Monthly Archives: January 2013

Pottery in Archaeology ( Roman )


This post is intended for the beginner interested in Roman pottery as an outline to pottery forms and fabrics most widely distributed in Roman Britain.

Pottery is undoubtedly the most common archaeological material surviving on Roman sites. In most cases organic material will decay and metals corode which is why archaeologists frequently use fragments of pottery as an aid to help them date their sites. The study of pottery is important as a chronological indicator when other dateable objects such as coins are lacking,it can also provide information about trade communications.

When the roman army invaded Britain in 43 A.D. they found a number of potting traditions already established.On the one hand,the inhabitants particularly,Kent,Essex and Hertfordshire,who had close links with the continent, were importing wheel thrown pottery and distributing it on a large scale,on the other hand, pottery was handmade mostly on a small scale and, with a few exceptions,usually sold localy.

At first the Romans brought some of their own pottery with them in order to encourage native potters to supply them,evidence also suggests that some Gallic potters came over to Britain to take advantage of the situation. Merchants would have arrived ready to locate suitable potteries with the hope of obtaining contracts to supply the Roman army. In some instances however the actual legions or auxileries seem to have undertaken or directly supervised the production of pottery in Britain. For example at Longthorpe (Peterborough), Brampton ( Cumbria ), Holt ( Clwyd ) and Grimscar ( Huddersfield ).


SAMIAN WARE  is one of the most common, and easy to recognise pottery to be imported into Britain. It  was manufactured in South Gaul France. Samian wares flooded into Britain after 43 A.D. A distinct,glossy red-coated mass-produced table ware,often relief decorated. The fabric is red throughout the thickness of the vessel, with an external slip or glaze.

Other imitations of Samian Wares are generally only red because of an external slip or glaze,their interior will be a different colour when seen in cross- section.The Oxfordshire and The New Forest potters are two such factories producing imitation samian wares. True Samian is red all the way through. Cups,bowls,platters, jars even inkwells were produced.  Both plain and decorated vessels often bear the name-stamp of the potters or workshops which help archaeologists to closely date the objects found.

Part of a Decorated Samian ware Bowl with stamp inside. Part  of a decorated high quality Samian Ware bowl

from Dragendorff 29, Stamp SVllRlV inside the base,the mark of the potter S VERIUS Made in Gaul (modern day France) and exported throughout the Empire. Courtesy The Museum of London.

Samian ware ink pot. Samian ware Ink pot.

282px-Central_Gaulish_samian_Dr_30 Vase A central Gaulish Samian vase with the name of the potter DIVIXTUS in the decoration. A.D. 150-190.  Courtesy The British Museum. (Source Wikipedia).

Samian Ware Bowl from Wroxeter Shropshire. Samian ware bowl found at Wroxeter Shropshire.

samian-cup Samian Cup 1-2nd Century A.D.

Samian ware pottery sherd Samian Ware Pottery Sherd  1st-2nd century A.D.

Although Samian ware (terra sigillata) is easy to recognise it is a vast subject for the beginner. Obviously it would take up far to much space on this blog. However, anyone studying Roman pottery should be able to aquire sufficient knowledge for basic fabric and form identification and dating fairly easy. Below are a few illustrations of forms for you to study.

PlAIN SAMIAN WARE FORMS.(commonly found in Britain)

Roman Samian Wares Plain

Nos 15/17  and 15/17r    A dish with internal quarter-round moulding at the junction of the base and wall.There are two main types (a) with an almost upright wall,relatively shallow and (b) the form being a little deeper with rouletted circle both varieties are found throughout the 1st century.

Nos 35-36     Cup and dish with curved rim ornamented with leaves  Late 2nd century.

No    38 Hemispherical flanged bowl,may have beaded lip or plain one. 2nd-3rd century

No    44 Similar to  38 but with a cordon in place of the flange              2nd-3rd century

No    45 Mortarium with lion head with small white grits               Early 2nd century.

No    22 Small dish without footring                                                    1st century

No.   42 Segmented dish usualy with a pair of strap handles        Early  2nd century

No.   81 Wide mouth jar with everted rim. This was made at Lezoux under Hadrian.

No    15 Dish – 46   Cup                                                                      1st century

No.    11  Hemispherical bowl with decorated flange.

Ludvic TG and TX  Dish and Cup.

DECORATED SAMIAN WARE FORMS (commonly found in Britain)

Samian Decorated

No.29        Carinated bowl

No 30        Cylindrical bowl which lasted throughout the  1st – 2nd century

No 37        Hemispherical bowl with plain band below the beaded lip.The rest of the ornamentation can be varied  but the main styles are (a) zonal, usually late 1st -early  2nd century and (b) continuous scroll ornament down the whole depth of the bowl,common in the late 1st century and the Antonine period.

