Feeding Cups

For centuries, Europeans have found urns while farming or digging foundations, and by the 17th C they were recognized as ancient burial urns and connected with Bronze Age cultures (Urnfield and Hallstatt). Some were found with other grave goods, including whimsical little cups, buried with children, that had spouts in them – ancient sippy cups. 

Sippy cups in general date to before and long after these Bronze Age finds. They are often very simple – sometimes just a cup with a straw stuck on it, sometimes with clear animal features (Rebay-Salisbury et al., 2021, includes a large table with thumbnail images of examples). Some of the central European cups were tested, and the residues were reported in 2019 to be consistent with ruminant milk (Dunne et al., 2019), suggesting that children were being fed animal milk at least some of the time.

I selected a commercial earthenware clay (Standard 104) for my work on the forms and have followed by experimenting with surface decorations. Left is a cup fired to cone 6 (much hotter than period pit firing) with a red iron oxide wash. Right is another (smaller) cup fired to cone 6 but coated with red slip (closer to the surface treatment used for these pieces in period).

Period firing in the Carpathian Basin did not have the efficiency and insulation to achieve the temperatures of even a typical modern bisque fire in an electric kiln, but these are display pieces that I travel with, so the improved durability is a practical concern. (If you look closely, you can see that the cup on the left has a broken right horn – lost at an event it had come to at the bisque stage, and I never even heard it break.)


Dunne J, Rebay-Salisbury K, Salisbury RB et al. Milk of ruminants in ceramic baby bottles from prehistoric child graves. Nature 574, 246–248 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1572-x

Rebay-Salisbury K, Dunne J, Salisbury RB, et al. Feeding Babies at the Beginnings of Urbanization in Central Europe. Childhood in the Past, 14:2, 102–124 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1080/17585716.2021.1956051

Title image credit: Enver-Hirsch/Wien Museum. This photo was widely used for the general audience articles about Dunne et al. (2019).