Jar, compressed globular form
This is an example of black pottery produced in sites associated with “Longshan culture” that flourished in northeast China during the third millennium BCE.  Longshan culture was a late Neolithic culture concentrated in the middle and lower Yellow River (Ch. Huanghe) valley areas of Northern China. It is thought that this vessel was produced in the formative Shandong period.  A small proportion of Longshan pottery is black, with a highly polished surface and extremely thin walls that give it the name ‘eggshell’ pottery. The exceptional quality and sophistication of Longshan black pottery was made technically possible by the culture’s development of fast-turning pottery wheels.
This light-weight jar has a compressed globular form and was probably thrown in two sections and joined before firing to give a composite form. Lugs have been attached to the jar, possibly for cords, suggesting that the vessel may have been suspended or worn.
The glossy black character of this ceramic is a result of burnishing and a specific method of firing, which required a reduced (oxygen starved) atmosphere within the kiln. The remains of a vertical kiln found at Miaodigou, dating from the Longshan period, is constructed of a combustion chamber connected to the oven by a narrow flue. Heat from the oven entered the sealed chamber through small vents positioned at the bottom of the chamber.  The iron oxide content of the clay resulted in a grey coloured body, and carbonisation during the firing turned the surface of the earthenware black.
Longshan black pottery has been excavated from Longshan settlements and elite burial sites, miraculously surviving to the present day. It is debated whether the labour-intensive production of ‘eggshell’ pottery from this period was made for displays of status in habitation contexts as well as for mortuary rituals.  Because Longshan black pottery has not been found in the debris of residential areas in Shandong, it is likely that this pottery symbolised high social status and may have been used as real or symbolic vessels in mortuary rituals.  Egg-shell pottery was probably exported and used in exchanges with neighbouring regions for prestige goods, such as jades. 
Vanessa Tothill, February 2022
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