Illuminating the past – Enhancing the present – Inspiring the future

Boat 1550 BC project

As part of the Boat 1550 BC  project, handling kits of original archaeological material and replicas will be built in the three participating countries. These will be used by schools and interest groups. Graham Taylor, potter and experimental archaeologist based in Northumberland, has already produced 60 replica Bronze Age ‘beakers’ for the Kent kits.Graham based his beaker on one found at St Margaret’s Bay near Dover. He describes the process of production:

‘As with original Bronze Age beakers, the clay has been carefully selected, mixed with fine grit to create a material that is plastic enough to form into a thin walled pot, but coarse enough to withstand the rigors of the firing.  The pot has been hand formed from a single ball of clay, starting by ‘pinching’ out a shallow thick bowl, then working steadily round and round the pot, drawing up the clay until the required height is reached.  Once this is done the pot is shaped by forming it into the palm of my right hand with the fingers of my left hand inside the vessel.  Once I have achieved a satisfactory shape I set the pot aside to dry overnight.  In the morning the clay has reached a leather hard state and using the wetted palm of my hand I work over the entire outer surface to raise up a ‘slip’ of wet clay which will form a smooth surface over the entire pot.
Replica Bronze Age beakersReplica Bronze Age beakersFiring the pots
Once this has been left to dry for an hour or so, the decoration is applied using a small slate or bone decorating comb.  The pattern is built up by pressing the comb into the surface approximately 560 times for each beaker.  This pattern also requires small circular impressions, about 130 of them, made with a hollow bird bone.  About 700 individual impressions, along with the careful organisation of the pattern, make the decoration far more time-consuming than the making. It’s now time for the pot to dry and this must be thorough to avoid steam blowing the clay apart in the fire, so it rests for about a week to ten days in a warm dry place.  The firing itself is done in an open fire, first the beaker is placed over a few bits of glowing charcoal to ‘preheat’ slowly raising the temperature over a few hours until the pot is at about 400°C.  At this point the fire can be allowed to flame and over the next hour wood is added to the fire to make the pot red hot and bring its temperature up to about 800°C.

Finally, the pot is cleaned and a surface finish of bees wax is applied.’

To see Graham at work: video 1 | video 2

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