“Sgraffito” is man’s most ancient way of drawing. One day a man was lying on a river-bank scratching the sand with his finger and admiring the result. And the result was a line, a dot, another line, another dot and then they were no longer just lines and dots but a drawing. Then someone, perhaps the same man, perhaps another, transferred these lines and dots onto the neck of a pot and put it into the embers to be fired. Thus decorative art began, although nothing particular had happened and nobody had noticed anything. Only the old woman who spent all her time by the fire shook her head, and the children squealed, danced about and asked to be allowed to hold the new pot in their hands. And that is probably all that happened that day beside the fire. But decoration had begun. It began to live and develop, to change its outline, to grow more complex, to acquire greater detail and become heavier. Soon it covered not only the neck of the pot but the whole vessel; it crawled down, strained upwards, twisted like a snake, curled into spirals, burst out now in one place, now in another and acquired the comb-like look of parallel hatching. It was as if men’s eyes had been opened and they saw something that they could not even have seen in dreams – pure geometrical shapes. Not a leaf curled into a circle, not a triangular stone but a circle and a triangle, then infinitely varied combinations of lines and dots. Not only simple lines but double lines, zig-zags, lines broken at varying angles – even squares, ovals and pyramids. The line itself changed out of recognition. It might be incised in the wet clay in clumps of finely divided lines, or in patterns like Christmas trees or crosses just like the design on this big-bellied pot, for instance – how many hundreds of thousands of years have passed since then? Thus there arose in the hands of a master this beautiful, almost magical piece of abstract ornamentation which we now take so much for granted that we do not even notice it.

pgs. 29-30, The Keeper of Antiquities