Monthly Archives: December 2012

Pottery in Archaeology (The Bronze Age)

My previous ” Pottery in Archaeology ” post began with the Neolithic period. In that post I hoped to encourage the beginner who is interested in archaeology and wishes to study ancient pottery. Pottery helps the archaeologist to build up a picture of how our ancestors lived many years ago, such as the residue still evident inside a cooking pot, this can tell us what the last meal had been. I will now move on to the next phase and talk about the pottery in:-


This period can be sub-divided into an earlier phase (2300 to 1200 BC) and a later one (1200-700) Beaker pottery appears in England around (2475-2315 BC) along with burial practices of inhumation. Early Bronze Age people buried their dead beneath earth mounds known as barrows often with a beaker pot alongside the body.

Later in the period, cremation was adopted as a burial practice with cemeteries of urns containing cremated individuals appearing in the archaeological record. People of this period were also mostly responsible for the building of many well known prehistoric sites such as the later phases of Stonehenge.

The Bronze Age people lived in round houses and divided up the landscape.Evidence of stone rows can be seen,for example, Dartmoor. It is believed that “Beaker People” were a race of people who migrated to Britain en masse from the continent,however this is still debatable.


EARLY STYLE  BEAKERS  so called after the beaker people reached Britain as fine well made vessels with “S” shaped profiles and in a red fabric (the prepared clay with which the vessel was made)  Two basic forms of early beakers found in Britain can be recognised by their decoration and the fact that the belly of the pot is quite low down, the decoration consisting of circling lines of twisted cord and tooth combed impressions.

Early to Middle B.A. Beakers. Early Bronze Age decorated Beakers

Early Bronze age beaker and food vessel.Early Bronze Age Beaker and food vessel

Bronze Age Beaker found in Wales in a Grave burial Bronze Age Beaker found in a Grave Burial in Wales.

MIDDLE STYLE  BEAKERS  are more decorative though the technique is still much the same as the early style. For example, the decorated zones become much broader, the shape of the vessel also alters with more emphesis placed on the difference between the neck and the belly of the pot. The belly of the pot becomes slightly higher up the body and the neck of the pot itself eccentuated. Also in the middle period the fingernail decorated beakers begin. These fingernail decorated pots can be either fine or course and are most commonly found in domestic assemblages

LATE  STYLE  BEAKERS.   The neck of the late style beakers is now eccentuated as well as elongated and the body more bulbous. Ribbed and cordoned decoration as well as combed or incision. Fingernail decoration increases in frequency and size.

Below is a guideline of shapes and decoration for Bronze Age Beakers.

Figs 1-2  Early  Style Beakers         Figs 3-4 Early-Middle Style

Figs 5-6  Middle Style Beakers         Figs 7-9  Late Style Beakers 

Fig 10     Late Style Handled Beaker

Fig 11     Finger Rusticated  Decoration

Bronze Age Pottery Sequence


A variety of regional forms have been identified. Overall there are two main divisions between bowl and vase form, the latter preferred in the south of Britain and the former in the North and the West country. Decoration in the North frequently covers the whole of the pot whereas in the South the decoration is confined to the upper part of the vessel. 

Of the vase food vessels,the simplest form is a bipartite vase with moulded rim.The decoration may cover the whole vessel or may be restricted to the upper half including the rim and the rim bevel.

Food Vessel Bronze  AgeBronze Age Food Vessel.

Middle Bronze Age Bowl             Middle Bronze Age Bowl. 


Collared urns retain there Peterborough derived decoration in the form of incision,whipped and plaited cord, stabs and comb impressions,the latter most likely derived from beakers. Herringbone motifs are popular as are triangles,encircling line and lattice motifs. Crescents of twisted cord impressions decorate the shoulder of the pot. 

Bronze age collared urn from Carneddau Cairn NR Carno Wales. These Bronze Age collared urns were used for burial practice.


Below is a small guideline of shapes and decoration of the Collared Urns.

