All this, you say (which, in effect, is Dr. Tylor’s view), is purely hypothetical. In one sense, yes; but not in another. We know that most savage races still use natural vessels, made of coco-nuts, gourds, or calabashes, for everyday purposes of carrying water; and we also know that all the simplest and earliest pottery is moulded on the shape of just such natural jars and bottles. The fact and the theory based on it are no novelties. Early in the sixteenth century, indeed, the Sieur Gonneville, skipper of Honfleur, sailing round the Cape of Good Hope, made his way right across the Southern Ocean to some vague point of South America where he found the people still just in the intermediate stage between the use of natural vessels and the invention of pottery. For these amiable savages (name and habitat unknown) had wooden pots ’plastered with a kind of clay a good finger thick, which prevents the fire from burning them.’ Here we catch industrial evolution in the very act, and the potter’s art in its first infancy, fossilised and crystallised, as it were, in an embryo condition, and fixed for us immovably by the unprogressive conservatism of a savage tribe. It was this curious early observation of evolving keramic art that made Goguet—an anthropologist born out of due season—first hit upon that luminous theory of the origin of pottery now all but universally accepted.
Plenty of evidence to the same effect is now forthcoming for the modern inquirer. Among the ancient monuments of the Mississippi valley, Squier and Davis found the kilns in which the primitive pottery had been baked; and among their relics were partially burnt pots retaining in part the rinds of the gourds or calabashes on which they had been actually modelled. Along the Gulf of Mexico gourds were also used to give shape to the pot; and all over the world, even to this day, the gourd form is a very common one for pottery of all sorts, thus pointing back, dimly and curiously, to the original mode in which fictile ware generally came to be invented. In Fiji and in many parts of Africa vessels modelled upon natural forms are still universal. Of course all such pots as these are purely hand-made; the invention of the potter’s wheel, now so indissolubly associated in all our minds with the production of earthenware, belongs to an infinitely later and almost modern period.
And that consideration naturally suggests the fundamental question, When did the first potter live? The world (as Sir Henry Taylor has oracularly told us) knows nothing of its greatest men; and the very name of the father of all potters has been utterly forgotten in the lapse of ages. Indeed, paradoxical as it may sound to say so, one may reasonably doubt whether there was ever actually any one single man on whom one could definitely lay one’s finger, and say with confidence, Here we have the first potter. Pottery, no doubt, like most other things, grew by imperceptible degrees from wholly vague and rudimentary