Tag Archives: Winter Solstice

May the holiday season bring you joy, from Jane Street Clayworks

Christmas Wreath on a British Bailgate door. By Richard Croft via Wikimedia Commons

Holiday wreath on a bailgate door in Britain By Richard Croft via Wikimedia Commons

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Stonehenge, Winter Solstice and the pottery of its neolithic peoples

Magical Stonehenge - geograph.org.uk - 1628518

Magical Stonehenge Photograph taken at 15.51, during sunset. 19th December 2009; as close to the winter solstice as possible during a sunset, according to the weather forecast. Peter Trimming via Wikimedia Commons


Happy Winter Solstice! By now, no area of the world is left untouched by this change of season in the northern hemisphere. Happy Summer Solstice to friends south of the equator! Today, we’re going to concentrate on the North, specifically Salisbury plain in Great Britain and that great monument which is forever tied to primitive astronomy, Stonehenge. The Stone and Bronze Ages peoples who populated the area lived from 3,700 BCE to 1600 BCE.

English Heritage, an excellent site, addresses material artifacts left behind by the monument’s builders, including tools and pottery, some shown in museums at Devizes and Salisbury. The site states

the archaeology of the Stonehenge landscape shows that people in the 4th to 2nd millennia BC had wide regional and international contacts. Similar Neolithic monument complexes in other parts of Britain…display the same types of ceremonial enclosures, burial monuments and stone settings and similar material culture….

Pottery that has been found at the Stonehenge site is of two types. One, known as Grooved Ware,  “was used by the builders of the first phase of Stonehenge,” according to Wikipedia. This type of pottery was embellished by incised lines. (Click here to see a photo of Grooved Ware. Note: this is an example found in Scotland.) The Archaeology website states that, nearby, Peterborough-type pottery was also found. Grooved Ware and Peterborough-type styles are vastly different, with latter type decorated making indentations with cord. (Click here to see Peterborough pottery holdings at the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes.) Rodney Castleden talks about these two types of pottery in Stonehenge People: An Exploration of Life in Neolithic Britain 4700-2000 BC. He suggests that two completely different sets of people created these styles, stating that it “could be explained by itinerant potters trained in different traditions starting out from different centers but with overlapping circuits.” He continues, saying that the alternative would be trade of a finished product. Castleden discusses the pottery of the area and time, saying

much of the pottery was plain but serviceable. Its form was well-suited to the ‘ground-level’ life style of the Stonehenge people, as the rounded base could easily be nested between tus-socks of grass or in little hollows in the earth, and the unglazed, matt surface was easy to hold securely. Towards the end of the., A taste for ornament of a particularly earthy and plastic type developed, but in general the pottery remained fairly plain and functional. People evidently preferred it that way. This is in distinct contrast to the people of central Europe who produced very refined pottery in a wide variety of beautiful and exotic forms, often richly decorated in colored patterns. The British were less concerned with the aesthetic value of their pottery, even though some of it does have a kind of earthy sensuality; their thoughts were elsewhere. The extraordinary wealth the ceremonial monuments in Britain finds no parallel in central Europe. I think we can indulge a certain casualness, a surgeon haste, in the Stonehenge people’s pottery when we realized that they were massively preoccupied with greater projects by far.

Today is the Winter Solstice and for eons, people have been gathering at Stonehenge for the solstice. According to a BBC story posted yesterday, “the exact time of the solstice this year – when the Earth’s axial tilt is farthest away from the sun – is at 11:11 GMT.” People started arriving in the morning for the annual event. While neo-Pagans and Druids hold services at Stonehenge for the solstice, it is not known whether the original Druids were ever there at all. What is known is that the Romans are responsible for the damage caused to the monument, according to Castleden. Druids opposed the Roman Empire’s takeover of Britain and while Romans were usually tolerant of religions, they deemed the Druids seditious and wiped them out, burning their sacred groves, killing the priests, and damaging the monuments. Castleden suggests that the Romans, who had destroyed a Druidical monument in Romania, assumed that Stonehenge was a Druid site and damaged it. We can’t know for certain. All we know is what has been left behind, of which pottery plays a big part.

StonehengeSunrise1980s

Sunrise between the stones at Stonehenge on the Winter Solstice in the mid-1980s,
22 December,1985. By Mark Grant via Wikimedia Commons

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Hats off to Winter Solstice kiln firings

Lantern Festival

Lantern Festival, By Jack Parkinson via Wikimedia Commons

 Yesterday was the Winter Solstice, the point in time and space during which the days begin lengthening in the Northern Hemisphere and shortening in the Southern. Much symbolism centres around solstices and with the Winter Solstice, in particular. For me, in North America, it is all about light…the increase of light in our world. Different cultures have celebrations honoring this date. For instance, in Canada, there are many lantern festivals. Wikipedia has an excellent A-Z listing of cultural celebrations held throughout the world; click here to see it. I thought it would be neat to investigate the solstice and pottery, especially kiln firings on Winter Solstice. To me it seems to be an act packed with meaning…. What follows is a list of articles and pottery sites that centre on December’s solstice.

Raku Pottery Firing, At the Glen Innes Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice In The Studio, by Little Pig Pottery

WINTER/SUMMER SOLSTICE, by Clementina Ceramics

Winter Solstice firing, by Muddy Fish Studio Ceramics

The Solstice wood fired kiln, by Carl Gray Ceramics

Chairs & Pottery – Winter Solstice, 2006, artwork by Catherine White

The Ceramic Mural Project “Winter Solstice Sunset,” by Mollie Favour

Illumination of Earth by Sun on the day of winter solstice on northern hemisphere. By Przemyslaw "Blueshade" Idzkiewicz via Wikimedia Commons


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How to Make a Ceramic Olive Oil Lamp

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Ancient lamps made by Romans and Parthians.

Olive oil has a low flash point and it has been used as lamp fuel for millennia. I had an olive oil lamp once that my Mom gave me and it made a nice, soft glow without stinking like petroleum-based oils burned in hurricane lamps. Since winter has just begun, Jane Street Clayworks honors the solstice by explaining how to make an olive oil lamp out of clay. It represents lengthening days and the return of light to our world.

  1. Mold Technique: Using a small bowl for a mold, make two halves that will fit together. The size is up to you, but most olive oil lamps are smallish. Join the two halves well, scratching the edges and using slip. After it’s almost leather hard, cut a hole in the top through which you will later pour oil, so make it big enough. After shaping, cut a smaller hole in the side from which you will feed the wick (see #3).
  2. Pinch Pot Technique: Make a small pinch pot, narrowing the opening at the top. You will pour oil into the lamp through this hole, so make it big enough. After shaping, cut a smaller hole in the side from which you will feed the wick (see #3).
  3. Shaping: The shape the ancients used looked like modified Aladdin’s lamps…the vessel’s low, rounded body held the olive oil and a narrowed spout ended with a wick hole. You can fashion a handle, if you’d like, but it’s not crucial because the lamp doesn’t get hot and can easily be carried from the bottom.
  4. Decorating: Decorate your lamp as you wish, using stamps, or by engraving, slip trailing or modeling. Apply decorations at the appropriate time, given the construction method you’ve chosen.
  5. Usage: Place a wick in your fired, unglazed lamp. (Find wicking in a hobby store or use a snippet of cotton shoelace. Cut the wick long enough to have space to burn down.) Place the wick in the bottom of lamp, feeding the end out of the smaller hole. Leave about a third of an inch sticking out. Then, fill the lamp about three-quarters full by pouring olive oil in through the top hole.

So, there you have it, your own little olive oil lamp and it’s sweet, warm glow will lead you into spring….

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