Basket Weaving and Pottery

In traditional cultures, there is a continuum between utility and ornamentation. The spiral is more than just a decorative motif; it is also a model for constructing useful items like baskets and pots.

Basket Weaving

While basket weaving is one of the most prevalent handicrafts in the history of human civilization, it is hard to say just how old the craft is, because natural materials like wood, grass, and animal remains are subject to early natural decay. Thus, without proper preservation, which was not available two hundred years ago much less two thousand years ago, older specimens, and much of the history of basket making, have been lost, leaving much to speculation.

The historian Catherine Erdly reports that the oldest known baskets, discovered in Faiyum in upper Egypt, are (according to radiocarbon dating) between ten thousand and twelve thousand years old, earlier than any established dates for pottery specimens. Other baskets have been discovered in the Middle East that are as much as seven thousand years old. The most common evidence of the practice of basketry is the imprint of basket-weave on fragments of clay pots that were formed by packing clay on the walls of a basket and then firing.

Read more about basketry

Pot making is one of humankind's first inventions and because of the durability of fired clay it remains one of the best records of the Pot making is one of humankind's first inventions, and because of the durability of fired clay, pottery remains one of the best records of early human culture. Even so, the record fades the further back in time we look. The earliest known pottery dates to about ten thousand B.C. and was found in parts of Asia. Other specimens have been found in the Middle East and date to roughly six thousand B.C. Because of the difficulty in firing to higher temperatures, which produces more durable ware, it is likely that the very earliest ceramic work was too soft to have survived.

Potters wheels are known to have been used in the Indus valley, what is today Pakistan and northern India, around three thousand to four thousand B.C. and possibly earlier. As is the case with many inventions, the potters wheel did not simply spring into being in one location but evolved over many centuries independently in many areas of the world.

Read more about the history of pottery

Jomon Spiral Pot
Jomon Spiral Pot
Spiral Vase, Neolithic Chinese
Vinca bowl and clay coiled snake dating from the end of the sixth millennium B.C.
Image from The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe: Myths and Cult Images by Marija Gimbutas

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Budapesti Történeti Múzeum 2004
Prehistoric Pot from the Jormon Period in Japan
Image from Jomon Reflections
by Tatsuo Kobayashi

Clay vase painted with a spiral pattern, from Gansu Province, China, 2650-2350 B.C.

Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness.

T.S. Eliot

Pima Man in the Maze Basket, circa 1910

At about the same time as the appearance of the Greek labyrinth, a topologically identical pattern appeared in Native American culture—the Tohono O'odham labyrinth, which features I'itoi, the "man in the maze." The story of the Tohono O'odham and I'itoi represents the journey through life, with the wayfarer gaining wisdom at every turn as he moves closer to death at the center of the maze.

Explore Labyrinths
The cornucopia (Latin Cornu Copiae), literally Horn of Plenty and also known as the Harvest Cone, is a symbol of food and abundance dating back to the fifth century B.C.
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