Fun and fabrics at the Roman pottery conference

In July, members of the Study Group for Roman pottery, students, researchers and others interested in Roman Britain and its ceramics came together for the study group’s annual conference, which this year was held at the Red Lion Hotel in Atherstone in Warwickshire. The location was a special one, as the neighbouring village of Mancetter was the site of a major pottery industry, whose products were distributed widely in the Roman province.

The three-day conference began with scene-setting talks about the archaeology of Mancetter and the wider region. Delegates then heard about pottery assemblages from recently excavated sites in Warwickshire and Leicestershire. These were followed by a pottery-viewing session, which gave attendees an opportunity to examine pottery from Mancetter, the Lunt cemetery and elsewhere.

Roman pottery laid out for viewing

The day ended with a wine reception. In the convivial surroundings of the Red Lion Hotel, Rob Perrin, President of the Study Group, welcomed the guest of honour to the conference, Mayor of Atherstone Carl Gurney, who in turn welcomed delegates to the town.

Mayor of Atherstone, Carl Gurney, speaking to conference attendees

On the second day, delegates learnt more about the Mancetter pottery industry. Renowned mortarium expert Kay Hartley spoke in detail about the Mancetter industry, its products and potters. This was a masterclass and everyone was busy taking notes! Attendees also heard about glass production at Mancetter, as well as a project to update the significant archive relating to past excavations in and around village and make it more accessible. The talks were followed by papers on the pottery of Roman Leicester, scientific analysis of mortaria from Castleford, and excavations at Roman Wall, the last being a useful introduction to the site ahead of the afternoon’s tour.

The conference location is in an area full of Roman archaeology, and consquently delegates had a packed afternoon seeing the sights. After a very welcome and enjoyable lunch at the Heritage Cafe in Mancetter church, we began inevitably with a visit to the site of the Mancetter kilns. Today there is nothing to see on the ground, but our guide, Mike Hodder, brought the past brilliantly to life. We then reboarded the coach and headed to Wall for a tour of the Roman town, parts of which are still standing. The small museum in the village was well worth a visit, too, and we were also treated to a cream tea in the village hall, as well as a talk on lids and ceramic plates.

A tour of Roman Wall, led by Mike Hodder

On the third and final day of the conference, delegates had an update on a project to digitise and catalogue thousands of mortarium stamps. They also heard about pottery production in the City of London and in the London Borough of Havering. There was also a paper about organic residue analysis of pottery from Lincolnshire (it turns out that so-called cheese-presses may not have been cheese-presses after all), and the conference closed with a personal view about current and future samian studies, which gave everyone pause for thought.

This was a fantastic, well-organised conference, with hugely interesting papers, a really enjoyable tour and a wonderful location and venue. Next year – Leicester. See you there!

Portchester D ware – request for information

Katie Mountain is an MA student at Newcastle University, working on a study under the supervision of SGRP member Dr James Gerrard on Portchester D/Overwey white ware. Katie is looking at the distribution of the ware and would like information on further find spots to determine the extent of its distribution.

Katie has reasonable coverage of the south-east and is now looking for outliers, in particular in areas such as Gloucestershire, Shropshire, Midlands, East Anglia/Fenland. The ware appears as far north-west as Wroxeter and east into Colne Fen, and Katie is now searching now for sites in between.

While there may be issues with potential lack of recognition outside the general distribution area and with the various fabric aliases, and any information on find spots within the areas stated above would be greatly appreciated and acknowledged.

If anyone has information, please email Katie by 15th December. Click here for contact details. Click here for more details about the ware.

Pottery specialists assemble for SGRP’s annual conference

Roman pottery specialists gathered at the King’s Centre in Oxford in June for the annual conference of the Study Group for Roman pottery.

The theme of the meeting was late Roman pottery, though talks were not confined to that topic. Paul Booth from Oxford Archaeology began proceedings with an introduction to late Roman Oxfordshire. Edward Biddulph, also of Oxford Archaeology, was next with a talk on the later Roman pottery from the roadside settlement at Berryfields in Aylesbury. Malcolm Lyne rounded the morning session off with a talk on a late Roman kiln from Canterbury. After coffee break, delegates heard about pottery from Southwark, courtesy of PCA’s Enikő Hudák, and Jane Timby then talked about pottery from rural Gloucestershire. Isobel Thompson followed with a talk on aspects of regionality in the types and distribution of grog-tempered ware in south-eastern Britain.

After lunch, there was an opportunity to view pottery assemblages brought by some of the group’s members. Attendees were treated to groups of colour-coated wares and white ware mortaria from Oxford-region kiln sites (the original excavator and Oxford industry expert Christopher Young was on hand to answer questions), as well as pottery from west Oxfordshire, the New Forest and elsewhere.

The group’s annual general meeting, held as part of the conference, was a chance to present Christopher Young, the group’s outgoing president, with a replica face-pot in gratitude for his hard work in the post.

