Iranian Ceramics Assemblages Represented in the Milwaukee Public Museum




Pottery Cup; Susa I, Iran; 4000 B.C. Susa is one of the oldest settlements with occupation dating as early as 7000 B.C. Susa was the capital of the Elam Empire, located in the southwest region of Iran near the Karkheh River. Pottery from this site is generally painted with geometric patterns and stylized, simplified animals. Prior to the 4th millennium B.C., archaeologists believe that women were primary makers of pottery. With the invention of the tournette, a primitive potter’s wheel, the task of pottery-making was transferred to men, though women still continued to make pottery by hand. The ornamentation on this pot is not typical for the pottery around this time period in Susa. The use of decoration on the pottery is indicative that it may have been distinguished as a special purpose vessel, commonly associated with burial rituals.



The MPM ceramic assemblage from Amlash is extensive, consisting of over 50 vessels, 29 bronze objects, 2 bronze projectile points, and one gold beaker dating to the Late Iron Age, circa 1200-800 B.C. Amlash is a modern town located in the Gilan province of northwestern Iran, along the uplands of the Elburz Mountains east of the Sefid Rud river valley. The majority of the vessels are in excellent condition and therefore likely come from clandestine excavations of local megalithic tombs built by a Indo-Iranian people considered to be part of the Marlik Culture (Negahban 1996:325). The quality of art and pottery from this region is appears to be more elaborate than the other areas of Iran at this time (Culican, 1965:32). Though Amlash is located near Mesopotamia, there is little direct influence from these southwestern cultures, due in large part to natural boundaries of the Elburz and Zagaros mountain ranges (Ghirshman 1964).

A main characteristic of Amlash pottery is its intricate sculptural detail and technical manufacture, a testament to their socio-religious ethos. Representations of animal figures are abundant in Amlash pottery and are usually depictions of common animals to that region, namely ram, ox, horse, stag, boar, and ibex. Human representations are also common, but are usually included in burial sites and may represent either deities or human individuals. Unfortunately, due to the illegal looting of many archaeological sites in Amlash district during the 20th century, very little is known about the exact context of these artifacts. Fortunately, this remarkable cultural tradition shows many similarities with the archaeological site of Marlik Tepe located nearby in the Gohar Rud Valley. Under the direction of Ezat O. Negahban of The Iranian Archaeological Service, the royal necropolis of Marlik was excavated between 1961 and 1962. A total of fifty-three tomb chambers of various sizes were uncovered, yielding a wealth of grave goods that attests to a very affluent and sophisticated cultural complex (Negahban 1996 vols. 1&2). Therefore, the material culture of Marlik exhibits similarities to other regional sites such as Amlash, Hasanlu, Khurvin, and Sialk, indicating a broad zone of interaction during the latter half the second and early first millennium B.C. (Matheson 1979:74).


Amlash Cups

Single-handled grayware cup. Amlash, Iran; 1200-1000 B.C. Ht. 11.5cm, dia. 11.5 cm, mouth dia. 10.5 cm, circumference 35.5 cm.

Single-handled grayware cup. Amlash, Iran; 1200-1000 B.C. Ht. 8.3cm, Rim dia. 7.1 cm, rim circum. 22.5 cm.

Single-handled grayware cup
Amlash, Iran; 1200-1000B.C.
Ht. 7.3cm, dia. 7.1cm, rim dia. 6.5 cm, circum. 23 cm.

Ceramic cup with exterior incised decoration. Amlash, Iran; 1200-1000 B.C. Ht. 8.7cm, rim dia. 9.8 cm, base dia. 7.8cm, rim circum. 30.8cm.

Single-handled pitcher
Amlash, Iran; 1200-1000 B.C. Ht. 14.5cm, Dia. 13.8 cm, rim dia. 8.9cm.

Large cup with handle and exterior incised decoration
Amlash, Iran; 1200-1000 B.C. Ht.12.5cm, Dia. 12cm, Rim dia. 8.9cm.

Ceramic cup with two holes in base. Amlash, Iran; 1200-1000 B.C. Ht. 9.6cm, Dia. 8.55cm, max. circum. 27cm

Cup with flared rim and handle. Amlash, Iran; 1200-1000 B.C. Ht. 9.3cm, Dia. 8.3cm, mouth dia. 8.15cm, body circum. 26.4cm, rim circum. 25.5cm

Cup with flared rim and handle. Amlash, Iran; 1200-1000 B.C. Ht. 7.1cm, Body dia. 7cm, rim dia. 7.16cm, body circum. 22cm, rim circum. 22.5cm.

