was highly regarded for its durability and attractiveness.

It was later introduced to Europe in the 16th century and rapidly gained popularity as a material for high-end tableware and decorative items. For its beauty and sophistication, porcelain coil pottery is still highly regarded today.

What Are The Different Techniques Used To Create Coil Pottery Pots?

Coil pottery pots are made using a method in which coils of clay are rolled out and then stacked on top of one another to create the desired shape. This technique has been around for a very long time and is still in use today. The potter then flattens the filaments to produce a seamless surface after stacking them. The pot can then be decorated using a variety of methods, including carving, painting, or applying glazes.

A thin layer of glass is applied to the pot’s surface during the glazing procedure to make it waterproof and give a glossy finish. Burnishing, in which the surface of the pot is polished using a smooth stone or other tool, and sgraffito, in which a pattern is etched into the surface of the pot using a sharp tool, are additional methods that can be used.

Each of these methods takes a lot of practice to perfect, but once you do, the pots you make can be extremely valuable for their artistic beauty and fine craftsmanship.

Stages For Creating A Coil Pot

The general stages for creating a coil pot are as follows:

  1. The clay must be prepared by being wedged in order to eliminate any air pockets and make it more pliable.
  2. Roll a piece of clay into a coil and shape it into a flat disk to form the base of the pot.
  3. Smooth the joints between the clay coils as you roll them out and affix them to the base, one on top of the other.
  4. To shape and smooth the pot’s walls, use your hands, fingertips, and any other necessary instruments.
  5. To avoid the pot from drying out too quickly and cracking, let it dry out gradually and cover it with plastic.
  6. The pot is fired in a kiln at high temperatures to harden the clay after it has dried fully.
  7. A glossy, vibrant finish can be achieved by applying glaze to the vessel before firing it a second time.
  8. To finish the firing process and fuse the glaze to the clay, the vessel is fired a second time.

Depending on the coil pottery being made and the preferences of the artist, the exact tools and techniques used may change.

How To Create Your Own Coil Pot

To create a clay coil project, you will need the following materials:

  • Clay
  • Rolling pin or slab roller
  • Cutting tool
  • Smoothing tool
  • Water and/or slip (clay in liquid form)

Here are the steps to make a clay coil pot or vase:

  1. Start by preparing your clay. You can either purchase clay that is already prepared, or you can make your own by mixing dry clay with water according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  2. Roll the clay out into a flat slab using a rolling pin or slab roller. The thickness of the slab will depend on how large you want your coil pot to be.
  3. Use a cutting tool to cut the slab into the desired shape. You can make a cylinder for a vase or a rounded shape for a pot.
  4. Begin rolling small balls of clay into long, thin coils using your hands. You can also use a clay extruder if you have one.
  5. Dip your fingers in water or slip and smooth the edges of the slab where you will attach the coils. Apply the coils one at a time, pressing them firmly into the slab and smoothing the edges where they meet.
  6. Continue adding coils until your pot or vase is the desired height. Use a smoothing tool to smooth out the edges and ridges between the coils.
  7. Once you have completed the coil structure, let the piece dry completely. This may take several days depending on the size of the piece.
  8. Once the piece is completely dry, you can fire it in a kiln according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  9. Once the piece is fired, you can apply glaze if desired and fire it again in the kiln to give it a glossy finish.


A design or pattern is made by scratching through a layer of slip or glaze in the sgraffito method, which is used in pottery and ceramics. A coating of slip or glaze is applied to the pottery surface and allowed to dry for a short period of time. The artist then removes the top layer of slip or glaze with a sharp object, like a knife or needle, to expose the layer beneath, which has a contrasted color or texture. Sgraffito, a common technique used in many cultures all over the globe, is frequently used to make intricate designs or patterns on pottery.

How Did Native American Tribes Create Coil Pots In Their Early History?

Coil pots have been produced by Native American tribes for thousands of years, using a variety of methods and materials based on their environment and society. Gathering and preparing the clay, forming coils of clay, and then layering and smoothing the coils to produce the desired design were the general steps in the process. Coils were occasionally strengthened with fibers or crushed shells.

The pots were then embellished with a variety of designs, frequently utilizing natural pigments and patterns with significant connotations. After that, either practical uses like cooking and storing were made of the completed pots, or they were used ceremonially and aesthetically.

What Are Some Of The Oldest And Most Widespread Examples Of Early Historical Coil Pots?

