A bowl is a round, open-top container used in many cultures to serve hot and cold food. Bowls are also used for drinking, as in the case of caffè latte. Bowls used for storing non-food items range from small bowls used for holding tips at a coffee shop to large bowls used for storing DVDs or CDs. Bowls are typically small and shallow, as in the case of bowls used for single servings of soup or cereal. Some bowls, such as punch bowls, serving bowls, fruit bowls and salad bowls are larger and often intended to serve many people.
The British/American standard soup bowl has a mouth, the opening not including the extent of its lip, with a diameter of 18.5 centimetres, and should be able to adequately accommodate at least 24 ounces of liquid.
In classical Greece, small bowls, including phiales and pateras, and bowl-shaped cups called kylices were used. History of Ancient Pottery describes how phiales were used for libations and included a small dent in the center for the bowl to be held with a finger, although one source indicates that these were used to hold perfume rather than wine. Some Mediterranean examples from the Bronze Age manifest elaborate decoration and sophistication of design. For example, the bridge spouted vessel design appeared in Minoan at Phaistos. In the 4th century BCE, evidence exists that the Uruk culture of ancient Mesopotamia mass-produced beveled rim bowls of standardized sizes. Moreover, in Chinese pottery, there are many elaborately painted bowls and other vessels dating to the Neolithic period. As of 2009, the oldest found is 18,000 years old.
In examining bowls found during an archaeological dig in North America, the anthropologist Vincas Steponaitis defines a bowl by its dimensions, writing that a bowl's diameter rarely falls under half its height and that historic bowls can be classified by their edge, or lip, and shape.
A bowl is also a standard unit of measure, as defined by the American Institute of Measurements (AIM). One bowl is the equivalent of 3.75 cups or 887.2059 ml.
Qing era Chinese porcelain bowl
A set of wooden bowls found on board the 16th century ship Mary Rose
- Hogan (2007)
- The World: Science Podcast. #17: U.S. "Science Envoys", Nobel winners strategize on global warming, and ten million years of laughter. Public Radio International, June 5, 2009.
- C. Michael Hogan Phaistos fieldnotes, The Modern Antiquarian, 2007
- Vincas P. Steponaitis. 1983. Ceramics, Chronology, and Community Patterns: An Archaeological Study at Moundville, pp 68–69. New York: Academic Press. ISBN 0-12-666280-0. (Table of contents available online)
- H. B. Walters. 1905. History of Ancient Pottery: Greek, Etruscan, and Roman, pp 140,191–192. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.