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From the Trenches: Cult of the Kiln Volume 54 Number 1, January/Februaury 2001
by Nancy T. De Grummond

An Etruscan potter's furnace yields evidence of ritual in the making of ceramics.

[image] Artist's reconstruction of the third- to second-century B.C. kiln excavated at Cetamura (Illustration by Byron Bell) [LARGER IMAGE]

Then come, Athena, and hold your hand over the kiln...[for there is always danger from demons]...the ravagers of kilns, Smasher, and Crasher, and Unquenchable, and Shaker as well, and Conqueror of the Unfired, who brings many evils against this craft.

In a Greek poem included in a second-century B.C. text and attributed to the eighth-century B.C. poet Homer, potters invoke the gods to ward off evil demons. Similar incantations may have been uttered by Etruscan artisans laboring over a kiln recently excavated at the hilltop site of Cetamura del Chianti, near Siena, Italy, which had been occupied from the seventh century B.C. to the twelfth century A.D. Here, my team from Florida State University excavated a kiln, finding evidence not only for the production of ceramics but for cult practices that accompanied it, likely performed in the hope of preventing breakage of their wares during firing.

Nancy T. De Grummond is a professor of classics at Florida State University.

© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America