The day closed with a talk by Christopher on how to put the Oxford industry back on the map and make it relevant to schools and the local community. The following day, Christopher led a smaller group of Study Group members on a tour of North Leigh Roman villa and the pottery collections at the county museum in Woodstock.

All in all, a successful weekend. We would like to thank the King’s Centre for hosting the Study Group and providing a superb lunch, and Archaeopress and BAR Publishing for their book stalls.

Oxford pottery industry luminaries Christopher Young (front) and Paul Booth (middle) at North Leigh villa (Photo: Jane Timby)

An interesting pottery query

An interesting query came through to Study Group members by way of website’s comment form. Keith Lowndes, a member of the South Oxfordshire Archaeological Group (SOAG), asked:

“I was wondering if you could advise me as to a contact relating to a translation of a motto on a Trier motto beaker. It has the letters ‘A M A N T I D A’. We cannot match it to any motto. Various suggestions for a translation have been put forward – ‘I/they love to give’, ‘Give to your lover’. Any help would be appreciated.”

The vessel in question had been found on a site excavated by SOAG in Oxfordshire, and the query was circulated to Study Group members. Responses soon came in thick and fast.

The Rhenish ware beaker from Trier found by SOAG’s Anne Strick. Photo: (c) SOAG

“…it is to do with drinking to a girlfriend. ‘Here’s looking at you baby’ for older readers. I suppose ‘Give to the loving’ literally.”
“‘Da’ is the singular of the command form meaning ‘give’, which can be placed either first or last. The word ‘amanti’ does not signify gender of the person ‘loving’, but it is in the dative case, meaning therefore to the person loving = ‘to the lover’. The word ‘your’ may be presumed, and therefore it may be translated, ‘Give to your lover’ – whatever his/her gender.”
“AMANTI (dative of amans, lover) DA (imperative of dato/dare, to give), so ‘Give to the lover!’, as already suggested.”
“I read the inscription DA AMANTI and agree with [the] translation: ‘Give to your lover’.”
“’DA’ can to be understood in an erotic or in an ambiguous sense. The imperative ‘DA’ has more often this context on the Trierer Spruchbecher, for example ‘DA MI(hi)’.”
“This is definitely the two words ‘amanti da’: ‘give to a lover’ (or ‘give to your lover’).”
“The question is, who is being addressed, a giver or a receiver? It doesn’t say ‘give me’ or ‘give this’, though that seems to be the meaning. But there could also be innuendo here, since the phrase can mean ‘grant it to your lover’”

Thank you to everyone who responded, and thank you, too, to Keith Lowndes for getting in touch. Keith has also drawn our attention to another Rhenish ware beaker found by SOAG. This second vessel is on the SOAG website and can be viewed in 3D.

Carlisle 2017: A view of the SGRP conference

The annual conference of the Study Group for Roman Pottery was held this year at Tullie House Museum in Carlisle. During a weekend in July, delegates heard talks on Roman pottery from Carlisle, other sites in north-west England, and the results of work on larger projects, both in Britain and abroad.

There was also a visit to the Roman fort of Vindolanda, where delegates were treated to a guided tour by Andrew Birley, CEO of The Vindolanda Trust, and the firing of a replica Roman kiln, built by experimental archaeologist and potter, Graham Taylor. There was just about time, too, for a walk along the wall from Gilsland to Birdoswald on Hadrian’s Wall.

Every year at the conference, the John Gillam Prize is awarded to a piece of recent work that has made an important contribution to Roman pottery studies. This year’s prize was awarded to Edward Biddulph, Joyce Compton and Scott Martin for their work on the late Iron Age and Roman assemblage from Elms Farm, Heybridge.

By all accounts, the conference was a great success. Thanks are owed to the staff of the Tullie House Museum for hosting the conference, and to Stephen Wadeson, supported by the SGRP Committee, for organising the weekend.

Conference gallery (photos by David Bird, Diana Briscoe, Joyce Compton, and Stephen Wadeson)

The tour of Vindolanda

The Kiln firing

The National Roman Fabric Reference Collection: A Handbook is relaunched on the SGRP website

The online version of the National Roman Fabric Reference Collection: A Handbook, is now live on the Study Group for Roman Pottery website.

The handbook, which was originally published in 1998, is an essential resource for researchers and anyone interested in Roman pottery wishing to identify and describe major regional and traded wares, including amphorae, samian and Romano-British finewares. The online resource contains detailed fabric descriptions, enhanced digital images of the original fresh-break photos, and a photomicrograph for each fabric.

