Vessel Fragment with Gemlike Motifs

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Ceramic vessel fragment studded with gemlike motifs 13th–15th centuries, Egypt Clay with stamped and applied decoration Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, 1969.2.21

Vessel Fragment with Gemlike Motifs

The exterior surface of this thick ceramic vessel fragment is adorned with large protuberances that resemble pearls and cut gemstones. The object appears to mimic jewelry and thus wealth and luxury, but in a more affordable medium. The function of these "jeweled" sphero-conical vessels has, however, remained a subject of debate. It has been suggested that they were used to store various liquids or unguents such as perfumes, mercury, or alchemical concoctions. Evidence also suggests that they functioned as beer gourds or water pipes. Some scholars have even suggested that they could have been used as medieval grenades, although this hypothesis has been largely refuted. While the scholarly community has yet to come to a consensus, the most likely explanation is that they were used for a variety of purposes.

Bibliography: Watson 2004, 107–111; Baer 1998, 105ff.; 1989; Ettinghausen 1965; Ghouchani and Adle 1992; Keall 1993; and Savage-Smith 1997, pt. 2, 324–338.

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