Slipped wide-mouth pitcher
Amlash, Iran; 1000 B.C.

Slipped redware pitcher
Amlash, Iran; 1200-900 B.C

Necked jug with hole in side
Amlash, Iran; 1000 B.C.

N 33001/27091
Light grey small jar with handle
Amlash, Iran; 1200-1000 B.C.

Grayware jug with handle
Amlash, Iran; 1200-1000 B.C.

Small jar with one of two handles
Amlash, Iran; 1200-1000 B.C.

Pitcher with spout and handle, decorative pattern etched into the pot
Amlash, Iran; 9th-8th C. B.C.

Jug with handle and incised exterior cross hatched decoration. Amlash, Iran; 1200-1000 B.C.

N15821/21376Two joined small vessels.
Amlash, Iran; 7th c. B.C


Jars and Bowls from Amlash

Burnished two handled jar/pot Amlash, Iran; 1200-1000 B.C.

Wide mouthed jar
Amlash, Iran; 1200-1000 B.C.

Undecorated buff pot
Amlash, Iran; 1200-1000 B.C.

Pedestal bowl with spout and handle Amlash, Iran; 1200-900 B.C.

Large pedestal bowl with handle. Amlash, Iran; 1200-1000 B.C.

Grayware pedestal/stem bowl
Amlash, Iran; 1200-1000 B.C

Black pottery bowl, three footed, round bottom with one small handle
Amlash, Iran; 9th-8th C. B.C.

Red ceramic bowl
Amlash, Iran; 1200-1000 B.C.

Bowl with exterior scalloped ridge Amlash, Iran; 1200-1000 B.C.


Spouted Vessels from Amlash

Four small joined jugs with wheels. Amlash, Iran 1000 B.C.

Zoomorphic Rhyton
1000 B.C.
Ht. 20.5cm, Lt. 28.5 cm

Jug, double loop handled ovate body, flat base, double spout, styalized figure with open spouted head. Fine quartz sand tempered clay, burnished, oxidized exterior.
Amlash, Iran; 10th-9th c. B.C.
Ht. 26.0cm, Dia. w/ handles 18 cm, figure ht. 8cm, body circum. 47cm

Handled pitcher with long spout
Amlash, Iran; 1000 B.C.

Pottery spouted jar, slipped and burnished reddish orange clay. Amlash, Iran; 9th-8th C. B.C. Ht. 18.5cm, Lgt. 29.5 cm, body circum. 63cm.

Pottery spouted jar, Amlash, Iran; c. 1000 B.C.
Ht. 19.7cm Lt. 36.2cm, Dia. 16.5 cm

Handled pitcher with long spout
Amlash, Iran; 1000 B.C.

Spouted Ewer, 1000 B.C.

zoomorphic spout
Amlash, Iran; 1000 B.C.


Amlash Figurines

Pottery human figure
Amlash, Iran; 10th-8th c. B.C.

pottery anthropomorphic female with large hips and pointed hat.
Ht. 10" Wt. 4" Dt. 2 1/2"

pottery figurine incised eyes, headdress with opening
Amlash c. 1500 B.C.
Ht. 8 ¼ inches

Small ceramic Ram figurine
Lt. 3.2, Ht. 2.5cm, Wdt. 1.4cm.
Amlash, 9th-8th c.B.C.

Pottery stag, gray and black with five point antlers.
Ht. 3 3/4" Lt. 3" Wt. 1"

Hollow three-footed bird with red polished exterior.
Height 14.5 cm, Length 13.8cm, Width 7 cm.

Hollow ceramic ram
Amlash, Iran; 900 B.C.



Tepe Giyan

The site of Tepe Giyan is located north of the modern city of Khorramabad in western Iran. The site was excavated by during the 1930s and revealed an occupation sequence from the 5th millennium B.C. to the 1st millennium B.C. The pottery from this site provides an exceptional range of aesthetic types that have become extremely useful for chronological dating purposes. The Museum's collection can be attributed to the Giyan III sequence, which is noted for its painted wares and tripod vessel shapes. The site appears to have destroyed sometime in the 9th or 8th c. B.C., possibly by an Assyrian assault (Matheson 1979:116).


