Tuesday, June 29, 2004

An Ancient Lesson in Ceramics

Arnold Howard

Ceramics is one of the oldest arts. I learned how special it is when I was 12 years old living in Tripoli, Libya on the Mediterranean coast.

Once during our three-year stay in Tripoli, my family visited the ruins of Leptis Magna. This ancient Greek city lies on the Mediterranean coast in the Libyan desert. It was a quiet, sunny afternoon when we strolled through the streets of Leptis Magna. We stepped over the ruts that chariots had worn into the cobblestones. We walked past stone pillars, which had collapsed and were scattered across the sand. Statues of Greek athletes and statesmen, once covered with sand, stared vacantly at us with their hollow eyes, just as they had long ago.

From a hill, I looked past the great field of ruined, silent buildings, to the dark blue Mediterranean in the distance. We walked through the ruins and made our way to the beach.

Scattered on the sandy beach were half-inch square stone tiles and broken pieces of pottery. Bits of pottery jutted from the sand where the waves gently washed over them.

I recognized the stone tile squares from the beach near my house, about half a day's drive from Leptis Magna. I had collected a handful of the white tiles and black tiles that had washed up on the beach in the mornings. Here at Leptis Magna they were scattered about plentifully, a remnant of mosaic flooring from the Greek buildings.

Among the shards of cups and pots, I found a ceramic bowl about 3" in diameter and 2" high, made of reddish?brown clay. It was unglazed and, except for a few small chips on the rim and around the base, in perfect condition.

I picked it up. Impressed into the base was a human hand print. Inside the bowl were impressions of several finger prints. The fine lines showed clearly. That the delicate impression of a human hand remained after two thousand years astonished me. I visualized an ancient potter holding the bowl in his palm while the clay was still wet. Cupping the bowl in my hands brought history to life for me.

Over thirty years have passed since that visit to Leptis Magna. Thinking of it reminds me of how special, even magical, ceramics is. The heat of an ancient kiln had given that little bowl the strength to survive the centuries, buried in the desert. And centuries from now, ceramic pieces will be among the few relics of our civilization. Plastic, metal and wood will have disintegrated.


Blogger Sarrah said...

I love the way you write...

October 22, 2011  
Blogger Sarrah said...

I love how your words flow like... well.. slip! lol thanks for allowing me to follow your post. My mate has been following your post on the martial arts... he says he looks forward to every addition.

October 22, 2011  

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