Category Archives: History

A New Vösendorf Cup

In October, I made a Vösendorf cup – later discovering that I had failed to make it accurately. Using the diagram by K. Rebay-Salisbury, in an article about feeding strategy in prehistoric Europe:

… this week, I made a replacement cup, which I hope to get out of bisque in time for the student show at the pottery studio I go to:

I am feeling good about this one. It’s better than the previous one in every way.

A Detour to Kalenderberg

I’m not just interested in sippy cups. The pottery from this era and region has many wonderful features (including a variety of large vessels with multiple bull’s head spouts), and the cups found in excavations range from primitive vessels to elegant ware with distinctive curves and handles, and some with elaborate incised or pressed decorations.

A large number of such wares were found in Kalenderberg Group graves (eastern Hallstatt Culture, early Iron Age). Let’s take a look at some cups, comprising two general styles, Kalenderberg and Pseudo-Kalenderberg, described by Roberto Tarpini (translation here thanks to Google Translate):

“Roughly simplified, the typical decorations of the “classic calendar mountain ornament” are garland or angular notched strips and small knobs as fillings, which in turn are implemented in the “pseudo calendar mountain ornament” in the form of fluting and impressions (Fig. 6).”

Der Topf im Grab: Überlegungen zur Beigabe von Ritualkeramik in Bestattungen des Osthallstattraums. In: P.C. Ramsl, K. Rebay-Salisbury & P. Trebsche (eds.) Schichtengeschichten. Festschrift für Otto H. Urban. Universitätsforschungen zur Prähistorischen Archäologie. Bonn: Habelt.  328: 441– 457 

Admittedly, surface decoration is not a major focus of mine. I am more interested in forms. Here is Figure 6, mentioned above:

What on earth is going on at the bottom right? All these perfect normal – and extensively decorated cups – and then … Leggy Cup. So of course this one went on my list. My priority was getting a stable cup with such long legs and such small feet. I chickened out a bit on the feet, making them broader than the original and lightly connected at the heels. I also kept the general form of the cup a bit more compact. And I feel good about the result. In fact, this cup brings a smile to my face every time I think of it.

My earthenware adaptation of the Pseudo-Kalenderberg cup with
tall legs, an Eastern Hallstatt Culture cup dated to the early Iron Age.
This was bisque fired and will not be glazed.

This takes me to the end of my class this fall. I have a few pieces to repeat, refining their shapes to get closer to extant originals, and I’ll be working toward more period production techniques. There are also some larger forms I’m interested in working on. See you next year!

Vösendorf: the Cup That Made Me Fall in Love

Without a doubt, the most charming cups among the Hallstatt feeding cups for children are the Vösendorf cups held at the Natural History Museum in Vienna.

Small feeding vessels found in a burial site in Vösendorf, Austria, dated to c 1300 to 800 BCE.

Several years ago, I attempted a vessel based on these, and it was just terrible. Also, it was very unstable, and at some point after it was bisqued, it fell over, and its head broke off.

This year, I finally felt ready to go back to this shape and do it better.

My earthenware copy of a Vösendorf burial cup. Shown here in its
greenware state, this was later bisque fired and will not be glazed.

I felt pretty good about this one. The feet seemed a little clunky, but I think I had the general idea. It really looked like the example on the far right had a little bunny tail, and I leaned into that. No spout, but I figured for something so whimsical, it was likely ceremonial.

Of course, well after it was bisqued, I discovered this one should have had a spout. (You may be thinking, “I don’t think I’d want to drink out of that end, even figuratively.” But it’s probably easier to get a grip on the horns, the udder/teats on a live animal are back in that general direction, you don’t want to put your eye out, and would you really want to drink out of front end, for that matter? Back to the article this illustration comes from: it also had a photo showing a [20th Century] mom feeding a baby right from a goat’s udder.)

Photographs and line drawings, showing interior space, for the second Vösendorf cup from the left, judging by that lean in the left leg. Wonderful illustration by Rebay-Salisbury.

So, yeah, I’ll definitely be remaking this one.

A Ruminant Head … and Paws?

There is a little cup from Znojmo, now Czechia, that doesn’t have the spout but has an animal head with little horns and 4 legs with very small nubbin feet that look a bit bigger than hooves but not clearly human feet, as with some other finds from this period. It was found in a settlement context, and is one of the cups listed in Table 1 of Dunne et al. Compare a similar era cup from a burial site a couple hundred miles to the south – far more literal, identifiable cattle features with definite hooves. But, as great a find as it is, let’s face it, not as cute as the cup on the left.