Ceramics from Tepe Giyan

Small pot
Tepe Giyan, Iran; 10-9th century B.C.

Small pot with horizontal painted decoration
Tepe Giyan, Iran; 10-9th century B.C.

Buff pot with slip and brown painted decoration
Tepe Giyan, Iran; 10th-9th c. B.C.

Buff, painted tripod bowl
Tepe Giyan, Iran; 1000 B.C.




Spouted vessel, pottery, spout support, horse head handle.
Khurvin, 9th-8th c. B.C.
Ht. 5" Dia. 5 1/2" Wt. 7"

Khurvin is situated about 50 miles northeast of Iran’s modern capital of Tehran. Khurvin was influenced by Mesopotamia and Central Asia because of its location, near migration and trade routes. Agriculture was abundant in this region due to the presence of streams and other water sources from the mountains. Tombs were found in cemeteries similar to Sialk but here there was a lack of weaponry, which may indicate that there was more of an emphasis on farming and herding than warefare. Pottery was found in abundance in the tombs excavated at Khurvin. Unfortunately, there are several graves that were robbed and the findings are being sold illegally. The ornamentation on the pots is minimal but the long neck spouts are similar in form to Amlash, Hassanlu, Marlik, and Sialk pottery.


Tepe Sialk

Tepe Sialk, 9th-8th c. B.C.
Spouted Vessel, pottery, red orange clay,
vertical pinched spout with red slip design
Ht. 8" Lt. 10" Dia. 7 1/2"


Sialk is situated in the modern city of Kashan. By the 10th century B.C., it was apparent that there was already a structured social system in Sialk through burial evidence. Prior to this period, graves were found in the floors of houses but now graves are found buried in hills with several graves grouped together. The graves of the rich are more tomb-like and confirm the presence of gold and silver in the form of jewelry and pins. Also at this time, copper and bronze weapons were being made in mass quantities and were included in burials, but pottery were the most abundant objects found in graves.

Large jugs are most commonly found grave goods. The decoration is a balance between geometric designs of natural elements or designs of animals. Vegetation and human figures were rarely depicted on pottery designs at Sialk. The representation of a bird is considered to be associated with funerary rituals, as it is commonly shown on libation vases. Rams are also typically found on Sialk pottery and can be identified by the exaggerated emphasis and curvature of the horns. The skill of the pottery is shown through the delicate shapes and forms as well as the elaborate designs that make Sialk pottery so unique. Most of the artifacts from Sialk are now in the Louvre Museum in Paris and the Tehran Museum in Iran.


Hasanlu, Iran; 835 – 705 B.C.
Grey ware bowl with zoomorphic spout


Hasanlu is located on the northwestern border of modern Iran. Animal and human pottery representations are found primarily in grave sites at Hasanlu. The function associated with most funerary pottery is thought to have been for libation in burial rituals. The artifact shown below has a typical raised design around the top half of the piece, a common characteristic found in pottery from this area.


The province of Luristan is located in western Iran, a region known for its early utilization of copper and bronze technology during the second and first millennium B.C. The pottery from this region shares distinctive qualities of painted geometric design. Unfortunatly, there is very little information associated with much of the material culture designated as coming from Luristan. As a result, these artifacts may be compared with known vessel types that were systematically excavated, such as Tepe Giyan or Tepe Sialk. Moreover, because they are complete vessels suggests that they were probably burial accoutrements.


Ceramics from Luristan

Buff jar with brown decoration
Luristan, Iran; 1000 B.C.

Slip pot with brown horizontal decoration
Luristan, Iran; 8th-7th c. B.C.

Pot with two handles and geometric decoration
Luristan, Iran; 8th-7th c. B.C.


The Coming of Islam & Its Affect on the Art and Technology of Iran

Islamic Influence

Beginning in the seventh century A.D., the Islamic Empire dramatically spread out of the Arabian Peninsula reaching as far as Spain to the west and Indonesia to the east. The Arab conquerors of the 7th and 8th centuries A.D. adopted and adapted to the artistic traditions in the areas they conquered, such as the geographic region of modern Iran. One significant influence of Islamic theology was experienced in the realm of artistic expression. Belief in a single creator, Allah, would eventually prohibit the artistic use of anything that might become an idol or indicate that the artist was attempting to duplicate the work of the creator. As a result, artistic restrictions resulted in the development of alternative art forms most notable of which are the Arabesque and Persian styles.