Archaeological sites around the globe contain some of the earliest and most prevalent examples of early historical coil pots. As early as 10,000 BCE, coil pots were produced in China. From 14,000 to 300 BCE, Japan produced some of the most elaborate coil pots. Pre-Columbian societies in the Americas, including the Maya, Aztec, and Inca, produced coil pots that are still prized for their fine workmanship and aesthetic appeal.

RegionTime PeriodExamples of Coil Pottery
Africa9,000-5,000 BCENok culture pottery in Nigeria
Middle East5,000-4,000 BCEUbaid period pottery in Mesopotamia
South America3,000-2,000 BCEChavín culture pottery in Peru
North America2,000 BCE-1600 CEAnasazi and Hohokam culture pottery in Southwest US
Europe8,000 BCE-presentAncient Greek and Roman pottery; Renaissance and Baroque earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain
Asia10,000 BCE-presentChinese, Japanese, and Korean earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain; Indian and Southeast Asian terracotta pottery


Coil pots have been discovered in archaeological sites all over the continent, with some of the earliest examples going back to the fifth millennium BCE in Nigeria and Sudan.


Coil pottery has a long history in Asia, with some of the earliest examples going back to China’s Neolithic era (around 10,000 BCE). Other noteworthy examples include the Indus Valley Civilization in India and the Jomon period (14,000–300 BCE) in Japan (2600-1900 BCE).

During the Bronze Age (2000–700 BCE), coil pottery was extensively used in Europe. Notable examples can be found in the Nordic nations and the British Isles.


Coil pottery was independently developed in the Americas, with some of the earliest examples going back to Mesoamerica’s Pre-Columbian period (around 2000 BCE). Native American communities all over North America used the method extensively as well.

Ancient Greece

Ancient Greece frequently used coil-built pottery. It was actually one of the most widely used pottery-making methods at the time. In many museums around the globe, including the British Museum and the Louvre, examples of coil-built Greek pottery can be found. These pots served a variety of functions, including storing, cooking, and serving food and beverages. They were frequently embellished with intricate patterns.


Indigenous Australians have used coil pottery for thousands of years, with some examples going back to the Pleistocene. The Lapita people, who created a distinctive pottery style around 1500 BCE, are one of the many civilizations in the Pacific Islands that have used coil pottery.

North And South America

The Mimbres

The Mimbres A distinctive coil pottery form was developed by the Mogollon people who lived in southwest New Mexico between 200 and 1450 CE. Intricate designs of humans, animals, and vegetation were frequently used to decorate this pottery. The designs were frequently extremely complex and detailed, and they were typically painted in black and white.

The Mimbres Mogollon were renowned for their innovative use of negative space in their designs, which enabled them to produce intricate patterns. The society valued and revered this coil pottery as a sacred art form, and it was frequently used for ceremonial reasons. One of the most important works of Native American art, Mimbres pottery is now highly prized by aficionados.

Maya Civilization

From about 2000 BCE to the sixteenth century CE, the Maya civilization, which thrived in what is now Central America, was renowned for its highly advanced art and science, which included the invention of pottery. For the Maya, ceramics were an essential part of daily living. They were used for a range of things, including cooking vessels, drinking cups, and storage containers.

The tall cylinder, which was used to hold and pour ceremonial beverages, is one distinctive style of Maya pottery. These vessels, which could be over a meter tall, were embellished with intricate designs that frequently featured characters from Maya folklore, such as gods and animals. The Maya also produced tiny drinking containers that were frequently richly ornamented with glyphs and other symbols.

Coil construction was particularly significant because it enabled the Maya to construct large vessels that could hold a lot of liquid. The coils were frequently smoothed over to produce a seamless surface, and a variety of decorating methods, such as painting, incising, and appliqué, were then used to adorn the vessels.

Because they reveal so much about Maya culture, religion, and everyday life, Maya ceramics are highly prized by archaeologists and art historians. They still serve as a source of inspiration for designers and artists today, who are attracted to their elaborate patterns and vivid hues.

This timeline is not all-inclusive and that coil pottery has evolved and been used in different ways by different regions and cultures.

Did Babylonian And Assyrian Cultures Use A Similar Technique For Making Pottery?

Coil pots were a common type of pottery used by the Babylonian and Assyrian culture, which flourished from the 18th to the 6th centuries BCE in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq). Archaeologists have discovered examples of Babylonian coil pots made in a manner that is comparable to that of other prehistoric cultures. The potter’s wheel, which enabled the Babylonians to produce pottery with more regular forms and sizes, was, however, their most well-known invention.

