Tag Archives: Vosendorf

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.

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.

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!)