Pottery in Archaeology (Iron Age)

12 Jan

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


19 responses to “Pottery in Archaeology (Iron Age)

  1. Janet BAIN

    August 22, 2014 at 8:46 pm

    Have found a shard of pottery on Holy Island Wales, which I think is iron age, would you be able to confirm


    • ritaroberts

      August 23, 2014 at 7:30 am

      Hi Janet, Can you first tell me is this Wales in America or England ?


  2. Maddy

    November 9, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    Hi, i was wondering if you could tell me when the ‘Early Iron Age cooking pots’ and the ‘Early Iron Age pot beaded rim’ is dated from, where they were excavated and when they were excavated. Thankyou!


    • ritaroberts

      November 12, 2014 at 12:29 pm

      Hi Maddy I will e mail you soon regarding your questions about Iron Age Pots. O.K.


  3. Maddy

    November 11, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    Hi, just to ask again, could you tell me where the ‘Early Iron Age cooking pots’ and the ‘Early Iron Age pot beaded rim’ was excavated, when they were excavated and when they date from? The information is for GCSE course work and would be really helpful to receive the information. Its okay if you do not know, but would be helpful if you could tell me if you don’t know. Thank you and sorry to ask again!


  4. Arthur Fagin

    February 15, 2015 at 2:22 pm

    Hi Rita,
    My wife found an old clay vase in her mom’s apartment. It was from the Archeological Shop in Tel Aviv in 1966, listed as being from the Iron Age I. Can you help


    • ritaroberts

      February 15, 2015 at 3:05 pm

      Hi there Arthur. If you can post a picture on this blog maybe I can help. But I don’t promise as it is very difficult when I haven’t the actual piece in my hand. Also it is possible that it may be a replica. Good luck anyway.


  5. ztevetevans

    June 15, 2015 at 8:44 am

    Most informative, thanks!


  6. Kathy

    August 12, 2015 at 5:10 pm

    Hi Rita, Boy was I happy to find your website. I am a potter in Spokane, Washington, USA. I just was given the opportunity to teach “pottery” to some fourth graders (9-10 years old) at a small local school. I can’t wait to share some of your great information. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    • ritaroberts

      August 13, 2015 at 5:51 pm

      Good luck with your class Kathy will contact you further by e mail.


  7. pam cross

    November 7, 2015 at 12:49 am

    Dear Rita

    I’m trying to date a burial at Blewburton hillfort. The site dates throughout the IA, but the last phase is believed to be 1c AD, which is what the human/horse burials appear to belong. One burial included a burnished black pot – described on pp 30 and 47 (fig 17).
    Your blog here is saying these pots were in use during 3c AD. I’m hoping you might be able to lend me your expertise and comment on whether you think this pot is also 3C AD?

    I can send you a pdf or you can access the report at ADS Berkshire Arch Journal:

    Your help will be much appreciated, and duly referenced, of course.

    very best regards
    Pam Cross


  8. Robert Fallows

    March 30, 2020 at 10:21 am

    Hello Rita. I was intrigued by those black burnished ware from Dorset; they look so neatly made, were they wheel thrown? Did the Romans introduce the pottery wheel to Britain?


    • ritaroberts

      March 31, 2020 at 5:51 pm

      The potters wheel was introduced at the end of the Iron Age Robert, but the illustrations of the Black Burnished wares on this post may have been handmade. After which they were wheel made during the Roman period. Thanks for your interest.


  9. ritaroberts

    March 31, 2020 at 5:44 pm

    Reblogged this on Ritaroberts's Blog.


  10. Gregory Helton

    July 23, 2021 at 3:22 pm

    I found your blog researching something Dr Francis Pryor stated in a Time Team episode on youtube, The Druid’s Last Stand (Anglesey). While investigating a barren trench he said, “Tony, you don’t get iron age pottery in this part of the world”. I don’t know if he was referring to Britain or Anglesey. Can you tell me why iron age pottery might be relatively rare to find in Britain and/or Anglesey? Or, is iron age pottery less rare than Dr Pryor imitated? Thanks!


  11. ritaroberts

    July 31, 2021 at 12:37 pm

    Hello Gregory Dr Francis Pryer was quite correct, The Iron Age people in Wales did not use pottery..Iron Age pottery has been found on sites in Britain.



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