Is Coil Pottery One Of The Oldest And Most Widespread Art Forms From Prehistoric And Primitive Cultures?

One of the earliest and most well-known types of artwork from ancient and prehistoric civilizations is coil pottery. Many diverse cultures all over the world have used the coiling of clay into vessels technique for thousands of years. Coil pottery has been discovered in numerous locations around the globe, including Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Europe, and dates back to prehistoric times. Coil pottery is a common option for both ceremonial and artistic purposes, as well as for daily use due to its adaptability and durability.

One of the earliest coil jars ever found was found in Japan and is thought to have been made around 10,500 BCE. The Jomon people, who were renowned for their intricate coil pottery methods, produced this pot, which was found in the Odai Yamamoto I archaeological site in Aomori Prefecture. The pot, which stands about 20 centimeters tall, is decorated with a rope-like pattern that was probably made by coiling. As one of the world’s oldest examples of pottery production, its age and quality make it an important archaeological find.

Odai Yamamoto I

On Honshu island, in Nagano Prefecture, is the Japanese archaeological location known as Odai Yamamoto I. It is famous for its important pottery discoveries, which include some of Japan’s earliest coil pottery specimens.

The Jomon era, which ran from roughly 14,000 BCE to 300 BCE, is when the site was built. During this time period, the inhabitants of the Jomon culture created a distinctive pottery style that employed coiling techniques to make vessels. Some of the oldest known examples of Jomon pottery can be found at Odai Yamamoto I.

The “Flame Style Vessel,” a container, is one of Odai Yamamoto I’s most important discoveries. With a presumed age of 12,000 BCE, this pot is one of the earliest coil pots in Japan. Its name refers to the distinctive flame-like patterns that were etched into the surface of the vessel using a method known as “flame-texturing.”

Insights into Japan’s prehistoric society and technology have been gained thanks to the discovery of the Flame Style Vessel and other Jomon pottery at Odai Yamamoto I. It is evidence of the Jomon people’s inventiveness and innovation, who created sophisticated pottery-making methods long before the potter’s wheel was created.

Are There Any Patterns Or Designs That Were Common Among Ancient Civilizations When Creating Coils Pots?

When making coil pots, old societies frequently used a variety of patterns and designs. Examples I know of include:

  1. To design patterns on their coil pots, many ancient civilizations used geometric shapes like triangles, squares, and circles.
  2. Some prehistoric societies incorporated animal motifs into their artwork, such as snakes, fish, or birds.
  3. Some ancient societies carved human faces or figures onto coil pots, frequently to represent religious or spiritual themes.
  4. Coil pots with landscape scenes, such as mountains, rivers, or trees, were made by some ancient civilizations.
  5. Some prehistoric societies used swirls, dots, or lines to decorate their coil pots.

These patterns and designs frequently had cultural significance and allegorical meaning.

How Have Clay Tablets Been Used Historically To Record Information Related To Coiling Pottery Techniques?

Throughout history, coiling and other details pertaining to pottery-making processes have been recorded on clay tablets. For instance, knowledge about clay preparation, pottery forms, and kiln firing procedures can be found on ancient Sumerian and Babylonian cuneiform tablets dating to around 2500 BCE. The use of coils to make pottery containers is also mentioned on some of these tablets.

Coiling methods, including how to form coils and connect them to form a vessel, are described in hieroglyphic inscriptions on pottery shards from ancient Egypt. Similar to how the Maya and Aztec used hieroglyphic writing to document information about their pottery-making methods, including coiling, ancient Mesoamerican cultures did the same. These tablets and inscriptions shed important light on the methods and patterns used by early cultures to make coil pots.

What Differences Can Be Seen Between Modern Coil Pots Versus Those Created Centuries Ago?

There are several variations between contemporary coil pots and those made centuries ago.

  1. While ancient coil pots were usually made with locally sourced natural materials, modern coil pots may be made with various types of clay or even synthetic materials.
  2. While traditional coil pots were completely handcrafted without the use of machinery, modern coil pots may integrate new techniques or technologies, such as electric pottery wheels.
  3. While ancient coil pots were frequently made for practical use in daily life, modern coil pots may have more intricate designs or be made for various reasons, such as decorative or functional use in the kitchen.
  4. While ancient coil pots were usually fired in wood-fired kilns, modern coil pots may be fired in electric or gas kilns. This difference in firing methods may have an impact on the final product’s appearance and durability.

