Read a long time ago so not recent, maybe in the 1970s or 1980s. It might have been Bradbury, but maybe not.

Some kind of researchers (anthropologists? physicists?) figure out how to play the grooves on a wheel-turned pot (people have used for more than 5 thousand years!) with a stylus/needle just like you play old-school records. They're hoping they'll hear something really interesting, but it turns out to be totally mundane and boring. A guy comes and talks with the potter, they gossip idly about neighbors. My recollection is that the potter lived in medieval England.

  • 1
    Was this story science fiction or fantasy? I'm not seeing any SF/F elements in the description you've given so far.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 15:44
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    By a SF author, published in a SF collection. Also speculative and counter-factual...
    – DavidW
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 15:53
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    @DavidW Sorry, I'd misunderstood the description. Somehow I didn't realise they were hearing voices from hundreds of years ago recorded on the pot.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 15:56
  • 2
    Not a direct answer, but the concept of sound being encoded in a pot is discussed here; it lists several works of fiction with the premise (including "Time Shards"). I first heard of it in the extremely meta X-Files episode "Hollywood AD" Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 20:17
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    @Randal'Thor Neither did I. When I read that "it turns out to be totally mundane and boring," I assumed that it was just static, as hearing words (as in the suggested answer) would not be mundane nor boring at all for the researcher! No matter what they actually said.
    – jpmc26
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 0:51

2 Answers 2


I think this was "Time Shards" (link to story online) by Gregory Benford. (It was originally published in Universe 9 (1979), edited by Terry Carr.)

Researchers figure out how to play the grooves on a wheel-turned pot

Brooks stooped forward. When he peered closer he could see the smooth finish was an illusion. A thin thread ran around the pot, so fine the eye could scarcely make it out. The lines wound in a tight helix. In the center of each delicate line was a fine hint of blue. The jug had been incised with a precise point.


Hart pressed a switch and the turntable began to spin. He watched it for a moment, squinting with concentration. Then he reached down to the side of the turntable housing and swung up the stylus manifold. It came up smoothly and Hart locked it in just above the spinning red surface of the pot.

My recollection is that the potter lived in medieval England.

“Who made it?”

“Near as I can determine, somebody in a co-operative of villages, barely Christian. Still used lots of pagan decorations. Got them scrambled up with the cross motif a lot.”

“You’ve gotten . . . words?”

“Oh, sure. In early English, even.”


The wikipedia page on archaeoacoustics references:

Rudy Rucker's 1981 short story "Buzz" includes a small section of audio recovered from ancient Egyptian pottery.

in addition to Time Shards (as answered by DavidW) and various tv shows who used the technique.

  • This answer sort of reads as more of a comment on the other answer and various other possibilities this could be. It might be better if you edited it to focus solely on "Buzz" and why that matches.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 9:20
  • "Buzz" is about a kind of self-replicating alien waveform that, when played back, takes over the world.
    – DavidW
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 12:02

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