Figure l –  Etal Moor Northumberland     Figure 2 – Stonebridge Northumberland

Figure 3 – Brighton East Sussex.          Figure 4 -Cliviger Lancashire

Figures 5 and 6  Etel Moor Northumberland

Collared Urns

The Bronze Age Collared urns vary from region to region as do most of the historical pottery found on archaeological sites. If there is an’ Historical Society’ in your region thats a good place to begin if you wish to further this interest. Also libraries are another source.

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Posted by on December 19, 2012 in Archaeology and Pottery


Pottery in Archaeology

In a previous post of mine I promised to talk about my favourite subject, that of archaeology and ancient pottery found on some historical sites. It is intended for the beginner who is interested in learning about the subject of pottery in archaeology.


Looking back to my childhood days I remember my mother always telling me to hold my head up or I would look like a bent up old lady before I was much older. I think this must have been the first indication of my becoming an archaeologist because I was always looking down on the ground searching for anything I could find. On the days we visited my Grandma’s I was anxious to go out to the back of her house as there was a huge open area where I spent happy hours searching for anything I could find, bits of pot or tile that I thought looked interesting, there was the occasional glass marbles and old glass bottles which had a marble in the top,does anyone remember these bottles were called “Cadswallup” bottles? I did once find a watch, and a nice brooch in the shape of a butterfly.

Some of the things I found I kept hidden in a box and put them in my small wardrobe,they were my little treasures until my mother found them and threw them all away saying that they were rubbish. But now, that so called rubbish may have been of archaeological or antique interest. When out walking I still keep my now trained eye open for anything which seems of interest such as, unusually shaped stone or flint objects that maybe tools of the past.

After being married and my children were at school I decided that I wanted to go on an archaeological excavation. I contacted the Hereford and Worcs Sites and Monuments Archaeology Dept and was finaly allowed to go as a volunteer to the site where a dig was about to begin at The Droitwich Saltworks. in Worcestershire.I have already written a previous post about this called  “Evidence of the Past ” It was here that my interest in pottery began.So I will now proceed to explain a bit more about the identification first of pottery from the Neolithic period and will continue through to the Medieval period in future posts.

It is the durability of pottery which makes it so important to archaeologists.Pottery was made in Britain from the time of the first farmers in the early fourth millenium bc and was used for religious and domestic purposes. The earliest pots seem to be the simplest and undecorated pots, cups and bowls originally labelled “Windmill Hill Ware”  see Piggott 193l but have subsequently been divided into regional forms.


Pottery,or ceramic,consists of clay that has been chemically changed and hardened using heat to drive out the water present in the molecules. If the clay has been properly fired,it will hold water and will not soften. If however imperfectly fired the clay will revert back to its liquid state on contact with water or anything wet. Clay sources of varying quility are found commonly in Britain and whereas a course clay may need to be fined before use a very fine clay may need to have course material added. These are non clay bodies found in the fabric of the pottery and are either naturally occuring or added.

The former group may be small sand grains,quartz or organic remains,for example,which occur naturally in the clay itself and are derived from the local geology or ecology. The latter have been deliberatly added to the clay to reduce the plasticity and to open the fabric so that during the firing process water can easily escape and will not blow out rapidly and cause the pot to explode. Almost any material is suitable for this and small pieces of crushed pottery(grog) sand, grass crushed flint and shell are all commonly found  in prehistoric pottery

Once the clay has been prepared and the pot fashioned usually from a series of coils as the potters wheel was unknown in Britain at this time,the vessels could be burnished or decorated in a variety of ways. Impressed techniques, where a material such as string or bone was pushed into the damp clay are very common in the neolithic and bronze age, as are incised decoration and applied or raised cordons and lugs. Once the pot had dried it is then ready for firing Like the potters wheel, kilns are unknown in the British neolithic and bronze age so the pottery would have been fired in a bonfire.