The fundamentals of coiling remain the same despite these variations, and many contemporary potters continue to use conventional coiling methods to produce stunning and useful pottery.

Are There Unique Designs For Specific Occasions That Are Associated With Particular Cultures’ Creation Of Coiled Pottery Items?

Many societies have distinctive patterns and motifs that are connected to particular events or goals. While Mexican Oaxacan Black Pottery features intricate geometric patterns and designs, Native American cultures frequently include animal symbols and earth tones in their coil pottery designs. As in the case of African coil pottery used in traditional rituals, some designs or patterns may have particular meanings or be used for ceremonial reasons. Overall, depending on the cultural and historical context in which they were produced, coil pottery’s particular designs and motifs can vary greatly.

African Coil Pottery Used In Traditional Rituals

The use of African coil pottery in traditional rituals dates back hundreds of years, and it is still a significant part of many African societies today. Women typically take the lead in making pottery in some African societies, where it is a gender-specific practice. These pieces are frequently made using the coil technique because it gives the artist a lot of control over the vessel’s size and shape.

Coil pottery is employed in significant traditional rituals in some African cultures, including those connected to birth, marriage, and death. For instance, in some societies, coil pots are used to store ancestor bones or the umbilical cords of newborns. Masks and other ceremonial objects are made out of coil pottery in other countries for use in traditional rituals.

From region to region and from culture to culture, the designs and patterns used in African coil pottery can differ considerably. While other cultures might favor more abstract or understated designs, some may favor strong geometric patterns or animal themes. Intricate designs are frequently carved or incised onto African coil pots, enhancing their attractiveness and cultural significance.

What were coil pots originally used for?

Coil pots were originally used for a variety of purposes, including cooking, storage, and carrying liquids like water and milk. Their utilitarian nature made them essential in many ancient societies.

When were coil pots invented?

The invention of coil pots dates back to prehistoric times. The exact date is hard to pinpoint, but they have been found in archaeological sites dating back to around 10,000 BCE.

What cultures made coil pots?

Coil pots have been made by numerous cultures around the world, including Native American tribes, ancient Greeks, and African societies, among others. The technique is so basic yet versatile that it has appeared independently in multiple geographic locations.

What is the history of coil pots in Japan?

In Japan, coil pot techniques were likely introduced around the Jomon period (14,000–300 BCE). The Jomon pottery, characterized by intricate coil designs and patterns, is among the oldest in the world. Coil pots in Japan evolved over time, influenced by both native traditions and techniques introduced from China and Korea.

How are coil pots made?

Coil pots are made by rolling out long, snake-like coils of clay and then layering them to form the walls of the pot. The coils are then smoothed out, either by hand or with tools, to create a uniform surface.

What materials were traditionally used for making coil pots?

Traditionally, coil pots were made from readily available clay. The type of clay used could vary depending on the geographic location and intended use of the pot. Sometimes, additives like sand or crushed pottery were mixed with the clay to improve its characteristics.

Are coil pots still made today?

Yes, coil pots are still made today, both for practical uses and as works of art. The technique is taught in many art classes and is popular among both amateur and professional potters.

What are some famous examples of coil pots?

Some famous examples of coil pots include Native American pottery from the Southwestern United States, ancient Greek amphorae, and African pots from various cultures. These examples often feature intricate designs and decorations that reflect the skills and aesthetics of their makers.

How did coil pot techniques evolve over time?

Over time, coil pot techniques have evolved to include more intricate designs and patterns. Modern materials and firing methods have also allowed for greater durability and versatility in the pots’ uses.


Mastering Hand Building: Techniques, Tips, and Tricks Sunshine Cobb 2018 From pinch pots to coiled boxes to soft slab tableware, mastering hand building is a lifelong pursuit. In this book, Sunshine Cobb covers all the foundational skills, with lessons for constructing both simple and complex forms from clay.

Handbuilt Pottery Techniques Revealed: The Secrets Jacqui Atkin 2004 Atkin takes the mystery out of hand-building by showing precisely what happens at each point in the process.

Coiled Pottery: Traditional and Contemporary Ways Betty Blandino 2003 Betty Blanino looks at historical examples of coiled pottery–a method involving hand-building by adding clay in layers–and describes the methods of contemporary and ethnic potters

By Poupou l’quourouce – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

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The Long and Winding Road of Coil Pottery – Artabys (2024)
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