Ancient African Pottery

Ancient societies in Asia like China and Japan started making pottery around 14,000 B.C.E. Like most new innovations in ancient societies, pottery making spread across continents and kingdoms.

Ancient African pottery started around 7,000 to 6,000 B.C.E. in eastern Africa near Sudan, Egypt and present day Ethiopia.
African Pottery

Ancient African pottery spread across the continent and reached West Africa around 400 B.C.E.

Styles and usage of ancient African pottery

Ancient African pottery had many styles over the centuries. At first pottery was used for everyday utensils such as cups, plates, food and water storage containers, and pots for cooking.

Eventually ancient African potters started to make pottery specific for ceremonies such as burials.

Ancient African pottery was simple at first with little or no design features. Over time designs, shapes, and patterns were added to ancient African pottery. Simple designs with zig-zag lines and raised dots were used.

The designs were expanded to include circles, human figures, animals or a combination of several elements.

As with most ancient African art, pottery was more abstract in design but very functional.

ancient african pottery

Who were the ancient African potters?

Women in ancient Africa were the primary people that made ancient African pottery. Ancient African pottery was constructed entirely by hand. It is unknown where and when the first pottery wheel was invented.

Some researchers believe the first potter’s wheel was invented in ancient Egypt around 3,000 B.C.E. Pottery was shaped into objects and crude tools were used to etch the designs into the wet clay. The clay pottery would then be placed in an open fire or kiln to harden.

Decorated ancient African pottery

Once the pottery was hardened, people would decorate the pottery. Polishing was important for ancient African pottery. Ancient African pottery from the central areas of the continent has a nice polished finish.

Other parts of ancient Africa used plant dyes like red ochre or charcoal to paint on pottery. The figures painted on ancient African pottery were abstract forms of human and animal forms.

There are also examples of zig-zag lines and other geometric designs painted on ancient African pottery. Another way ancient African pottery was decorated was with gem stones, ivory and leather.

Ancient African pottery in North Africa

Around 75 C.E. ancient African potters began to make traditional Roman pottery in style and color. The accuracy of the pottery was amazing.

Factories produced thousands of pieces of ancient African pottery in Romanesque styles. The pottery was then exported to many areas in Europe and Asia.

Sometime around 100 C.E. ancient African potteries became more prominent in the Roman Empire than original Roman pottery.

Within the next 50 years, ancient African pottery forced the closure of numerous pottery facilities in the Roman Empire.

Important facts about ancient African pottery

  • Ancient pottery was developed in China and Japan around 14,000 B.C.E.
  • Ancient African pottery is first crafted around 7,000 to 6,000 B.C.E.
  • Ancient African pottery was made entirely by women.
  • Ancient African pottery was originally crafted for practical everyday utensils like cups, plates and storage containers for food and water.
  • At first ancient African pottery was simple in design with no patterns.
  • Geometric patterns like zig-zag lines, human and animal figures were added on later pieces of ancient African pottery.
  • Polished ancient African pottery was common in the central portion of the continent.
  • Ancient African pottery made in North Africa was imported into the Roman Empire around 75 C.E. forcing many Roman potters out of business.


  1. Ancient African pottery was first developed around what time frame?

7,000 to 6,000 B.C.E.

  1. Who were the primary makers of ancient African pottery?


  1. Where was ancient African pottery from the northern region of the continent sold in large quantities?

Roman Empire

  1. What was a common design incorporated into ancient African pottery?

Zig-zag lines