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UA group to fire up kiln, re-create ancient Greek pottery

Flames will fill an 8-foot-tall ancient Greek kiln replica when students, teachers and community members attend the all-day 10th Greek Kiln Firing on Friday.

The event began in 2004 when the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) awarded the AIA Society of Tucson and Southern Arizona — made up of University of Arizona faculty and students — the first Local Society Outreach Grant for its newly established Greek Kiln Project.

The AIA awards a university or program that successfully plans and implements an outreach program in the society to get the community involved and to educate the community in some way about archaeology.

Eleni Hasaki, an associate professor at UA's School of Anthropology and Classics, helped conceive and submit the Kiln Project along with members of the society, St. Augustine Catholic High school and local potters.

"My research expertise is in ancient Greek pyrotechnology, so it was an exciting and intriguing project for me to start. All the AIA lectures take place on campus, so there is a close connection between the AIA Tucson Society and UA," said Hasaki.

"In the late '90s and around early 2000s there was a big push to do experimental replicas and to test theories that only come from archeological remains. To replicate it, build it and fire it and then study the whole process they used," she said.

The construction of the wood-fired kiln was complex. The Greek kiln has two chambers — a combustion chamber with a perforated floor and another that holds the pots.

St. Augustine Catholic High School offered their campus as a holding place for the Greek kiln.

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"We were extremely lucky when the school allowed us and welcomed us to make the project a part of their school, the location is an educational experiment in an educational setting so it worked out perfectly," said Hasaki.

"It had to be in an open area, and it took a while to come up with a design of the kiln because it had to consist of materials as close to antiquity as possible, we wanted to come up with a design based on archeological evidence," she said.

Students and faculty contribute to the event each year by bringing some of their own pieces to be fired. Black- and red-figured pottery is most commonly fired at the event to represent the ancient Greek techniques.

St. Augustine teacher Patricia Bradshaw and her students have been producing different types of pottery with historical and mythological themes including the Trojan wars, Olympian gods, theatrical masks and Roman gladiators.

Unlike a gas or electric kiln, the wood-fired process takes 18 hours and the kiln's temperatures can climb as high as 1,600 degrees.

The firing event attracts local potters because the effects of the wood-fired kiln on the glazes are unpredictable and less controlled, Hasaki said.

"People come and go to the firing, it reaches out to a lot of academic audiences. There is a team coming from the ASU Arts Program and we even have ceramic pieces sent to us from a potter in Japan to be fired," she said.

Potters interested in having pieces fired in the kiln have until 9 p.m. Friday to drop them off at St. Augustine High School, 8800 E. 22nd St.

There also will be lectures and ancient Greek- and Roman-themed movies during the free event.

For more information about the firing, visit AIA Society of Tucson and Southern Arizona's website.

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Eleni Hasaki

Masks line the replica of an ancient Greek kiln.

If you go

  • What: 10th Greek Kiln Firing presented by the Archaeological Institute of America Society of and Southern Arizona
  • When: Friday, 11a.m.- 9p.m.
  • Where: St. Augustine Catholic High School, 8800 E. 22nd St.