Developing our crafts: Pottery making in Nubia history


To explore and honour our crafts is an enriching feeling which aids the process of knowing who we are. By taking the time to develop these crafts, we place ourselves in a better position to understand our purpose and use this to make a positive impact to our surroundings. Developing skills can feel like a long, awkward and frustrating process, particularly in moments where it feels as if no growth is occurring. In these moments, remaining patient with ourselves and using each moment of failure to act as lesson for how we can improve can serve us well in the long-term. Looking to the rich history of the Nubia Kingdom and the presence of pottery making in communities, we can attain lessons in the importance of developing craft, utilising inspiration as well as honouring patience.

Nubia history traces back to around 10,000 B.C, where communities made up parts of present day Sudan, Ethiopia and Southern Egypt. The Nubia were the first in Africa to develop the craft of pottery making, from this craft one is able to gauge the distinct connection and understanding of surroundings, an emphasis on self-expression through creativity as well as having a mechanism to preserve history, all of which were present in the pottery making process.

Learning from nature: An understanding of surroundings played a key role in pottery making. For example, the process of creating water vessels was designed in such a way so as to ensure that water remained cool despite the hot temperatures. Furthermore, using clay ensured that many pieces of pottery lasted for a long period. These elements point to a deep understanding of how communities adapted and thrived in nature. The presence of animal designs in a lot of the Nubia pottery that has been unearthed also supports this idea. The pottery heavily features animals such as the giraffe, cattle and the crocodile, animals that were prevalent in the regions at the time. In Hellenizing Art in Ancient Nubia 300 B.C. – AD 250 and its Egyptian Models, historian László Török notes that “Classic Kerma artisans produced zoomorphic vessels, shaped vessel spouts in the form of animal heads, decorated vessel walls with figures in relief, and modelled vessel handles in the form of birds”. The recognition of this connection and inspiration from surroundings was also made by British archaeologists David Randall-Maclver and Leonard Woolley following their excavation in the former Nubia kingdom, describing it’s inhabitants as “a people loving nature, observing it, and trying to represent it faithfully”. Despite this observation, they go on to describe the pottery as “unsophisticated and primitive”. Creativity is a beautiful concept, if anything the overt disdain aired by the two archaeologists teaches us, it is that we should broaden our perspective and always challenge ourselves instead of viewing ways of expression from a rigid viewpoint.

Preservation and development of craft: The accounts of former Swiss traveller, John Lewis Burckhardt concerning the abundance of pottery pieces which he encountered during his travels through the former kingdom helped to give an indication of the widescale development of this craft. In his journal, Burckhardt talks of the large presence of fine pottery, particularly in the ancient town of Contra Talmis which he came across. Yet he seemed reluctant to believe that the dark-skinned people of Ancient Nubia could be capable of producing such pieces for domestic use. Despite the reluctance that he echoes, which is symptomatic of the overtly racist colonial period, one is able to gain a sense of the high quality of pottery pieces produced by the Nubia, albeit from the perspective of a racist white gaze. The pieces of Nubia have also been highlighted in the work of historians Larry Ross and Joyce Haynes, both note that Nubian pottery was the most preferred in the region and note the various bowls, vases and cups and other elaborate pieces of furniture that were created, particularly in the period of 1500 B.C. Despite the development of various pottery pieces, one key aspect of the craft has transcended thousands of years and remains today, pottery making by hand. The fact that this still persists among the descendants of the Nubia in present day draws attention to how well key aspects of Nubia history have been preserved as well as a high regard for process and self-sufficiency.

The craft of pottery making from ancient Nubia is thousands of years old, its presence draws attention to the beauty of creating something with a long-lasting and positive effect. From exploring this aspect of Nubia history, it can inspire each of us as we explore and develop our own craft. May we give ourselves the chance to explore our creativity and use our crafts to work towards improving our surroundings in a way that is sustainable. May we be diligent as we develop our craft and celebrate the value of self-sufficiency at an individual and community level.


Nubia: Ancient kingdoms of Africa – Joyce L. Haynes (1992)

Nubia and Egypt – 10,000 BC to 400 AD: From pre-history to the Meroitic period – Larry Ross (2013)

Travels in Nubia – John Lewis Burckhardt (1819)

Areika – David Randall-Maclver, Leonard Woolley, Francis Llewelyn Griffith (1909)

Hellenizing Art in Ancient Nubia 300 B.C. – AD 250 and its Egyptian Models – László Török (2011)

Ancient Kingdoms of Africa – Ancient Nubia (BBC)

*Image taken from Pinterest

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