Ceramics are as old as time, as archaeologists have discovered artefacts that go as far back as prehistoric times. They were clay minerals mixed with water, some earthen elements and powdery substances, then molded to depict animal or human forms, or objects like slabs and balls. The shaped clay mixture were then dried in the sun and later hardened using the heat of fire. The discovery of those artefacts suggested that even then, man already had an inclination to be innovative, creative and artistic.
Although the word ceramic comes from the Greek keramos, which meant burnt material, the prehistoric pottery took a different form. This was evidenced by man made ceramics found in Czechoslovakia, dating as far back as 24,000 BC. That time, the clay mineral was of finer texture, but made mostly of animal bone, fat and ash.
Moreover, ancient artisans had devised horseshoe-shaped dome kilns that were in part, dug into the ground, surrounded by loess walls. The kilns fired with temperatures ranging from 500 to 800 degrees centigrade into where the molded and dried mineral mixtures were heated.
Although the earliest known ceramics did not seem to have utilitarian purposes, ceramic makers during 9,000 BC, later created ceramic vessels for storing grains and other types of storable food. The Egyptians developed finer versions of ceramics, by adding calcium, sand and soda, whilst overheating the molded clay mixture in a pottery kiln. This more advanced process brought out a colored glaze to the pottery, which many archaeologists found in abundance in Egyptian remains and ruins.
Ceramics and Its Uses in the Modern World
Ceramics today are now classified as traditional and advanced ceramics. Both of which relate to inorganic and non-metallic materials used for different applications in everyday lives.
Traditional Ceramics – are clay-based but developed from a wider range of inorganic raw materials. Nowadays, they come with different conductivity, chemical inertness and malleability, whilst processed and fired at different heat levels. They are produced for various uses such as whitewares, construction materials, heavy clay products, abrasive articles and glass.
Examples of whitewares include dinnerware, sinks, toilets, electrical insulators and dental implants. Traditional ceramics used as structural clay products in buildings, include bricks, floor tiles, terra-cotta tiles, roofing tiles, and drainage pipes. As construction materials, they occur as cement and cement-based materials, wall and floor tiles, and other applications such as sewers, drainage fittings, chimney pipings and linings.
When used for refractory purposes, the ceramic materials are made to withstand extreme temperatures of 3000°C or higher without softening or disintegrating. The applications of ceramics for refractory purposes include insulation for furnaces, rocket engines, jets and even as components of space shuttles.
Advanced Ceramics – Advancements as applied in this category still pertain to traditional ceramics, but with the addition of modern materials scientifically combined. The purpose of which is to produce revolutionary versions of traditional ceramics that are as robust and as electrically conductive as certain metals.