Typically, when discussing the origins of clay, people are discussing its early use in a wellness or medical context, given that many early medical texts by the Mesopotamians and ancient Egyptians have extensive references to clay.
However, one aspect that is sometimes neglected is the sheer versatility of the material and the fact that the only reason we know that these civilisations used clay as a medical medium is because those medical texts were inscribed onto clay.
Clay was the standard writing medium for early civilisations and it was used for epic historical
poetry, prayers to gods and complaints from customers about the grade of copper Ea-Nasir supplied and the rude way he dealt with his customer’s messengers.
Clay is one of the world’s first construction and sculpting materials, and the existence of clay pots, figures and tablets is one of the first signs of a civilisation forming.
Typically it was around 11,000 years ago when clay pottery started to emerge, but there is one particular outlier that suggests that clay was used significantly before this.
At the base of Mount Devin in the Czech Republic, the ancient camp of Dolni Vestonice has been dated as far back as 30,000 years ago.
The site itself is an open-air camp typical of the early temporary settlements of people at the time, but what made it unique is that, unlike many other camps of that era, there is a staggering abundance of clay figures and historical artefacts.
Many of these are amongst the earliest forms of particular art forms, with two carved ivory figures being amongst the earliest known forms of portraiture, as well as depicting a point where people were living long enough to see their children have children.
However, the most interesting discovery from a clay standpoint was the Venus of Dolni Vestonice, one of the earliest fired clay sculptures, baked at a relatively low 500 degrees Celsius.
It was found alongside 2,000 balls of burnt clay, as well as figures of other animals such as bears, lions, owls, rhinos, foxes, mammoths and horses, broken in two before it was put back together after its discovery in 1925.
As with most early sculpture and art, the creator is unknown and will probably never be known, but it is known thanks to a scan of its tomography that at some point before it was fired, a child no older than 15 handled, as his fingerprint can be found.
Whilst few historians believe he was the creator, he did contribute to being a part of history that would only be discovered tens of thousands of years after his death.
As well as this, four holes were found in the top of the statue that was believed to have been made from the shaft of a feather and may well have been intended to house feathers at the top for ritualistic reasons.
The figure is also believed to have been intentionally broken, although the reason as to why has still yet to have been discovered.