The Persian Style

In the Old Persian Empire during the 7th century, the influx of Arab Muslims encountered a fully developed civilization with deep artistic traditions. The Arabs soon adapted to these traditions and eventually incorporated it into their own artistic form. Continued expansion of Arabian influences into eastern Asia resulted in large-scale trade of information and technology between China and the Mediterranean, along what is known as the Silk Road. As a result of increased transferrable wealth crossing vast distances, a powerful group of nomadic horsemen from the Mongolian Steppe consolidated their hostile ambitions over a vast territory of Central Asia. Despite the destructive tactics waged by these Mongol groups, their conquest acted to perpetuate the Persian style by disseminating such goods over great distances. Over time, many Mongol administrators joined the Fatamid sect of Islam, which was more tolerant in using human and animal forms in two-dimensional art, particularly glazed ceramics. The resulting Islamic ceramics of the Persian Style cover a wide range of glaze types and decorative techniques. Common Persian glazes include turquoise, lapis lazuli blue, cream, and clear. Some glazes are applied in several layers over painted floral or bird designs. The different decorative patterns show a variety of styles produced in the ceramic industries of particular cities such as Kashan, Nishapur, Raqqa, Rayy, Samarra, and Samarqand.



Around the ninth century A.D., Nishapaur became an important political center and capital of the Tahrids dynasty. The city is located in the northeast Korisan region of Iran, along a main artery of the Silk Road, which facilitated in making Nishapur a multiethnic city of diverse cultures and innovative technologies. The pottery from this region is very distinctive with magnificent polychrome wares and glazes of various colors. Some of the most notable pieces from this area include inscriptions of Arabic proverbs. Also common on pottery from Nishapur are representations of stylized animals, mainly birds and abstract floral patterns. Pigments most commonly found painted on pottery from Nishapur are yellow, black, green, and red.


Ceramics from Nishapaur

Dish with interior polychrome bird
Nishapaur, Iran; 10th c. A.D

Bowl with black and mustard colored bird design Nishapaur, Iran; 10th-12th c. A.D.

Ceramic bowl with interior
polychromatic bird Nishapaur,
Iran; 10-12th c A.D

Ceramic bowl with glazed interior. Nishapaur, Iran; 10-12th c. A.D.

Dish with brown and orange organic designs
Nishapaur, Iran; 12th-13th c. A.D.

Ceramic bowl with interior glazed decoration
Nishapaur, Iran; 10-11th c. A.D.

Bowl with under glaze design painted in purple, black and orange. Nishapaur (?), Iran; 10th c. A.D.

Bowl with floral design broken into quadrants
Nishapaur, Iran; 10th-13th c. A.D.

Bowl with brown interior decoration
Nishapaur, Iran; 10th c. A.D.

Ceramic bowl with calligraphy
Nishapaur, Iran; 9th-10th c. A.D.

Ceramic bowl with brown/green interior decoration. Nishapaur, Iran; 9th-10th c. AD.

Bowl with braided band decoration
Nishapaur, Iran; 12th c. A. D.

Bowl with yellow brown and green interior design
Nishapaur, Iran; 10th-13th c. A.D.

Ceramic bowl with brown and yellow interior decoration. Nishapaur, Iran; 10th-12th c. A.D.

Dish with purple-black under glaze of cream. Nishapaur, Iran; 10th-12th c. A.D.

Bowl with green, black and yellow design
Nishapaur, Iran; 10th-12th c. A.D.

Dish with white opaque glaze over pink/grey base
Nishapaur, Iran; 10th-13th c. A.D.


Bowl with interior/exterior turquoise glaze
Nishapaur, Iran; 12th-13th c. A.D.

Bowl with interior/exterior turquoise glaze
Nishapaur, Iran; 12th-14th c. B.C.

Bowl with blue glazed interior
Nishapaur, Iran; 12th-13th c. A.D.

Course small bowl with dark interior
Nishapaur, Iran; 12th c. A.D.

Buff bowl with green glaze interior
Nishapaur, Iran; 12th-13th c. A.D.

Bowl with turquoise glaze over greyware
Nishapaur, Iran; 12th-13th c. A.D.

Bowl with turquoise glaze over a pinkish-greyware
Nishapaur, Iran; 12th c. A. D.

Bowl with turquoise glaze over greyware
Nishapaur, Iran; 12th c. A.D.

Bowl with turquoise glaze over greyware
Nishapaur, Iran; 12th-13th c. A.D.