Roberta Tomber, who along with John Dore wrote the original handbook, said:

“It is a great pleasure to announce that the National Roman Fabric Reference Collection: A Handbook is now live on the SGRP website. Hopefully it will be a valuable resource for a wide range of users. Numerous organisations and individuals were instrumental in finalising the resource and are thanked in the introduction to the site. Here I would like to mention the Roman Research Trust, who funded this resource, and Museum of London Archaeology, Historic England and the British Museum, all of whom have had a longstanding input into the NRFRC. Above all, I am grateful to Paul Tyers, whose tireless efforts are responsible for the completion of this project.”

Click here to visit the resource pages or click on the link in the side menu.

Out now: A Standard for Pottery Studies in Archaeology

Standard_Pottery_StudiesPottery is one of the most common artefacts recovered from archaeological excavations. While it is widely regarded as a reliable tool for dating, pottery is also significant as evidence for technology, tradition, modes of distribution, patterns of consumption, and site formation processes.

But when simple, basic tasks have not been carried out, and the true value of an assemblage has not been understood, the potential for missing important information is too great. With that in mind, A Standard for Pottery Studies in Archaeology takes the reader through the various stages of an archaeological project, from planning and data collection through to report writing and archiving, with the intention of informing not only pottery specialists but also those who manage and monitor projects.

This Standard, produced with funding from Historic England, was compiled by the Prehistoric Ceramics Research Group, the Study Group for Roman Pottery and the Medieval Pottery Research Group, with the aim of creating the first comprehensive, inclusive standard for working with pottery. It is intended for use in all types of archaeological project, including those run by community groups, professional contractors and research institutions.

Click here to download a copy of A Standard for Pottery Studies in Archaeology.

Case for joint standards in pottery studies made in new volume

Insight_from_Innovation_coverThe Insight from Innovation conference, held in honour of David Peacock, provided an opportunity for representatives of the three main pottery groups (SGRP, PCRG and MPRG) to collaborate on a joint paper in honour of David Peacock. The paper reflected on Peacock’s contribution to pottery studies and reviewed some strengths and weaknesses of current practice. This collaboration was itself a significant innovation, for, although sharing many of the same interests, methods and concerns, the three period groups have typically functioned in isolation.

The principal objectives of the published paper were to emphasise shared ambitions and methodologies and to advocate the case for a joint guidance document that would press for appropriate standards of analysis to be maintained, and for innovation to be fostered, in the face of increasing commercial pressures. The collaboration forged between the three groups, while working on this paper, resulted in the production of the joint pottery standards, which have now been published.

The paper, ‘Hold your beliefs lightly’: Innovation and best practice in Prehistoric, Roman and post-Roman ceramic studies in Britain, by Jane Evans, Duncan Brown and David Knight, can be downloaded here.

Insight from Innovation: New Light on Archaeological Ceramics, edited by Emilie Sibbesson, Ben Jervis and Sarah Coxon, is published by Oxbow Books. Click here for more details.

Latest volume of JRPS now out

Journal of Roman Pottery Studies, volume 16The latest volume of the Journal of Roman Pottery Studies has just been published. Containing papers that cover a diverse range of topics, the volume represents a cross-section of current research on Roman pottery in the UK and on the Continent.

Among the papers presented in the volume are investigations of the pottery industries of Verulamium and north Kent, a look at pottery production in Belgium and Germany, studies of unusual kiln vessels from Essex and Tripolitanian amphorae in France, a discussion on the mechanism of samian supply, and reviews of samian ware in northern and western Britain, North-West England.

Volume 16 of JRPS is available to buy from Oxbow Books, currently at the special price of £28. Click on the link to find out more.

Successful SGRP conference in Norwich

A good time was had by all at the annual SGRP conference, this year held in Norwich on the 12th-14th June. Delegates at the city’s Castle Museum and then the University of East Anglia heard a range of fascinating papers over the three days. Topics covered the Roman pottery of Eastern Britain, news from major pottery projects, the ceramics of London and the Channel Islands, and aspects of manufacture. We were especially pleased to welcome members from the Prehistoric Ceramics Research Group to the conference for a joint session on recording standards, guidelines, and pottery resources.SGRP 2015 at Norwich Castle MuseumA highlight of the conference was a tour of Roman Norfolk, beginning with a visit to the Roman town at Caistor St Edmund. Professor Will Bowden, who has been undertaking fieldwork at the site, led the group round the walls and spoke about the origins and development of the town. The visit ended at the village church, where members were offered tea and biscuits, which were very welcome on a soggy day.

SGRP 2015: Tour of Caistor Roman townThen it was off to Burgh Castle Saxon Shore Fort near Great Yarmouth. Dr Steven Willis gave an entertaining tour of the walls of the fort, which remain very impressive.SGRP 2015: Tour of Burgh Castle Saxon shore fortApart from the papers and the tour, delegates also enjoyed a wine reception and buffet at the Castle Museum, and a conference dinner at the Queens Head, Burgh. Huge thanks are owed to Alice Lyons and her team for organising the conference, and ensuring that everything ran smoothly the entire weekend.