Provisions for the archaeologists working on Sai are bought in the souk (market) of the nearby town Abri, on the east bank. In one of these shopping trips, on the 22nd of January 2009, we had the opportunity to watch the making of a jar by a pot maker in Abri. The potter was a man named Ishmael.
He had learned the craft from his father, who was still making pots at a workshop next to his son.
The clay comes from the river and is tempered with straw, dung, and ash. The pots are made on the slow wheel, starting with the base. After the lower part of the body of the pots is made, the potter dries them for two days in pits where he partly covers the pots with sand. We observed the making of the upper part of the body. The clay is added in long coils. Ishmael uses strings of fabric to keep the shape of the pot.
The kind of pots that he makes is the zir (large water jar), gulla (smaller jar), and zahria (flower pots). His father also used to make hala (cooking pots) and doka (frying plate for pancake-like bread).
When Ishmael has made 50 to 60 pots, which takes approximately two months, he fires them in a kiln. This work takes place during the night because of the heat. The fuel that is used is dung. The kiln is covered by metal plates as roofing during the firing.
The practice of making pots started in Sudan around 8000 BCE, and the art of hand-made pottery has been unbroken until today in many parts of the country. In the traditional societies of Sudan, there is a strong link between pots and the female sphere of activities that consist of food gathering/cultivation, storing, preparing, and serving. This division of labour, where women are the principal users and producers of pots, suggests that women were also the primary pottery makers in the past. It was only with the development of wheel-made production of pots for a larger market that men got involved and gradually took over the commercial ceramic industries of Sudan, at least in Nubia.
For further reading: