Just as we learn gradually — from straight Drawing 101: Lines to curved lines — the Neolithic pottery-makers — from Fertile Crescent to Eastern Europe, and from Sudan to China — incised and painted first straight, then curved patterns.
Let’s start with some European Neolithic patterns to grasp the change from straight to curved. The earliest European pottery culture developed in Central Greece (Thessaly region) in today Sesklo village. Few people know now about this small village inhabited by less than 1000 people. Yet, 7000 years ago it was quite a metropolis with 5000 people!
The earliest vases, dating back to 5800 BC, are adorned with bands of 5 or 7 straight lines (odd numbers seem popular on pottery no matter the continent). Rectilinear motives abound. You can practice zigzag, sawtooth, triangle, rhombus, ladder patterns nd flame pattern (which is a slightly curved variant of the sawtooth). Just draw a couple of construction lines to anchor the pattern and keep a steady rhythm.
You can even try a splendid labyrinth (or ideogram, who knows?) found also in Sesklo, which seems to foreshadow the much later development of the Ancient Greek meander pattern. Start with the bolded lines in the middle. Surround those lines once. Second and third surroundings should create a niche at the bottom. Keep the lines neat and enough long to mark their intersections with other lines. Points are not defined by dots but by intersections between lines.
Compare it to the earliest rectilinear spiral (10.000 BC) incised on an ivory bracelet at Mezine, today Ukraine (below).
Before drawing curves, a bit of warm-up: Circles and ellipses are easier to draw if you trace 2 perpendicular construction lines. Approximate the same distance on all four lines and trace the circle with light, overlapping lines until you get a full contour. The same goes with ellipses, but you mark different distances from the center on the horizontal and vertical construction lines.
Curved patterns appeared only in late Sesklo pottery, a millennium after the rectilinear ones. Painted spirals adorned vases dating back to 4800 BC. Before, spiral-shaped shells were impressed in wet clay. Spiral is a widespread symbol in Neolithic Europe that, as you saw above, started as a rectilinear meander. Try simple spirals and pairs of spirals until you get confidence with curves.
It’s time to mix curves and lines. And to move from Sesklo to a neighboring village: Dimini. There archeologists unearthed a settlement, built later than Sesklo (4800 BC), which shows sophisticated pottery and advanced architecture (mudbrick houses with stone foundations and planned city layout). Try the check-pattern semicircle, the triangle-semicircle combination, and the spiral-cum-right-angle. Finish with the beautiful Dimini eye: a spiral inscribed in a curved triangle.