No 67        Small jar                                                                                        Early 2nd century

No 68        Jar with upright concave rim and central band of rouletting  before       Middle  2nd century

No.78        Straight sided cup


The popularity of Roman Samian Ware was such that in late lst to early 2nd century several factories in Southern England ( For example West Stowe, Suffolk) began to produce grey or black imitations of some Samian bowl forms,in fabrics like the Terra Nigra tradition with a polished surface and decorated with rouletting,impressed stamps,vertical incised lines and circles.


I will follow with one or two of the most popular named pottery wares of the Roman period which can be researched further if you so wish.

NENE VALLEY WARE (Colour Coated)

A pale fabric with dark colour-coat barbotine decorated or painted and widely distributed across Britain 2nd to 4th century A.D..   Jugs,flagons and bottles were produced, beakers with hunting scenes called (hunt cups) Nene Valley Hunt Cup                        Nene Valley Ware Cup

Nene Valley Ware Hunt Cup                                   Nene Valley Ware Cup.


A range of orange or red-brown wares produced along the middle Severn Valley and distributed across western and northern Britain from the 2nd to 4th century A.D. Storage jars were produced,bead rim jars bowls, and wide mouthed jars,tankards,flanged bowls,dishes and platters Surfaces were sometimes decorated with lenear or lattice zones. Manufactured at centres such as Shipton Mallet(Somerset) Perry Barr (Birmingham) and Gloucester area where it is called Glevam ware.Also a large factory nr Malvern (Worcestershire.) A small amount was supplied to turrets and milecastles on a sector of Hadrians wall from 2nd – 4th century A.D. and to garrisons in Scotland in the mid 2nd to early 3rd century A.D.

Severn Valley Ware Tankard            Severn Valley Rim SherdRim Sherd

A Severn Valley Ware Tankard from Sutton Walls

courtesy of Hereford Museum Heritage services

Severn valley wares with lattice decoration

Lattice decorated Severn Valley Wares

Severn Valley Beaker

Severn Valley Beaker

.                                   Some Severn Valley Wares .Severn Valley Wares

A00949_m Roman face pot

Pots were also made for burial like this face pot

Below is a short list of other potteries in Britain during the Roman period.


The well known fine colour- coated ,often hard table wares were clearly the most important products from the late 3rd to late 4th century. Distributed over much of England south of the Thames. Fabrics varied from buff to grey and the colour coats from matt red to lustrous purple. Vessels produced were beakers small bowls, and flagons were popular.


Grey-brown bowls and jars with heavy burnishing in bands from kilns at Swanpool Lincoln They formed a major production of pottery of the north-east Midlands in late 3rd-4th century


Two classes of the fabric are recognised: one, BBl with its origins among the Iron Age is black and gritty and was handmade and burnished in facets, the other BB2,is greyish,finer and wheelthrown,with a more silky surface.Its manufacture began soon after mid lst century in south-eastern England particularly Colchester and north-west Kent.and copying the BB1 whose products had found their main markets in Dorset .Vessels produced were cooking-pots, squatt shaped with short necks and upward flaring rims burnishing usually occurs just inside the rim and on the exterior,except for a broad central band of incised acute-angled lattice decorationBB l

Black Burnished Wares consisting of bowls,jars,cook pots.

BB1 decorated

Illustration of decorated Black Burnished Ware.


A range of colour- coated indented or bag-shaped beakers with moulded (cornice) rims and the body surface was sprinkled with small particles of dried clay. This was imported pottery from the Rhineland and copied from the mid 2nd century to early 3rd century A.D. at Colchester,Wildersdpool(Cheshire), Great Casterton( Leics)

.Rough cast ware Rough Cast Ware.

Pottery in Roman Britain is a vast subject. The information here should help the beginner sufficiently enough to encourage the study of Roman pottery further.There are several books to be obtained which can be bought on Amazon and other outlets.(  Pottery In Britain 4000BC to AD1900 A Guide to Identifying Pot sherds) is one such book. also  ( Pottery in Roman Britain by the Author Guy De La Bedoyere) can be obtained from  Shire Old House books.


Posted by on January 26, 2013 in Archaeology and Pottery


Pottery in Archaeology (Iron Age)

My previous two posts about ” Pottery in Archaeology ” covered the Neolithic period and the Bronze Age period In this post I will talk about the Iron Age Pottery found on various archaeologcal sites in Britain.

Please remember as previously stated that these posts are intended for the beginner interested in archaeology and wishing to study ancient pottery.


