Pottery & Shipbuilding

Activities, Arts and Techniques


Pottery making was one of the islanders’ principal activities in the third millennium BC. Clay vases were used as tableware, for household tasks, for storing and transporting foodstuffs, as jewellery boxes, ritual vessels, and grave gifts, hence their importance as sources of information on various aspects of daily life, pottery technology, and the period’s aesthetics.

Most clay vases were handmade, since the use of the potter’s wheel was only introduced in approximately 2500 BC and came into general use at the end of the Early Bronze Age. Early Cycladic pottery comes in a great variety of forms. Pan-shaped vessels with intricate decoration on the exterior, bowls, and small kraters are characteristic forms. Pyxides in various shapes—cylindrical, spherical, ovoid, lentoid, and spool-shaped—were used for storing jewellery and cosmetics. The potters’ repertoire also included pear-shaped and aryballoid vases, kylikai drinking vessels included cups and kylikai(stemmed cups), “fruit bowls”, jugs, kymbai (sauceboats), and vases of eastern influence such as the two-handled tankard (depas amphikypelon) and two-handled cup. Composite (double, quadruple) and zoomorphic vases exhibit the Cycladic potters’ mastery.

Ceramic vases often feature incised decoration comprising rectilinear motifs filled with a white mineral (kaolin) pigment. These were later enriched with curvilinear motifs, such as spirals and concentric circles. Decoration impressed with wooden stamps was also introduced during this period, whereas coating vases with pigment led to the development of painted decoration with rectilinear and curvilinear motifs.


The introduction of copper technology, which led to the manufacture of more efficient tools, contributed to the development of shipbuilding. The miniature lead ships in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, the Cycladic boat representation in a rock carving from Naxos, and the incised representations of multi-oared ships on several pan-shaped vessels from Syros indicate that Cycladic craftsmen could build multi-oared ships long enough to sail both near and far.

As a consequence, the development of shipbuilding contributed to the intensification of navigation, the establishment of contacts with the outside world (mainland Greece, Aegean, Asia Minor, Near East and Balkans) and the development of trade.

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