There are some indications that pottery may have been in use in the third and final phase of Early Neolithic, PPNC (recognized Early Neolithic phases are, beginning with the earliest, PPNA, PPNB and PPNC); however such artifacts are rare, their provenance equivocal and the issue remains in doubt. Approximately sometime in the late 6th millennium BC pottery was introduced into the southern Levant and it became widely used. The supposedly sophisticated forms and technological and decorative aspects suggested to archaeologists that it must have been received as an imported, technological advance from adjacent regions to the north and was not developed locally. The evidence for this hypothesis, however, remains equivocal for lack of documentation in the archaeological record. This hypothesis also does not take into account the bulk of simple, rudely fashioned vessels that were part of the ceramic repertoire of this period.
By the earliest PN phase pottery was ubiquitous and it remained so for virtually all periods in the southern Levant until modern times. Exceptions were in desert areas where semi-nomads favored less heavy, fragile and bulky arrangements. Pottery styles, based mostly on form, fabric and decorative elements have been used to help identify chrono-cultural phases. White ware remained in use, but it seems to have remained rare and the vessels were often small and rather delicate. It is possible that not a few such vessels were found and identified as pottery.
The earliest PN phase is associated with the site of Sha'ar HaGolan in the Jordan Valley (the short segment of the Great Syro-African Rift Valley through which the River Jordan flows). This pottery is sometimes called "Yarmukian Ware". The diagnostic pottery typical of this period is somewhat sophisticated. Its most outstanding aspect is the use of long, narrow, incised bands of lines filled with herringbone decoration, often painted red or yellow. Forms of vessels may be quite delicate and lug handles on small jars with long necks are not uncommon. More common, coarser and less well made vessels are also present but are less diagnostic for the period.
Common or cruder wares generally have simple shapes and are often less well finished and are not decorated. Vessel walls of this class are often of uneven thickness and look 'lumpy'. This crude aspect is often further emphasized by grass-wiped exteriors and the negative impressions left by straw or vegetal tempers (i.e. chopped up dried grass or weeds)which combust and leave hollows after firing. These inclusion were either added intentionally, or are the unintentional result of poorly levigated (i.e. a process of purifying clay by removal of natural, non-clay inclusions such as stones and plant materials) or unlevigated clay, and are characteristic of this coarse Neolithic pottery. Later Neolithic pottery tends to favor the use of different tempers, sand, gravel, small stones and sometimes grog (ground up pottery). Much Neolithic pottery is low-fired and did not attain temperatures far above 600°C, which is more or less the minimum required for creating pottery from low-fired clays. Probably these vessels were pit-fired rather than fired in kilns, although such an hypothesis remains to be proven. To date there is no direct evidence in excavation based literature on how Neolithic peoples of the southern Levant fired their pottery.
Later Neolithic pottery has less distinctive features. Work at Jericho by K. Kenyon suggested to her two periods of Late Neolithic, based on the existence of coarser and finer pottery groups. The former, supposedly representing a less sophisticated and earlier occupation, was labeled PNA (Pottery Neolithic A); the latter was called PNB (Pottery Neolithic B). Many researchers now believe the difference to be one of function rather than evidence for chronological differences between these two groups, since examples of each are often found in contemporary contexts. Thus, PNB types are often designated as fine or luxury wares.
The site of Munhatta, excavated by J. Perrot, has contributed a large series of ceramic assemblages dated to the Neolithic period. In one phase there are some extraordinarily sophisticated ceramic vessels of especially finely levigated, highly polished or burnished (polishing of almost dry , leather hard, surfaces of unfired clay to produce a smooth surface that becomes shiny when fired), black fabric. Other pottery suggests that some potters in this period, dated later than an earlier, "Yarmukian" phase at the site (identified by Shaa'r Hagolan type pottery), were highly skilled craftspeople. One researcher, Y. Garfinkel, refers to this phase as "Jericho IX" after a stratum and associated pottery excavated by J. Garstang at Jericho (he excavated at Jericho prior to Kenyon). The decorated pottery of this period often has red paint in the form of stripes, sometimes in large, wide herringbone-like decorations.
