Why did the ancient world use amphorae and how did they work?

The long pointed bottom of the typical amphora actually gave it an excellent shape for stacking against a ship’s hull, ensuring that the oil or wine within would be safe during transport.

In the evolution of amphorae, they often began rounded and egg-shaped and shifted to pointed, because the long bottom of the brittle pottery jar better withstood the pressure of being pushed sideways when stacked.

In many shipwrecks, amphorae are found still neatly stacked, though the packing between them has usually disappeared.

Many amphorae have what are called ear handles: small, round handles about as big as the hole made by the thumb and forefinger. The shape doesn’t make sense for carrying; some archaeologists think the amphorae were probably tied down in rows through the handles.

No ropes have been found, however.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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