Kashan is a city that known for its lusterware. It is located in central Iran near the city Isfahan. It is believed that Kashan was an important regional city in ancient Iran and was established by the Elamites around 7,000 years ago. Kashan pottery reflects a decorative technique of scratching details into the pottery in addition to complex decorative patterns.


Ceramics from Kashan

Oil lamp with a cream glaze and blue decorative exterior
Kashan, Iran: 13th c. A.D.

Bowl with interior glazed floral design
Kashan, Iran; 13th-14th c. A.D.

Bowl with black and blue painted decoration
Kashan, Iran; 13th-14th c. A.D.



Rayy was built under the Median Empire more than 5,000 years ago and is located near Tehran in north-central Iran. Rayy ceramics exhibit evidence of the Chinese-inspired pottery technique known as sgraffito. Sgraffito is a technique where two glazes are applied to the pottery and then a design is engraved into the glaze. The main colors used in the decoration are generally green and yellow, and the subjects usually are representations of birds.


Ceramics from Rayy

Ceramic vase with black painted decoration
Rayy, Iran; 12th-14th c. A.D

Ceramic bowl with green glazed design of bird
Rayy (?), Iran; 9-10th c. A.D.

N16773/21761 Detail of the Sgraffito technique

Bowl with blue/green glaze
Rayy, Iran; 12th c. A. D..

Ceramic bowl with interior green decoration
Rayy (?), Iran; 9th-10th c. A.D.

N18406/ 22421
Pitcher with lapis blue glaze over buff body
Rayy, Iran; 12th-13th c. A.D.


Ceramics with Unspecified Provenience

Shard with cream slip and two birds
Persia, 2000 B.C.

Slipped, painted tripod bowl
Iran; 9th-8th c. B.C.

Red painted jug with long neck and handle
Iran; 1800-1200 B.C.

Undecorated jug with side spout and zoomorphic handle
Northwestern, Iran; 10th-8th c. B.C.

Pot with top handle and exterior decoration
Iran; 8th-7th c. B.C.

Bowl with black painted design on interior and exterior
Iran; 9th-8th c B.C.

Painted bowl with false handle
Iran; 9th-8th c. B.C.

Ceramic platform with two animals
Iran; 9-8th c. B.C.

Cup with handle linear decoration
Iran 8th C. B.C.

Tripod greyware with vertical ridges
Northwestern, Iran; 10th-8-th c. B.C.

Pitcher with pitched spout
Northwestern Iran; 4th-6th c. A.D.

Flattened brown ceramic flask
Iran; archaic

Ceramic Spindle
Persia; Unknown date

Pedestal buff bowl with blue glaze
Sassanid, Iran; 226-642 A.D.

Small green glazed pot
Islamic; 800 A.D.

Bowl with a cream glaze and three panel designs on upper rim
Iran; 9th-10th c. A.D.

Bowl with quadrant design in dark brown, yellow and green
Iran; 9th-10th c. A.D

Ceramic dish with green and siena colored decoration on interior
Iran; 9th-10th c. A.D.

Pot with blue glaze and three small-decorated cups
Iran; 11th c. A.D.

Bowl with turquoise glaze
Iran; 11th c. A.D.

Creamware bowl with brownish-gold luster
Iran; 12th c A.D.

Bowl with turquoise glaze on interior
Iran; 12th c. A.D.

Bowl with interior Arabic script
Iran; 12th-13th c. A.D.

Ceramic bowl with blue interior/exterior design
Iran; 12th-13th c. A.D.

Bowl with black, white and red decoration
Iran; 12th-13th c. A.D.

Bowl with blue/black decoration
Mongol-Rhages, Iran; 13th c. A.D

Bowl with interior/exterior glazed decoration
Iran; 13th -14th c. A.D.

Bowl with turquoise glaze over a black design
Iran; 12th-13th c. A.D.

Vase with turquoise glaze over greyware
Iran; 13th c. A.D.

Clay cup with black painted bands around rim and swastika inside of bowl
Iran; date unknown

Glazed bowl with blue and white pattern
Iran; date unknown

Bowl with blue bird design on Creamware
Possible Iranian pottery Near east; unknown date


Ceramic leopard with curled tail
Iran; date unknown

Ceramic horse with dark brown glaze
Iran; date unknown

Corner of a ceramic tile with bird
Persia; 16th c. A.D.