Not all pottery from these phases is so chrono-culturally diagnostic. Most vessels are of plain wares and utilitarian types. In addition, other methods of decoration are known in the later Neolithic. They include the use of slips (color applied to an entire vessel), burnishing and incising (e.g. notching, combing, slashing, etc.). Wavy lines of combing, often combined with painting are one of the distinctive types of Late Neolithic decoration associated with the Rabah phase (see below). The use of red slips and paints is common in this and later periods, and is probably the direct outcome of clays used, which are rich in iron oxides that tend, under some conditions, to fire to earthy red tones ranging from brown to orange and brick-red. These same clays, when fired in a reducing atmosphere (i.e. devoid of oxygen) often become gray or black in color. Dark colored, gray to black cores on some pots indicate incomplete firing
The most recent PN phase is named after the site of Wadi Rabah, excavated by J. Kaplan. Y. Garfinkel relegates this final LN period to Early Chalcolithic. The distinction seems to be mostly a matter of terminology. Since there is no definitive break between Late Neolithic and Early Chalcolithic, each researcher must decide what is Neolithic and what is Early Chalcolithic. The situation is even more complicated because there appears to be considerable regional variation in Neolithic pottery assemblages and not a little confusion as to what constitutes chrono-culturally related assemblages. That is a function of the generally poor preservation of PN sites and the way in which they were excavated. Summary: Neolithic pottery may well have arrived as a full-blown technological set from more northerly regions. Pottery appears to have become ubiquitous in the southern Levant by late in the 6th millennium and remained as an integral part of human material culture up to the present. Some local potters showed particular skill in their production, which suggests, as is the case with flint knappers, real craft specialization. That is related to skills in finding and preparing raw materials, fashioning pots, decorating them, and controlling the pyrotechnology needed to turn them into pottery. Some aspects of pottery, form, fabric, modes of decoration are relatively reliable diagnostic indicators of chrono-cultural identities of human society. Pottery, mostly in the form of sherds, often makes up the bulk of material culture artifacts found on excavated sites dating from the PN period.
Pottery of the Early Chalcolithic period is often similar to that of the Late Neolithic. One diagnostic feature of this period is found in pottery made on mats, probably of straw . When this was the case the clay was pressed into the weave of the mat leaving an impression which potters sometimes did not remove. Thus some bases of vessels in this period bear distinct patterns of mats on which they were made. Other techniques used for pottery production in this period include painting and slipping of exteriors, and the limited use of incised decoration, sometimes in a fish bone pattern but of usually much larger dimensions than that associated with Yarmukian pottery. One specialized form associated with this period is the so-called 'torpedo' vessel, a long narrow, thick-walled jar with two large, vertical lugs attached to its upper, almost tube-like body. Pottery of the Late Chalcolithic period sees a continuation of many of the basic shapes and types of the eariler period, but much of the typical decoration of the earlier Chalcolithic is discontinued.
Late Chalcolithic pottery is known for some special shapes including: 1)cornets--cone-like vessels with narrow apertures and long, highly tapered sides ending in exaggerated, long stick-like bases; 2) (so-called)churns or bird vessels, barrel-shaped vessels, often with bow shaped neck, one flat end and two lugs at either horizontal end of barrel, intended for suspension; 3)small bowls with straight sides tapering to flat bases (so-called V-shaped despite the flat bases; fenestrated-pedestaled bowls, small vases with vertical lugs pierced circularly, vertical tube handles, large holemouths with broad shoulders and relatively narrow bases.
