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Ceramic Plates Through the Ages: A Historical Overview of Time-Tested Dinnerware

Ceramic Plates Through the Ages: A Historical Overview of Time-Tested Dinnerware - bzyoo

Most of us have a selection of dishes and cookware in our homes. They range from aluminum and alloy cake pans and iron skillets to glass casserole dishes and plastic cereal bowls. Of course, many people also have disposable paper and styrofoam plates to fall back on these days as well. At this point, the range of materials used to make the crockery we use every day is vast, and it’s likely to continue growing as new composites are discovered.

Amidst the constantly expanding market for cookware and dinnerware, ceramics shouldn’t be overlooked. They’re time-tested classics that have endured and evolved through the ages. In fact, the entire realm of dishes as we know it stems from ceramic. It’s the earliest known material used to cook in and eat from, and many historians say ceramics is among humanity’s oldest industries. Its history dates back much farther than most people realize.

Ceramics in the Beginning

Ceramics aren’t quite as old as humanity itself, but they’re not far from it. Per historical accounts, the earliest pieces of ceramic discovered so far date back around 30,000 years. A statue of a woman and several other figurines were found in a prehistoric village in the Czech Republic. They were unearthed near the rudimentary kiln used to fire them. 

Fast forward roughly 12,000 years, and early settlements in China began making ceramic pottery. From there, ceramics spread into Russia, Japan, and elsewhere. Over the few thousand years to follow, they made their way across the Middle East and Europe. Throughout the B.C. era, pottery-making inundated cultures across the globe. 

Early Ceramic Pottery Making

From the beginning, different civilizations used natural clays available in their areas to make ceramic items. Because of that, pieces made in different regions varied in color, hardness, and other properties. Those created in China tended to be white, beige, or light gray whereas those made in Egypt were naturally yellow, red, or orange in color. In other regions, clay ranged from brown to dark gray. 

At the same time, the methods used to harden those pieces deviated from one culture to the next. Some simply allowed their pottery to dry in the sun whereas others built kilns and fired their pieces at relatively low temperatures. Those processes combined with the different chemical compositions of the clay brought about even more variations in surface colors and textures. 

Over time, civilizations began to mix various minerals and other natural ingredients into their clay to create a broader range of colors. Some, such as the Greeks, learned to use watered-down clay and other mineral-based substances to apply pigments to the surface of their pottery. 

Forging Into the Common Era

Early on, some ceramics, like those found in what we now know as the Czech Republic, were decorative and perhaps even ceremonial pieces. Others created by civilizations around the world were purely functional. Those included jugs for water, oil, and food storage. 

In time, many pieces came to serve both purposes. Some examples are terracotta pots from West Africa, and cremation urns from Ancient Egypt. By the fourteenth century, ceramics were becoming highly prized and sought-after items. 

At that point, new paints and glazes had been developed for added color and decorative appeal. Unfortunately, some of those contained toxins like lead and arsenic. They’ve been weeded out in the modern era, though. 

More advanced kilns had also been built, and they could fire pottery at even higher temperatures than their rudimentary counterparts. Artisans had also begun using pottery wheels to create more intricate and symmetrical pieces. Artists started showcasing their talents by adding their unique touches to ceramics. That evolved into the far-reaching and increasingly elaborate designs to follow. From porcelain jars to ceramic plates, the pottery industry branched out in numerous directions.

From Pure Functionality to Functional Art

Over the centuries, ceramics evolved from a matter of pure necessity into a craft all its own. In the fifteenth century, the Medici family of Italy developed a unique form of almost translucent ceramic. In the Mediterranean region, vases and other items of the time were adorned with scenes from Greek and Roman history. They told stories. Depictions of animals and other subjects from nature came into play as well.  

It was also during this era that the widely recognized Dutch Delftware entered the mix. It’s largely known for its white backgrounds created by dipping ceramic pieces into a tin-based glaze. Some of the most popular Delftware ceramics feature intricate blue artwork depicting graceful flourishes, tulips, windmills, and detailed landscapes and seascapes. 

During the seventeenth century, England rose to fame in the ceramics market. Artisans fell back on Ancient Greek techniques of creating finishes made of thin layers of pigmented clay. Known as slip, English pottery makers took this type of pottery finish to new levels. That gave rise to slipware. 

Mass Production and Modern Ceramics

Throughout history, ceramics were generally made by hand. That included digging up the clay, mixing it to the perfect consistency for pottery, forming, firing, painting, and glazing. Each piece was unique. Though entire sets of ceramic dishes were being made for use in people’s homes, their handmade nature left small variations from one piece to the next. It gave ceramics character and charm. 

Some pieces are made by hand to this day. Still, mass production has also become part of the process. With ceramics being in such high demand today, it would be impossible to bring them into everyone’s homes without machines and automation. Mass production of ceramics began in the 1800s, and it’s continually becoming more advanced. 

Blending Tradition With Technology

Despite the ongoing evolution, ceramics production in general is still much the same as it was centuries ago. It still uses natural clay as a base, but other materials are also mixed in for added hardness, greater sustainability, and improved color fastness. Ceramics are still fired in kilns though on a much larger scale and at far higher temperatures than in the past. 

New materials have been developed for pigments and glazing as well. For instance, beautiful blue hues once mainly consisted of cobalt, but scientists recently discovered that adding aluminum, barium, and silicon to the mix made for a better finish. Furthermore, antimicrobial, antifungal, and antibacterial finishes are now being applied to ceramics. Digital printing has also largely replaced hand painting in the ceramics industry. 

Ceramics have been resistant to heat and moisture all along; after all, even many of the earlier pieces were made for cooking. They initially needed to be treated with a great deal of care, though. In contrast, most of today’s ceramic dinnerware is designed for modern life thanks to advanced finishes, so it’s microwaveable and dishwasher safe. 

Making Ceramic Dishes and Cookware Part of Your Present and Future

Ceramics have been around for tens of thousands of years. They’re incredibly durable. If pieces from 30,000 years ago have been found intact, surely high-quality crockery and dinnerware can hold up to the use and abuse we put them through today, right? If you get them from the right sources, they’re safe, non-toxic, and sustainable. They don’t leach unusual odors or flavors into your foods and drinks, either. 

Ceramic has proven itself worthy of today’s kitchens and dining rooms, and it’ll undoubtedly be an integral part of our homes for centuries to come. Though plenty of other materials are now on the market, ceramic plates are among the best to eat on, and nothing compares to coffee mugs made of this material. Why not bring all the benefits of ceramics into your home and pass them down for future generations to enjoy?