“Beaten” Pat­terns

This net-pat­terned caul­dron was un­earthed in the Tan­shis­han Cul­ture Site (c. 3500–2000 BC) in Min­hou County, Fu­jian. Dur­ing the Ne­olithic pe­riod, fish­ing and hunt­ing were ad­vanced in in south­ern China, so the net-pat­tern was a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of fish­ing ge

China Scenic - - Chinese Patterns - By Shen Wen

The pre­his­toric art of pot­tery orig­i­nated from both the prac­ti­cal needs of life, and from an es­sen­tial truth that far went be­yond pure sur­vival. The act of beat­ing first emerged as an un­re­mark­able ac­tion dur­ing an­cient peo­ples’ la­bor work. These peo­ple could not have known that this sim­ple ac­tion would go on to in­flu­ence clas­si­cal dec­o­ra­tive mo­tifs for gen­er­a­tions thou­sands of years later.

Since its ear­li­est ori­gins, mankind has been un­able to sur­vive with­out three ba­sic el­e­ments: wa­ter, fire, and earth. Trans­for­ma­tion of one’s own habi­tat is a process that be­gins with the soil be­neath one’s feet. Peo­ple soon re­al­ized that clay’s firm­ness is in­flu­enced by its wa­ter con­tent, and that one could lever­age this to mold the clay into dif­fer­ent ves­sels and shapes, which could then be cured by fire, which so­lid­i­fied the ob­jects. These sim­ple steps were the gen­e­sis for the en­tire pot­tery craft. If that’s how pot­tery it­self orig­i­nated, then where did pot­tery’s pat­terns come from?

Ac­cord­ing to one school of thought, pot­tery was first de­vel­oped in con­nec­tion with weav­ing. For ex­am­ple, in or­der to make a wo­ven rat­tan bas­ket more durable and fire-re­sis­tant, an­cient crafts­men would cover its sides with clay paste and treat it with fire — re­sult­ing in a sort of proto-pot­tery bowl or basin. As these ob­jects were pro­duced, the crafts­men’s uten­sils would leave a wo­ven pat­tern im­printed on the clay. To­day, re­searchers be­lieve these in­ci­den­tal but at­trac­tive pat­terns in­flu­enced an­cient so­ci­ety, which be­gan to place an em­pha­sis on pur­su­ing pot­tery with aes­thetic beauty. Yet this was by no means the ear­li­est oc­cur­rence of dec­o­ra­tive pat­terns in an­cient pot­tery.

Dur­ing the 1990s, the Arche­ol­ogy Depart­ment at Pek­ing Univer­sity, in com­bi­na­tion with the Ar­chae­ol­ogy and Cul­tural Relics Re­search In­sti­tute of Jiangxi Prov­ince and Amer­ica’s An­dover Arche­o­log­i­cal Foun­da­tion, con­ducted an ex­ca­va­tion of Jiangxi’s hun­dreds-year-old Xian­ren Cave and Diao­tonghuan Ru­ins, where dis­tinct ev­i­dences of tran­si­tion from the Pa­le­olithic Age to the Ne­olithic Age were dis­cov­ered.

In 2009, Chi­nese and Amer­i­can ar­chae­ol­o­gists

once-again gath­ered sam­ples from a soil strata pro­file, con­duct­ing car­bon-14 tests on a large pot­tery frag­ment un­earthed in­side the cave. The tests in­di­cated that the pot­tery had orig­i­nated more than 20,000 years in the past — mak­ing it the old­est pot­tery re­cov­ered any­where in the world to date. Af­ter un­der­go­ing clean­ing and restora­tion, it was clear that the sur­face of the pot­tery con­tained a dis­tinct rope pat­tern.

Based on the shape of the re­cov­ered pot­tery frag­ments, ex­perts de­ter­mined the likely pro­duc­tion meth­ods used by those an­cient lo­cals: one is the lay­er­ing of clay sheets and the other is the coil­ing of clay ropes. In the first method, rec­tan­gu­lar bricks of clay are stacked layer- on-layer, be­fore a crafts­man would take a tool made of bam­boo, wood, or jugged and flaky bone-made tools, leav­ing bas­ket-like pat­terns along the in­side and out­side of the pot­tery. Of course, these pat­terns could also be tow­eled by hands to pro­duce pot­tery with a smooth and un­pat­terned sur­face.

In the sec­ond method, strips of clay two to three cen­time­ters in di­am­e­ter are lay­ered atop one an­other, and are then beaten with a bat en­wound with ropes or fiber, leav­ing a pat­tern of dis­tinc­tive im­pres­sions on the sur­face. The im­prints vary in thick­ness, usu­ally be­tween one and three mil­lime­ters. These rope or bas­ket pat­terns can­not, how­ever, be re­garded as dec­o­ra­tive mo­tifs: rather, they are merely a part of the man­u­fac­tur­ing process, help­ing to strengthen the pot­tery.

The con­tin­u­ous beat­ing helps bind the clay of the pot­tery, while al­low­ing its walls to be made thin­ner and lighter. Pot­tery pro­duced us­ing this method en­joys a much greater car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity — such as when filled with wa­ter — than pot­tery pro­duced us­ing other meth­ods. The only way to in­crease the weight-car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity of tra­di­tional pots is to in­crease the rel­a­tive thick­ness of the pot’s walls which, of course, also in­creases its weight and size — which had an ad­verse ef­fect on the pot’s work­ing life­span. Sim­ply put, pot­tery that has un­der­gone the process of con­tin­u­ous beat­ing is stronger, less prone to leaks, more sta­ble, and has a larger car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity.

The “beat­ing” tech­nique to pro­duce pot­tery was used through­out the Ne­olithic Era. Dur­ing the era’s late pe­riod, the an­cient Yue peo­ples of south­ern China (all peo­ples who resided around the Lower Yangtze and in vast swaths of the south­ern re­gion prior to the Qin and Han dy­nas­ties) per­haps be­came in­spired to be­gin im­print­ing their pot­tery with dec­o­ra­tive pat­terns. In this way, the sim­ple pat­tern that arose from “beat­ing” pot­tery can be de­scribed as the true orig­i­na­tor of dec­o­ra­tive pat­terns.

Rope was an im­por­tant ev­ery­day tool of the Ne­olithic peo­ple and left its mark as pat­terns on pot­tery. The twisted rope pat­tern on the up­per part of this Ne­olithic col­ored pot­tery pot is a dis­tinct ex­am­ple. Photo/ QUANJING

This pot­tery shard with check­ered and spi­ral pat­terns was dis­cov­ered in Suzhou, Jiangsu. Ar­chae­ol­o­gists sur­mise that the spi­ral pat­tern orig­i­nated from whirlpools that ap­peared in wa­ter while the an­cients were fish­ing. A wide range of an­cient dec­o­ra­tive pat­terns was in­spired by man’s daily life. For in­stance, many ar­chae­ol­o­gists be­lieve that the rhom­bus pat­tern is an ab­strac­tion of a fish scale.

These are two rub­bings of Shang Dy­nasty geometric pat­tern pot­tery shards un­earthed in Erli­gang Ru­ins in Zhengzhou, He­nan.

This raised cir­cle pat­tern on the clay frag­ment un­earthed in eastern Guangzhou, Guang­dong Prov­ince, is be­lieved to be de­rived from the eyes of fish.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.