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Simple ceramic bowl with blue glazed trim

A bowl is a round dish or container typically used to prepare and serve food. The interior of a bowl is characteristically shaped like a spherical cap, with the edges and the bottom forming a seamless curve. This makes bowls especially suited for holding liquids and loose food, as the contents of the bowl are naturally concentrated in its center by the force of gravity. The exterior of a bowl is most often round, but can be of any shape, including rectangular.

The size of bowls varies from small bowls used to hold a single serving of food to large bowls, such as punch bowls or salad bowls, that are often used to hold or store more than one portion of food. There is some overlap between bowls, cups and plates. Very small bowls, such as the tea bowl, are often called cups, while plates with especially deep wells are often called bowls.

Modern bowls can be made of ceramic, metal, wood, plastic, and other materials. Bowls have been made for thousands of years. Very early bowls have been found in China, Ancient Greece, Crete and in certain Native American cultures.

Painted pottery bowl, c. 10th century AD, from Chaco Canyon, USA

In Ancient Greek pottery, small bowls, including phiales and pateras, and bowl-shaped cups called kylices were used. 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.[1] In the 4th millennium BC, 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.[2]

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.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hogan (2007)
  2. ^ 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.

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