Egyptian Faience

Before glass was created over thousands of years ago, the Egyptians created a beautiful ceramic called faience. This ceramic material was made from a tin based glaze and is non clay based. It is recognizable by its turquoise tint. Powders were ground up by hand, mixed into a paste and then pressed into a mold much like what we use today in the 21st century.

The quality of the faience was determined by the quality of the powders used. The higher the raw ingredients, the higher the faience material would be labeled. Quartz, copper oxide, powdered limestone, and alkali salts were amongst the ingredients used. The ceramic was glazed in a high heat fire and then decorated, and often holes would be drilled unto the top for jewelry wearing. The mold itself was likely made out of carved out rock or ceramic because it had to withstand high heat.

One unique thing about faience is that it is self glazing. Glazing materials were mixed into the fine powders that formed the paste, causing the paste to become efflorescence. When the material was pressed into the mold to dry, the glaze material would come to the surface. Once placed into the high heat source, a chemical change would occur. There was no need to paint a glaze over the dried goods once it was ready to be fired. The efflorescence process was all that was needed. Clay-based goods did not go through the same process as faience.

The process of the faience techniques created beautiful jewelry, pottery, and figurines. Beads were frequently made to create beautiful netting that would be wrapped around mummies during burial. Necklaces adorned with unique shapes were strung together, and hand carved figurines in the form of humans, deities, and animals were made to use in ceremonies and to decorate temples. A large number of molds have been found inside and around the worship temples and indicate that faience was a major part of the Egyptians worshipping process.

Mixing areas that include kilns, molds, and ingredients for creating faience have been found at many archeological dig sites. These sites include Lisht, Naukratis, and Memphis. Since the average Egyptian had access to only clay-based ceramics, it can be assumed that Faience was available to only the elite citizens, royalty, and the priests. You would not typically find Faience outside of the royal palace or worship chambers.