In the Egypt Centre upstairs gallery (in the pottery case and in the ‘Egypt Before Writing Case’) you will see some fine walled, hand-made pottery which Egyptologists term ‘black-topped red ware’ or ‘B-ware’. As the first name suggests, this pottery is red with a blackened rim. It was classified by the Egyptologist Flinders Petrie.
These vessels are made from black to red coloured Nile silt, the alluvial deposits of the Nile valley (the other type of clay found in Egypt comes from the desert areas and is called ‘marl clay’).
The vessels would have been built up using coil construction (Arnold and Bourriau 1993, 33-36). In some cases the coils may have been built on a turntable thus making the vessel shape more regular. The shiny surface is not produced by a glaze but rather through polishing or burnishing with a pebble or similar smooth object after the pot has dried but before it is fired.
There is some argument as to exactly how the black top was achieved. Firing a pot in a reducing atmosphere (without oxygen) makes the clay turn black. In an oxidising atmosphere it turns red. So, if the atmosphere is different for different parts of the vessels the pot would be two-toned. The addition of soot would also aid the blackening of the vessel (see Arnold and Bourriau 1993, 95; Bourriau, Nicholson and Rose 2000, 128; or Hendrickx et al. 2000 for discussion on how such pottery may have been coloured).
Black-topped red ware dates to the Badarian and Naqada Periods (5500-3100 B.C.). You will see, if you look closely, that the walls of these vessels are thinner than many of the later types. Some may argue that they are also more aesthetically pleasing.
Other Predynastic and Early Dynastic items in the Egypt Centre
Arnold, D., and J. Bourriau (eds.), 1993. An Introduction to Ancient Egyptian Pottery. Mainz.
Bourriau, J., P. Nicholson and P. Rose 2000. Pottery, in P.T. Nicholson and I. Shaw, (eds.), Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology, 121-148. Cambridge.
Hendrickx, S., Friedman, R. and Loyens, F. 2000. Experimental Archaeology concerning Black-topped red war from Ancient Egypt and the Sudan. Cahiers de le Ceramique Egyptienne 6, 171-185.