Firing Prehistoric Ceramics

Some of the fired prehistoric-style pots created by pupils of Riverside Junior School

During February, and following on from the prehistoric pottery workshops hosted by Pennine Prospects and Dr Mike Copper a Prehistoric Ceramic Specialist from the University of Bradford at Gibson Mill, Hardcastle Crags. Mike, returned to demonstrate the processes involved in the firing of the prehistoric pots created by volunteers and the pupils of Riverside Junior School.

Phase 1
The initial phase of the firing involved the excavation of a 2m x 1m shallow pit, into which a fire was lit to dry out the soil prior to the placing of the numerous ceramic pots created in past workshops. After 40-50 minutes the embers of the fire were spread to the edges of the pit and additional wood and dried bracken was added to fuel the fire. The clear space left at the centre of the pit was where the ceramic pots were to placed.

Phase 2
With a clearing made at the centre of the firing pit, the ceramic pots were carefully placed within the pit, making sure that the surrounding fire and embers did not physically touch the pots so as to avoid damage and shattering. Every so often each pot was rotated so as to ensure all sides were baked equally.

Phase 3
After a period of an hour or so, the ceramic vessels were ready for the final phase of the firing. This involved the burying of the pots in timber to encourage a direct heat of anything between 300 and 900 degrees centigrade. Firstly long, thin pieces of wood or dried branches were placed along the top of the pit to form a roof over the pots (below left), which helped keep the weight of the next layer of wood off the ceramic pots. Dried wood was then carefully placed and built up around the sides and top of the pots to enclose them entirely (below right). The fire continued for about 2 more hours before it gradually died.

It was at this stage that the embers were cleared and the fired pots removed in order for them to cool down. Almost all of the pots survived the firing.

A selection of the prehistoric-style pots created by volunteers and pupils following a successful firing.

Many thanks to Mike and Claire Copper for leading what was a truly fun, hands-on and informative series of events between January and February. Many thanks too to the National Trust at Hardcastle Crags for supporting and continuing to host events as part of the Celebrating Our Woodland Heritage Project.

Chris Atkinson
Woodland Heritage Officer