Small bowls and cornets of this period can be especially thin and appear to have been turned on wheels, but they are only finished that way. Recent research on the techniques of bowl making in this period indicate these vessels, while turned on a wheel, were actually only finished that way by scraping, after having been fashioned by hand. There is no evidence to show that the fast potter's wheel was used in the Chalcolithic period for 'throwing pots' using centrifugal force. The wavy line or indented ledge handle makes its appearance in the central littoral in this period, presaging its adoption as the most common type of handle throughout the Early Bronze Age. Common decorations include raised, rope-like bands on some vessels, red painting and pie-crust like decoration on rims of large vessels (excepting holemouths. Combing, that produced wide, broad, flat lines, is sometimes found on jars of the Late Chalcolithic. Pronounced regional variations as well as functions of sites determine the kinds of vessels, types of clay used, and the forms of decoration preferred. Chalcolithic pottery technology and morphology greatly influenced the ceramic styles of the succeeding Early Bronze I period, especially in the southern region.
Specialized production of ossuaries(boxes intended to hold bones after decarnation; i.e., secondary burials) is well documented in this period. It includes many types of rectangular boxes, some with extremely elaborate facades. Some anthropomorphic visages appear on these ossuaries in 3 dimensional sculpting (rare), often with the nose particularly prominently, while other features are generally painted. Some ossuaries are fashioned of typical jars, altered and adorned for this specific mortuary related function.
Early Bronze I (ca. 3500 - ca. 3000 BCE) pottery in the southern region is obviously derived from Chalcolithic traditions. Similar types of vessels are known and they were, in the earliest phases, made according to traditional Chalcolithic methods of manufacture. In the north there seems to be much less continuity, but that may be more of perception of the archaeological record. Unfortunately there is no good Chalcolithic sequence in the north from which one may learn precisely what the latest Chalcolithic facies is. What is clear is that in the earliest phases of EB I there is a pronounced regionalism that becomes less visible over time. Regionalism is particularly marked in the earliest phase of Early Bronze I, with a dichotomy between northern and southern spheres of influence and a mosaic of more localized traditions within those larger spheres. In the southern region pie-crust type decoration is commonly found on large storage jars, while for the first time this type of detail is also found on holemouth vessels. The ledge handle becomes prominent in this period; its earliest exponents, obviously inherited from the preceding period, is notable for almost invariably having a wavy-line edge in many variations. Only rather late in the period and in specific regions was this appendage made with smooth edges. Poor preservation at most southern sites has limited knowledge of the typology of this early phase.
Pottery from the northern region fully recognized as Early Bronze I, shows less evidence of owing its inspiration to the preceding period. However, this may merely be a function of limited perception by researchers who fail to distinguish the pottery of what may be an initial phase of Early Bronze I. A slightly later phase is well known from a number of sites, the best known of which is Yiftah'el in the Beth Netufa Valley system. The site has yielded a relatively large corpus of reasonably preserved vessels. The most distinctive pottery of this period is known as "Gray Burnished Ware" or sometimes as "Esdraelon Ware" or Proto-Urban C pottery. This ware is known for its generally gray color, highly burnished finish, and a limited and distinctive range of morphological types, almost invariably bowls. Most of the bowls have a carinated (angled) profile, some of them with flat projections forming an undulating line in a birds eye view. Similar morphological types are also found in red or in buff colors. Additional ceramic types have features that are reminiscent of Chalcolithic types. In addition the ledge handle is also prominent in this period. Pottery is always hand made and in the earliest phases appears to have been home-made by local potters working within general traditions of how a pot should look, but with little slavish copying. The high loop handle was popular in this period for jugs and juglets.
A second phase of Early Bronze I may be seen in both the northern and southern regions. In the north much pottery is painted or slipped red and burnished. Gray Burnished Ware continues to be made but examples of this ware, in the earlier period finely made and obviously luxury items, are less well made. A related morphological type is a curved bowl with a line of evenly spaced conical protrusions just below the rim on the exterior of the vessel. Such bowls are also known to be red-slipped in the north; in the south similar types are very rare and neither slipped nor burnished. Grain-wash, a kind of painting that leave a pattern that is slightly reminiscent of wood (sometimes called band-slip) makes its appearance in this period in the north. Pithoi are of different types. Two well-known types are distinguished by their rims; one has a pronounced bow-rim, while the other has a thickened rim with regular striations that give it its name, 'rail rim'. In the south there remains a deal of regionality, stressed by two types of decorated wares which only slightly overlap in their distribution. They are 'line painted group', red lines usually on a light background. Within that group is a very distinctive 'basket style', that imitates basketry. This type was commonly found in the Hill Country around Jerusalem and down to Jericho and Bab edh Dhra in the Great Rift Valley. Further south, in the Shephela (piedmont) down to the Northern Negev is found a group of pottery with distinctive striated handles, often double stranded, and sometimes with thin coils of clay wrapped horizontally around where the handles were attached to the vessel walls. Other generic types were made, including more standardized pithoi, often with a thick, whilt quick-lime type coating on their exteriors. These pithoi were commonly decorated with flat, thin strips of clay placed horizontally around the vessel in 1 or more bands and pressed flat at regular intervals so as to give the impression of a rope.
It is in this period that there is a great increase of standardization within the larger spheres, northern and southern. While no center of pottery production has yet been found, there seems to be evidence for extensive trading of pottery between sites or possibly from a central point of production. Only extensive petrographic analyses can help to prove this and perhaps pinpoint some possible location for such centers.
By the third and final phase of Early Bronze I there remains a dichotomy between north and south, with red-burnishing as opposed to no burnishing and the extensive use of white, quick-lime slip reflecting northern and southern traditions, respectively. Extensive trade of ceramics, or possibly groups of itinerant potters seem to have left much evidence for their movement or that of pots between regions and within regions. Morphological types are shared from region to region and sphere to sphere, but often with localized details. All pottery from this period is hand made. Egyptian imported pottery if found in some sites in the south western region in this period. Most sites have only a small quantity, but a few select sites suggest prolongued contacts with Egyptians and possibly even Egyptians residing in the southern Levant. Pottery of Early Bronze I in the north seems to presage that of Early Bronze II in terms of morphology and decoration (especially red painting and burnishing), although in the later period potters achieved similar types through very different technological approaches. Wheels seem to have come into use and new fabrics, better levigated (cleared of coarse materials) were made. So-called 'metallic ware' was introduced in this period. Some examples look as if they were imitating metal, while the high-fired fabrics give off a metallic-like ring when struck. Jugs, platters of this ware were found alongside others of more plain fabrics. 'Metallic Ware' was probably made somewhere in Lebanon or in the region of Mount Hermon and disseminated to the south, generally as far as the Jezreel Valley. Further south similar morphological types are known, but they are of different wares. Early Bronze III types continue the earlier tradition, but in the north a new ware type, transported from the Caucasus and probably brought overland via Anatolia and Syria, makes its appearance. First discovered at Beth Yerah on the Kinneret (Khirbet Kerak), on the southern shores of the Sea of Galilee / Lake Kinneret (in which excavations the ware was first defined during the 1920s), it is called Khirbet Kerak Ware. It was obviously made by potters who brought the tradition with them. Examples are of highly distinctive types, jugse and jars, sometimes with fluting, painted and highly burnished red or black or a combination of these colors, andirons, some with decorations and faces, and carinated bowls. Khirbet Kerak Ware was always hand-made. Khirbet Kerak Ware is also known as Red Black Burnished Ware (sometimes hyphenated "Red-Black") in west Syrian and Amuq Valley contexts. In Transcaucasia - from which area it seems ultimately to have originated - the ware is also referred to as Karaz or Pulur Ware. As such, it may be associated with the later historic appearance of the people recognised historically as the Hurrians. Petrographic analyses shows some of it was made locally. Other local traditions continue and eventually influenced the pottery of the Intermediate Age, which followed.
The potter's wheel, used primarily for throwing small bowls using centrifugal force is known from this period. It represent an innovation that was continued in the following period, when it was employed to fashion rims for vessels of certain types. The piriform juglet makes its appearance in this period, but whether it has any connection with the later, Middle Bronze II vessels of analogous form is unclear. With the exception of Khhirbet Kerak Ware, the pottery of this period continues the Early Bronze traditions and passed them on to the people who populated the small communities of the succeeding period.