This is such a sweet little round animal shape, and the “paws” really get me.

I admit, I’ve been shying away from the abrupt, tall, upright mouths on top of some of these cups, modeling my adaptations to show a smoother transition from the cup to mouth.

With this one, I broke my own rule about picking up pieces from the pottery studio (wrap in at least one layer of paper and place in a box or bag with handles) and carried my copy out to the car in my stupid butterfingery hands. As I stepped out of the front door, I dropped it, and it broke in half + its horns broke off. Whoops. Oh well. Now it’s glued together like a real archaeological find. I will probably revisit this one, and make its proportions reflect the almost hippo-like spacing of the original’s legs.

My earthenware copy of the Znojmo cup. This was
bisque fired and will not be glazed.

Starting Simple

These small spouted cups are documented in Rebay-Salisbury et al. The one on the left is one of the cups documented in Dunne et al. as having contained ruminant milk. It was found in Grave 80 (of a child under age 6) of the Dietfurt-Tennisplatz site, dated to c 800 to 600 BCE. On the right is a cup found in a settlement context, in Regensburg-Harting, dated to c 1200 to 800 BCE. It is described as “contaminated, low level of lipids.” Both the originals reside in the Historisches Museum Regensburg.

The Dietfurt cup is completely round from the top, but I ended up making it in an oval shape. I ended up making the Regensburg-Harting cup in a slightly fatter, spherical shape (it is described as “lemon shaped”), with 3 feet. I couldn’t tell from the photo whether it had 3 or 4, and I go back and forth on whether I screwed up. Still, these little cuties crack me up with their exaggerated duck faces.

I did a little burnishing on these, just to smooth out the surfaces a bit. Both were started as pinch pots, which I think is the most likely technique for making cups of this size (easy to work in the palm of one’s hand). I made the straws by rolling some clay and, after it set up, using a coring tool to take out the middle. This could have been done with a thick needle or wire, especially with such a short straw.

My adaptations of the Bronze Age Dietfurt and Regensburg-Harting cups, made using a pinch-pot technique and coring tool for the straws. Show here in their greenware state, these are made using Standard 104 earthenware and were bisque fired and not glazed.

A Cup With Feet

I had made one attempt a couple of years ago of a cup with feet and an animal head spout. It fell over at some point after it was bisqued and before I picked it up, and its head popped off, but also its proportions were terrible and its feet awkwardly placed. As I was exploring the sippy cups that had been featured in the lay media articles when Dunne et al. came out, I entered into the wide world of Hallstatt zoomorphic vessels and found many different examples with different proportions, some with 4 legs. Celtic groups in Bronze Age Central Europe (referred to as Urnfield, Hallstatt, and La Tène cultures, among others) were pastoral, and they included a lot of cattle imagery in their material objects. They also added human feet to many of the smaller vessels.

During this period and before, zoomorphic vessels are found pretty much everywhere you look, throughout the world, of varying sizes, sometimes with wheels, in excavations of residences and temples. There are also examples of vessels with human feet, notably a famous Egyptian bowl and an Iranian amphora that ups the ante with shapely ankles as well.

Earthenware jug with animal-head spout, Iran, c 1450 to 800 BCE
Bull rhyton, Cypriot, c 1450 to 1200 BCE
Ram-headed vessel, Mesopotamia, c 2500 BCE
Bowl with human feet, Egypt, c 3700 to 3450 BCE
Vessel with two feet (and shapely ankles), Iran, c 1000 to 800 BCE

I was already charmed by the Bronze Age sippy cups, but the combination of animal features and human feet really intrigued me, and I decided to start working on the “two human feet” balancing issue with a high-handled bowl similar to a Greek kantharos.

I modeled some needlessly sturdy feet (I hollowed them out, they were so thick), placed one handle, and then didn’t get back to the studio for a while, so rather than try to rehydrate the other side for the matching handle, I just left it with one. The Hallstatt piece is considerably more elegant, with its shaping, but I just wanted to be sure I got the thing to stand. So far so good!

Made using Standard 104 earthenware. Shown here in its greenware state,
this was bisqued and will not be glazed.

