Making Pots


So far, volunteer potters have made around 400 vessels, all based on excavated examples from Orkney. Pots have been made in a range of sizes: from small cups, through medium-sized tubs and vases, to a small number of very large vessels (over 0.6m in height and with similar diameters). In terms of volume, the vessels cover the spectrum from a few hundred to in excess of 40,000cc, with the majority clustering between 2000 and 8000cc.

Various building techniques have been deployed and assessed: thumb/finger pinching (‘pinch pots’), pinch-and-pull, coiling, and coil-and-pinch – really, more or less all variations on a theme, but some found to be more practical than others. From a potter’s point of view, as the experiments have demonstrated, coiling is a time-consuming activity, producing weaknesses in the finished vessel, especially where the base joins the walls; experiments have also demonstrated that vessels manufactured in this way are prone to leak when filled with liquid, no matter how well the coil joins appear to be sealed. A variety of rim types – flat, rounded, bevelled, notched, scalloped, upright, everted, inverted – and vessel wall thicknesses (4-30mm) have been produced, reflecting perceived functions.

Clays have been used as dug (that is, after the removal of the larger inclusions) or with the addition of various tempering agents – crushed rock, crushed animal bone, crushed marine shell, chopped seaweed and grass. Pots have been left undecorated or decorated with a range of incised, impressed or applied motifs, used separately or in combination. Slip coatings and surface finishes (burnishing, hand smoothing or wiping with organic material, usually a piece of sheep’s fleece) have been applied to about half of all pots made; the remainder have no surface finish.

After manufacture, vessels are left to air dry for seven or eight weeks before firing.