Clay water containers are not some fancy new idea from the East like some people want to think they are. Clay containers or pottery was actually the first synthetic materials ever created by human beings.
Seriously. We are talking about the first manufactured commodity in human history here.
The fact that they remain the most common item uncovered in archaeological digs around the world, across different civilizations, bears witness to the global recognition which this early commodity enjoyed—even at a time when humans lived in little more than isolated clusters and social groups.
The earliest known clay pots have been found in China (dated to 18000-20000 years old) and Japan (dated to 15500-18500 years old). But other clay pots have been uncovered on every continent, and many of these have been dated to thousands of years old.
So why were these clay water containers popular?
First of all, there was an abundance of clay: there was rich red earth along the banks of the rivers where humans tended to settle which served as a readily available source of raw material for the production of these pots. Because this clay was easily gotten and not difficult to mold, clay vessels were easier to make than wooden, stone, metal vessels which were the main alternatives at the time.
Secondly, these clay containers were easy to make once humans had mastered making a fire. The earliest clay containers were made over open fires using a technique known as open firing where temperatures could reach within 600-900 degrees Celsius. Later techniques involved firing within closed chambers called Kilns which boasted temperatures that were sometimes more than twice as high as open flames.
However, the main reason for the popularity of clay pottery, and probably the most important reason is the fact that ancient humans knew that clay water containers will be able to infuse the water with essential nutrients and also earth energy. By infusing the water with such properties, the water will become ‘alive’ and is able to rejuvenate and also heal the body.
The Uses of Clay Containers in Ancient Times
Clay containers had many uses in ancient times, and these include:
Clay Water Carafes: Clay pots were not only used as means of transporting water from water sources like streams and rivers, they were also used to store and serve water. The advantage of using these clay pots as ancient clay water dispensers was that water stored in this way was always cool to drink, no matter how hot the ambient temperature was, unlike water stored in metal containers. The containers were also used to leach out any poisons which were suspected to lie in the drinking water, similar to how clay carafes and clay dispensers today leach out chlorine from modern-day drinking water. This is a feature unique to clay pottery which was known even to the ancients.
Cooking vessels: Ancient civilizations used clay pots to cook stews and grains, and in some places, they were used to process fish oils. Archaeological evidence shows that freshwater animals like fish and shellfish, as well as wild rice and millet grains, were cooked in clay pots.
Storage Vessels: Clay vessels were used to store grain for extended periods, sometimes all year long. Certain nuts could only be stored in clay containers so as to allow the leaching of toxins like tannin before eating. Another advantage that clay storage had over other storage types like leather and baskets is that they were less vulnerable to pests like rats and insects.
Rituals and Jewellery: Some of the more decorated clay vessels and figures were set apart for special uses in religious rituals and as jewelry. This practice became especially common with the discovery of firing techniques that could change raw clay to porcelain.
As you can see, using clay water carafes and clay water dispensers is merely a continuation of a fine tradition, one that has been proven to be useful over thousands of years.