Nile silt clay produces pottery that is red in colour, while desert marl clay results in whitish wares. But Egyptians have worked with this rock-like clay since predynastic times, about 4,000 B.C., particularly in the area near the modern city of Qena which called el dier or Ballas village. Driving North from Luxor along the new desert highway the entire landscape is pinky grey and the high desert plateau forms a formidable bastion all along the east side. The landscape is daunting; one may even think it threatening. Yet following the desert wadis, or dry riverbeds, men enter this bleak realm to mine clay which is then transported by camels and donkeys down to a village at the desert's edge. Here the clay is broken up into smaller pieces and soaked in a round basin beside the potter's workshop. The village is home to twenty families, each with a small workshop. A father, two sons and a cousin produce more than one hundred pots and garden water pipes each day. The work is hard and seemingly non-stop, even when a strange foreign visitor arrives on their doorstep.
inisde a 4 X 5 meter room, with most of the space dedicated to the preparation of the clay. Two men knead the clay with their feet to remove pockets of air. They also remove any 'impurities', such as pieces of calcite, that might damage the final product and add some fine sand to temper the clay. Meanwhile, the potter works on his kick-wheel to complete the rounded bases for the jars. This is the final stage. The handles have already been added. He adds a length of twine around the jar's widest point near its base to hold its form while it dries. Twine markings are visible on sherds of ancient jars, so this potter works within a long tradition. Lastly, with a chip of wood or a bit of a tree branch the potter might add a little decoration, a wavy line perhaps to the shoulder. Then his father takes the jar away for final drying before firing it in the kiln. Note that the walls of the workshop have been built of pots. Cuts made in some of the pots provide useful storage spaces. This same construction is used for animal pens and dovecotes.
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