The earliest dated pottery in Britain is Grimston-Lyles Hill ware and it is also one of the longest lasting styles. Carbon dates suggest that this style began around 3500 bc and may have remained in use for well over a millenium. The tradition is also distributed widely over Great Britain from Caithness to East Anglia. The pottery is almost invariably undecorated except for vessels with slight fluting,and the majority of the vessels are either carinated or  ‘S’  profiled.  Grimston Ware is usually good,fine and frequently burnished but occasionally inclusions will either have burnt or dissolved out of the surfaces to give a corky texture.

Vessels produced were round- based bowls ,simple hemispherical cups .Rim forms are rarely elaborate and are usually either thickened, simple or rolled.  Applied lugs may be found on the carinations of bowls or the exteriors of cups but they are rare.

Regional variations are found  in a series as geographically widespread as Grimston ware. There are for example, three sub-titles in Yorkshire Grimston ware itself, Heslerton ware, and Towthorpe. 

Neolithic Potteryclick to enlarge picture.

 Grimston ware 1-2, Thirlings Northumberland after Hurrel 3,

Hanging Grimston North Yorkshire,after Piggott 4 , Heslerton Ware North Yorkshire after Piggott 

Towthorpe Bowl Humberside after Piggott. 5

There is a slight difference between Heslerton and Grimston ware in that the ‘ S ‘ profile is slacker with no sharpe carination and with a more open appearence.


Round based bowls in the South West of England can also be divided into local styles. The best known style is probably the Hembury style which dates from about 3300 bc to around the middle of the 3rd millenium and possibly made in Cornwall by proffesional potters and traded in large quantities as far as Wessex and beyond. Course wares of this style are usually locally made imitations of the finer vessels.

Hembury ware from Carn Brae,Cornwall (After Mercer) also characterized by horizontally perforated lugs often have expanded ends which are known as ‘trumpet lugs’  The rim forms are often simple or slightly rolled. The vessel forms are either simple open bowls,or more rarely, carinated bowls and have an upright neck.

The Windmill Hill pottery so named after the neolithic causeway enclosure in Wiltshire England, dates from the early to the middle of the 3rd millennium and is characterized by its baggy profiles, with simple rounded rims which are occasionally thickened and small oval or circular applied lugs can be found on the exterior of the vessel.Decoration is rarely found on Windmill Hill ware.However if found it is simple and consists of small dots or short incisions which are usualy below the rim either internally or externally.

Windmill Hillclick to enlarge picture

Windmill Hill Pottery baggy profiles 2 and 3 with simple rounded rims.


There are several named decorated wares such as the Whitehawk style from the causewayed enclosure East Sussex,The Abingdon style from the causewayed enclosure on the Thames gravels and The Milldenhall style after a settlement site in the fens of East Anglia

Decorated potteryAbingdon and Mildenhall Pottery

1 and 2 Abingdon style pottery.

3 and 5 Mildenhall style pottery.

 Abingdon style characterized by bipartite bowls and sometimes having applied lugs and handles.Rims are thickened and often rolled also decorated with oblique incisions or twisted cord impressions. Deep pots and simple bowls are also present.

The Mildenhall style is a little more elaborately decorated ‘ S ‘ profiled bowls predominate the style,the pots often deep with rolled and thickened rims. Rims,necks,shoulders and bodies may have decoration with oblique incisions or impressions sometimes extending to the body of the pot.

Decorated pot 2 

                                                  Whitehawk style once again ‘ S ‘ profiled,closed and simple bowls with everted,thickened and simple rims. Simple oval lugs are common and maybe perforated. Stabs and incisions are the two most decorations evident.Comb cord and fingernail impressions are also found.

Neolithic Burnished Pottery Sherd  Neolithic burnished pottery sherd.

Sherds Early neolithic bowlSherds from an Early Neolithic pot.

Early Neolithic Pot 4,000 BC Early Neolithic Pot 4,000 BC

Decorated bowlEarly Neolithic Decorated Bowl.


Posted by on December 8, 2012 in Archaeology, Archaeology and Pottery

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