Exploring Sippy Cups for Children from the Bronze Age

In 2019, a group published a paper showing that cups found in Bronze Age children’s graves had contained ruminant milk, demonstrating that children were likely being given at least supplemental nutrition of animal milk. These are graves with children in them, so it’s possible that they were receiving milk as part of an attempt to kept them fed while ill (and indeed anyone might receive such easily consumed calories on “bed rest”). But some of these children-associated cups were particularly whimsical, having little legs or even animal heads. Admittedly, the cups that had residue analyzed were fairly pedestrian “bottle” cups:

Dietfurt biberons, approximately 800 to 600 BCE, buried with infants

But other cups, particularly a set of older cups from Vösendorf in Austria, were thoroughly delightful:

Not surprisingly, many editors chose to use the Vösendorf photos for lay-audience media about the discovery.

This sent me down a little rabbit hole about these ancient finds – discovered both in excavations of settlements and as grave goods, in varying shapes and sizes, some more like little animal models, and some simple vessels with spouts or “straws” on them. So I’ve decided to start replicating them.

Pottery in Bronze Age Europe was earthenware fired a single time in pits or in simple, only modestly insulated kilns. The potters in that place and era did not have the high-efficiency kilns already being used to vitrify stoneware and glaze it in the Far East. They used burnishing and polishing to process the surfaces of their pottery, although it would not have been as water-tight as modern glazed pottery.

Pottery in this place and era tended to have a distinctive brown color or to be burnished with a blackening material, like graphite, or painted. I don’t have easy access to brown low-fire clay, so rather than stain red clay, I’m just going ahead and use the red clay as is as I explore these shapes, trying to stay close to the single-fire process, first with electric kilns at the local pottery studio and ultimately, I hope, advancing to pit-firing.

I am fortunate that the same group that published the 2019 Nature paper has collected information about feeding vessels likely used with children, including assembling a wonderful table of extant finds listing their context and sizes, publishing it in 2021 in Feeding Babies at the Beginnings of Urbanization in Central Europe. Stay tuned as I work my way through these shapes. (And beyond!)

Paul Ford Builds It

And almost 2000 people show up immediately.

If you are respectful of others, you will be welcomed, and people will be excited to see your web pages and to meet you. This is not a special characteristic of; this is a basic characteristic of decent humans that somehow has become atypical on the Internet.

I got online in 1992, and this piece is making me so nostalgic, even though everything about what he made sounds distinctly nicer than most of what I encountered then. Wait, is that what nostalgia is? Being suffused with a sense of what the good old days could have been if they actually had been good?

Happy International Women’s Day!

Perspective can be tough to get, especially on our own behavior. We know that “seeing the big picture” or “getting an aerial view” is important to deep understanding, that we need to get some distance. It’s much easier to give someone else good advice than to follow it ourselves (even when our ability to give good advice comes directly from needing it).

It’s true for group behavior, too. The conventions, the little in-jokes, the “way we’ve always done it” – these can be harmful to individuals, but if the group is homogeneous enough, the pressure to refrain from pointing it out can be just as strong as the negative experiences themselves.

From a booklet intended to help wartime supervisors bring women into the workplace, from the Records of the War Manpower Commission.

When women went to work to support the war effort, they entered an environment few of them had ever seen, supervised by people who barely recognized where they were coming from. These pages, along with 2 other spreads at the National Archives, Southeast Region, give us a look into a booklet to help those supervisors get the best work out of these mysterious new employees.

This is good advice for all managers of any employees.

The presentation has all the hallmarks of a startlingly condescending piece, but the words tell a different story. Women are cooperative, patient, teachable. It may seem ridiculous that any of those things needed to be said, especially at a time when women were expected to be agreeable, long-suffering, and obedient, but the language is certainly more respectful than those cultural expectations. And the guidelines themselves are remarkable for what they really are: just plain good advice about welcoming new employees and managing them effectively.

This IS people management.

As minority interests of all kinds receive more attention, we see over and over again that familiarity goes a long way, that seeing the old, established ways through the lens of the people who had no say in them brings harmful behavior into focus and creates the potential for a better experience for all. Men benefit just as much as women from respectful treatment in the workplace, arguably more because they still have advantages there as well!

People don’t like change, and they often can’t stand the idea that someone ‘has it easier’ because of a classification difference. Fostering the understanding that they don’t have it easier – quite the contrary – is probably a lost cause, but we don’t really need a “who has it worst” contest at work, anyway. Workplace practices that proactively and supportively resolve issues that get in the way of actually getting the work done put the emphasis where it belongs: on the work getting done.

We can do it!