There is a major dichotomy and great differences between the pottery of the northern and southern regions. Certain shapes are associated with particular fabric types which, can be related to one or the other region. The pottery of this period shows some innovations, including the use of the wheel for fashioning the rims of jars. In the south decoration was generally incisions, while painting was more common in the north. There are also regional variations with pottery from Transjordan somewhat different from that associated with areas west of the Jordan.
Unfortunately relatively few settlements have been dug from this period and most of the pottery known is derived from tombs. That is because most of the major population centers were deserted at the end of Early Bronze III and people tended to settle in much smaller communities. Probably because they had less resources and perhaps had to work harder to keep themselves, they left relatively scanty evidence of their permanent settlements. Once it was believed that most of the people of this period were semi-nomadic, but as time goes by more and more evidence of sedentarism in this period is being found. In the north is found the first evidence of infiltration of Syrian type pottery in a group of so-called 'Megiddo teapots', small, delicate, wheel-made vessels of high-fired, dark, almost metallic fabric decorated with white, wavy lines.
Sites have yielded evidence of local variations in decoration, morphology and fabrics. One such is the use of burnished red slips knonw from the cemetery at Bab edh Dhra. In the Beth Shan region certain vessels have special painted decoration, while a cave near Tel Qedesh in Upper Galilee yielded many pedestaled lamps. Basically, the pottery of this period represents the last dying gasps of a tradition that reaches back into the local Chalcolithic (with even earlier antecedents) period and continuing on into the Early Bronze Age. There are, however, hints at the major changes to come in influences from the area to the north, Syria, which was to revolutionize ceramic traditions in the southern Levant for the next two millennia.
This period is divided into three different sub periods: MBII A, B, and C. We shall see that B and C are closer linked than A. This period is diagnosed by the well-burnished red slip so often seen in the corresponding layers at digs. The slip is normally used on the smaller vessels of the period. Other decorating techniques found to be frequent amongst this period's pottery are horizontal sometimes triangular designs in black or red paint.
The second half of this period (B+C) is not seen by the burnished red slip, which all but disappeared during the eighteenth century, replaced by white/creamy slip. The pottery is often quite thinly walled and even kilned at high temperatures. Despite this, there is a progression of techniques from MBII A, which does denote continuity in society from then. Other noticeable traits of the period are a lack of painted design on most types of pottery and then only unicolored. The one color often tends to be stripes or circles with the odd bird making an appearance. These designs appear on ointment juglets.
The ointment juglet is the most important piece of pottery of the period. The fashion of juglets swings gradually from piriform ones to cylindrical. Amongst these vessels we find zoomorphic shapes like animals or human heads. These designs are often accompanied by “puncturing”, which used to be filled by white lime.
Lastly Chocolate on White Ware and Bichrome Ware are important pottery types appearing in the 16th century. The first of the two types consists of a thick white slip being applied followed by a dark brown paint. This type is found in the northern region of the country particularly close to the Jordan Valley. The Bichrome Ware the more important of the two can be found at Tel el-Ajjul and Meggido among others. Its “pendant” lines or stripes that come usually as black on white slip, or more commonly as red on black can help notice this type of pottery. Bichrome was imported from Cyprus.
Paint decoration returns to fashion, even though it is simply added to the light buff slip, and sometimes without slip. The paint shows many different geometric shapes, and sometimes inside painted on rectangular panels called metopes a sacred tree flanked by two antelopes can be found.
Samaria Ware is a general name given to the pottery of Israel (the northern kingdom), even though there is a wide variety of forms and styes. They can be put into two separate groups. The first is thick walled, with a high foot and red slip (sometimes burnished), most often shaped as bowls. The second is made of fine particled clay, and decorated with concentric stripes of red/yellowish colored slip.
Judean pottery is altogether different, and slowly progresses into more and more sophisticated types/styles. By the 8th/7th centuries BC, Jerusalem pottery was especially good. All over the southern kingdom, a technique known as “wheel burnish” was used. This term describes how an orange/red slip was applied, while the pot was on the wheel, and then burnished to a gloss using the potter's hands or smooth tools.