Uncovering Secrets in Ancient Greek Pottery


At the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum in Baltimore, MD a team of researchers is delving into pottery-making. But not just any pottery, they are attempting to recreate the iconic black and red cups and bowls called kylikes that are the hallmark of Ancient Athenian pottery (just like the ones in Disney’s Hercules intro!).

Figuring out how these pots were made will unravel many mysteries that can’t be solved just by looking at them. For example, how did they create the slip that they used for painting? How were they able to achieve two colors with different textures side by side? What sort of kiln and firing techniques did they use? Answering these questions will help scientists understand more about ancient Greek culture and society.

In the past, the pots were mainly studied by art historians who focused on their decorative paintings. More recently, scientists have started investigating the materials used to make them, but no one had looked at both together. The researchers in Baltimore will combine science and art to take a more in-depth look at how and why the pots were created.

Using a replica of an ancient kiln, students and professors from Johns Hopkins tried to create their own kylikes. They experimented with many different factors in producing these cups, from the material used to create the images to the temperature and length of time for firing them. They discovered that the Greeks used slip (clay and other materials mixed with water) to which they added iron, instead of paint, and did multiple rounds of firing while varying the amount of air in the kiln to create the distinctive colors.

Combining the fields of art and science gives us a broader understanding of the ancient Greek potters and their craft, and helps us solve mysteries that can not be answered by one discipline alone. I hope there will be more studies combining science and art, so I can report on more examples of this awesome kind of teamwork in the future!

Want to learn more? Visit http://www.baltimoresun.com/health/bs-hs-greek-vases-20160117-story.html

Jan 19, 2016

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