Archaeologists have found pottery sherds at almost all regions of Iron Age settlements around Britain and at this time pots were handmade from local clay and fired in bonfire kilns,or a shallow pit. The clay would have been mixed with ‘temper’ such as quartz sand, pellets, crushed burnt flint or fired clay (grog),even organic material like grasses. This helped to reduce shrinking and cracking of the pots when drying. The colour of the pot could be controlled by varying the amount of oxygen in the firing.People made different types of pots or decorated them in their own particular style in different parts of England so would not have been found on the same Iron Age settlement.

Iron Age people were not too particular about washing their vessels, which is why burnt remains of foods are found on the inside and sometimes the outside of the pot. The food was poured into a serving bowl for eating. Cooking pots were not usually decorated nor polished,whereas serving bowls could sometimes be decorated and were then polished by burnishing,this would be done by rubbing to achieve a glossy surface.The vessels produced during the Iron age consisted of ,jars ,bowls, beakers, cups and of course my favourite, the cooking pots.


Iron Age people were farmers who lived in round houses within an enclosure Wheat, barley and beans were harvested in small fields and people reared animals such as cattle,sheep and pigs.They collected wood for fuel and building houses,they preserved their meat with salt. Most Iron age people lived on farms or in small villages,occasionally they lived in larger settlements,such as hillforts.

Iron Age Village at Chysauster in Cornwall. Courtesy English Heritage.  Courtesy English Heritage

This Iron Age village at Chysauster in Cornwall illustrates a typical pre- Roman farmstead.

Iron age roundhouse from Glastonbury

Iron Age Round House Glastonbury.

The most characteristic Iron Age feature in many parts of Europe are the Hillforts. Herefordshire has around forty hillforts which range in size from the Credenhill at forty nine acres down to small earthworks of just an acre or two. The hillforts in Shropshire vary in size from Badbury Ring which encloses just 2.5 acres and the massive Titterstone Clee hillfort which covers 71 acres and is one of the largest in Britain. These hillforts so named because they were built on the top of hills to take defensive advantage of the landscape.There are thought to be more than fifty Iron Age hillforts in Shropshire.

Old Oswestry Iron Age Hillfort.

Old Oswestry Hillfort in Shropshire.

A SHORT GUIDE TO IRON AGE POTTERY ( Three Phases) Early,Middle and Late.

Early Iron age examplesCooking pots from Orkney I.A.

Early Iron Age cooking pots.

Early Iron age Pot with beaded rim Early Iron Age pot beaded rim. Jar Iron Age found at Burrough Hill Hillfort Iron Age Jar.

Late bronze age-Early Iron Age Urn Early Iron age Urn.    Iron Age Cup Iron age Cup

Two pottery sherds possibly Malvernian Ware

Two Middle Iron Age Sherds from Worcestershire possibly Malvernian Ware.

lron Age pot from Bredon Hill Fort Iron Age pot from Bredon Hillfort.

BLACK BURNISHED WARES. Were manufactured around Poole harbour by the (Durotriges) They first found their market in Dorset where they were contracted to supply the Roman Military on Hadrians Wall. During the mid 3rd century A.D. Black Burnished wares were abundent elsewere except for East Anglia and the North East. The Mid 4th Century contracts went to the South Midlands,South Wales and South West England

BB lA selection of Black Burnished Wares.



Below are drawings of Black Burnished wares Courtesy Hereford & Worcester Archaeology.

Drgs of Iron Age Pots

( 1) Saucepan Pot decorated with linear tooling

(2) Saucepan-no decoration

(3)  Tubby cooking pot decorated with acute lattice design

(4) Tubby cooking pot decorated with vertical and horizontal burnishing

(5) Tubby cooking pot with horizontal burnishing

(6) Tubby cooking pot with vertical and horizontal burnishing.

(7) Tubby cooking pot.

(8) Tubby cooking pot with vertical burnishing

(9) Tubby cooking pot with vertical burnishing

(10) Cook pot with sinuous profile.



BB1 decorated Decorated Black Burnished Wares consisting of a selection of storage jars bowls and dishes.



Iron Age Beaker Iron Age Beaker

Iron age bowl from Beckford.Iron Age bowl from Beckford

Later Iron Age decorated vesselsLater decorated wares

In this post I have included as many Iron age pottery vessel shapes as possible, which should enable the beginner to carry on his/her interest.

.A good start is to join an Archaeological or History group who usually carry out  field walking excersizes looking for broken pottery sherds.If you are lucky enough as I was some time ago to find a rim sherd  which led to my interest in ancient pottery, you can follow up your own research and discover whether the sherd belonged to a cooking pot, storage jar or bowl.  Good luck.

Look out for my next post on Pottery in Archaeology.


Posted by on January 12, 2013 in Archaeology and Pottery

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