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The National Roman Fabric Reference Collection: a Handbook

Hand specimen picture panel
Thin section picture panel


Appendix 1: Keywords and Definitions
Appendix 2: Physical Layout of Sherds Housed in the NRFRC


(South-East) Dorset Black-burnished ware 1 (DOR BB 1)

Six samples

General appearance

A reduced fabric, normally black (3/0), but sometimes misfired or mottled grey (6/0–4/0) to white (8/0) or oxidised to varying shades (5YR 5/6, 10R 5/6, 5YR 4/3, 2.5YR 6/6–6/8, 2.5YR 5/6, 7.5YR 6/4). Frequently there are brown (5YR 4/3) or red-brown (10R 5/6, 2.5YR 5/6) margins immediately below the surfaces. It is perhaps most typified by technological aspects: handmade with a glossy burnished surface (frequently faceted in appearance) on all surfaces of bowls and dishes, and the exterior and rim of jars. Later products, particularly the jars, are slipped and heavy internal wiping is characteristic of 3rd and 4th century products. A hard fabric, it has a hackly fracture with harsh surfaces where unburnished, smooth where burnished. A range of jars, bowls and dishes with burnished decoration are typical of the ware.

Hand specimen

The fabric is distinguished by its granular appearance, described by Williams (1977, 189) as ‘cod’s roe’. The texture results from abundant well-sorted quartz inclusions (some polycrystalline) set in a clean clay matrix, which normally measure 0.3–0.5mm, although some grains may be as large as 2.0mm. Few other inclusions are visible, apart from sparse (rarely common) ill-sorted black and red-brown argillaceous matter (0.3–4.0mm), identified in thin section as shale pellets. Sparse calcareous fragments (0.2–1.5mm) can also be seen in most sherds. Superficially the fabric is similar to Vectis ware, a handmade black-burnished ware produced on the Isle of Wight (Tomalin 1987).

Thin section

Thin section reveals abundant well-sorted subangular quartz in a clean clay matrix, normally 0.3–0.5mm. Polycrystalline quartz is also common, while the remaining inclusions are sparse to rare and comprise shale, quartzite, limestone, clay pellets, opaques and heavy minerals.


The Wareham-Poole Harbour area of Dorset has been proposed as a source area for some time, based on the characteristic heavy mineral suite, rich in tourmaline (Williams 1977) and this has recently been confirmed by kiln evidence (Hearne & Smith 1991)


Wessex Archaeology


Tullie House Museum; Carlisle; Redhouse Museum and Gardens, Christchurch; Dorset County Museum, Dorchester; Department of Prehistoric & Romano-British Antiquities, The British Museum; Wessex Archaeology, Salisbury (pending removal to Dorchester County Museum)


Farrar, R A H, 1973 The techniques and sources of Romano-British black-burnished ware, in Current research in Romano-British coarse pottery (ed A P Detsicas), CBA Res Rep 10, 67–103

Farrar, R A H, 1981 The first Darfield hoard and the dating of black-burnished ware, in Roman pottery research in Britain and north-west Europe. Papers presented to Graham Webster (eds A C Anderson & A S Anderson), BAR Int Ser 123(ii), 417–27

Gillam, J P, 1963 The coarse pottery, in Excavation at Mumrills Roman fort (K A Steer) 1958–60, Proc Soc Antiq Scotland 94, 113–29

Gillam, J P, 1970 Types of Roman coarse pottery vessels in northern Britain (3rd ed)

Gillam, J P, 1976 Coarse fumed ware in northern Britain and beyond, Glasgow Archaeol J 4, 57–80

Hearne, C M, & Smith, R J C, 1991 A late Iron Age settlement and black-burnished 1 production site at Worgret, near Wareham, Dorset (1986–7), Proc Dorset Natur Hist Archaeol Soc 113, 74–89

Holbrook, N, & Bidwell, P T, 1991 Roman finds from Exeter, Exeter Archaeol Rep 4

Seager Smith, R, & Davies, S M, 1993 Roman pottery, in Excavations at Greyhound Yard, Dorchester 1981–1984 (P J Woodward, S M Davies & A H Graham), Dorset Natur Hist Archaeol Soc Monogr Ser 12, 202–89

Tomalin, D J, 1987 Topic A: the Vectis pottery tradition, in Roman Wight: a guide catalogue, 30–40

Williams, D F, 1977 The Romano-British black-burnished industry: an essay on characterization by heavy mineral analysis, in Pottery and early commerce. Characterization and trade in Roman and later Ceramics (ed D P S Peacock), 163–220

See the related record on the Atlas of Roman Pottery on the Potsherd website

Plate 100: Fresh sherd break of DOR BB 1 (width of field 24 mm). Click to see a larger version

Plate 100: Fresh sherd break of DOR BB 1 (width of field 24 mm)

Plate 100.1: Photomicrograph of DOR BB 1 (XPL) (width of field 1.74 mm). Click to see a larger version

Plate 100.1: Photomicrograph of DOR BB 1 (XPL) (width of field 1.74 mm)

Plate 100.2: Photomicrograph of DOR BB 1 (PPL) (width of field 1.74 mm). Click to see a larger version

Plate 100.2: Photomicrograph of DOR BB 1 (PPL) (width of field 1.74 mm)

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