The relationship between inclusion/void orientation and speed in wheel-thrown pots

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The activity of wheel-throwing a ceramic vessel is governed by a number of physical forces. These are the rotational kinetic energy (expressed in terms of angular velocity and the moment of inertia) and manual pressures. Given the importance of the potter's wheel worldwide, and the frequently postulated socio-cultural meaning of wheel-throwing in particular, foundational research on the physics behind wheel-throwing has been under-represented, and there is a lack of understanding of the relationship between speed of wheel rotation, lifting speed and the orientation of clay pores or inclusions. The speed of rotation is highly relevant as different wheels can achieve different speeds. Thus, knowing the speed during manufacture may allow scholars to reconstruct the original device, manufacturing technique, and perhaps even the potter's level of skill. Two contrasting views can be found in the literature: a) there is a direct positive relationship between these variables, and that the angle of the inclusions/voids can therefore tell us about the wheel's speed at the time of making the pot and hence the device used; b) because pots are never thrown in one single motion, the angle of inclusions/voids is an averaging of all actions executed by the potter, and thus cannot provide meaningful inferences about speeds or device. Experiments with professional potters were devised to explore the relationship between these variables. They show that the interaction between the various physical forces, clay and potter is complex, leading to a large variance even within the work of a single potter, with finger pressure recognized as a major influencing variable. It is clear that angles of inclusions or voids cannot be used to project backwards to the wheel speed, lifting speed, skill level or device used.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105685
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Early online date29 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2022


  • Experimental archaeology
  • Finger pressure
  • Inclusion orientation
  • Potter's wheel
  • Potting experience
  • Rotational speed
  • Void orientation
  • Wheel-throwing
  • X-radiography


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