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Getting Fired: Recreating Prehistoric Pottery

Henry Quirke & Kaz van de Nieuwenhof

Our Atelier project takes us back to some of the earliest inhabitants of the northern Netherlands and what they did when they needed something to pour their cereal every morning. We’re going to be working alongside the Hunebedcentrum in Borger to plan and construct an ancient kiln in the museum’s experimental archaeology lot, in order to allow for the reproduction of authentically designed pottery from the Western Funnel Beaker Culture. Also known as the Hunebedbouwers, this group settled in this area 5,000 years ago. They are best known for their monumental stone burial sites and uniquely intricate pottery.

The Hunebedcentrum boasts the largest surviving example of such a structure. Resting in a sheltered glade alongside the museum’s main hall, Hunnebed D27 is the crown jewel of the collection. In addition, the museum emphasises a living history approach, combining its extensive archaeological collection with outdoor re-enactments in the primaeval park. These include reproductions of prehistoric buildings, faithfully recreated from archaeological finds and activities demonstrated by reenactors such as archery and flint chipping to make tools.

The interesting challenge this project presents is balancing authenticity with practicality. On the one hand, it would be possible for us to recreate pottery exactly as the Funnel Beaker people did, by firing it in a pit kiln (essentially a covered campfire). However, this process does not produce very high temperatures. As such, it produces fragile and weak pottery, most of which will break before it even leaves the kiln. So the key challenge for our project to negotiate is to find a happy medium between both extremes, allowing for accessibility to the past while maintaining accuracy. We’re looking forward to making it work!

Last modified:06 March 2023 3.27 p.m.