Category Archives: Prehistoric pottery

VM_365 Day 298 Iron Age pottery from the 1964 Dumpton Gap site

VM 298

Today’s image for Day 298 of the VM_365 project shows six sherds of pottery that were present in the box of archive from a 1964 excavation at Dumpton which represent a selection from the assemblage of three common examples of Iron Age pottery which are comparable to pottery found on other sites on Thanet.

The sherd of pottery on the left hand side of the image dates from the Early to Middle Iron Age and is an example of a sherd from a large coarseware rusticated jar. Pottery of a similar type and date has been excavated by the Trust from an Iron Age settlement site very close by in the mid 1990’s. The rusticated surface finish on the vessel represented by this sherd was deliberatley applied perhaps to provide an easy grip surface on a large vessel. Alternatively the decoration may have some symbolic meaning which was explored in the VM_365 Day 169 post on some Early to Mid Iron Age rusticated pottery sherds of similar type from Margate.

The three sherds in the centre of the image are all sherds from Late Iron Age comb decorated, globular bead rim jars. Comb decoration was a technique that was frequently used in the Late Iron Age period although it had been used earlier in the Iron Age and was explored in detail in the post for Day 223 of the VM_365 project. An example of a reconstructed jar from Margate of a similar type to these sherds was featured on Day 170 of the VM_365 project.

The two sherds on the right hand side of the image are also examples from comb decorated jars although these jars would only have been decorated to just below the rim in a similar manner to the jar from Hartsdown, Margate featured on Day 224 of the VM_365 project.



VM_365 Day 249 Manston Beaker burial under excavation

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Today’s image for Day 249 of VM_365 shows the Manston Beaker burial under excavation in 1987.

The burial was contained within a grave located centrally within a roughly oval shaped barrow. The crouched skeleton of a slightly built young adult was accompanied by a long-necked beaker, a flint knife and a jet button. The picture on the right hand side shows the burial during excavation with the beaker on the left side of the pelvis.

A secondary crouched burial had also been inserted on the inner edge of the ring ditch to the south of the central grave.

The central grave had apparently been disturbed, possibly by a later burial  inserted into the barrow mound, maybe during the Anglo Saxon period, as parts of the skull were missing and a fragment of femur unrelated to this skeleton was found in the backfill above.

Radiocarbon dating carried out on the right femur of the skeleton dates the burial to 1680±50 bc (2132-1922 years BC) which places it at the beginning of the early Bronze Age.

VM_365 Day 234 Bronze Age Collared Urn, the final reconstruction

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Today’s image for Day 234 of the VM_365 project shows the final publication illustration of the Bronze Age Collared urn, which was placed as an accessory vessel in the burial next to the Barrow at Bradstow School Broadstairs which was featured on VM_365 Day 231 and VM_365 Day 232.

Although the vessel was complete when it was placed beside the head of the body at time of burial , by the time it was excavated it had been flattened and broken into many sherds, which were in poor condition. The image for VM_365 Day 233 showed the vessel fragments as they were laid out prior to their reconstruction. Once the pieces were assembled as far as possible, they were analysed by our Prehistoric  Ceramic specialist who was able to make the following analysis:

The pot was made from a fairly fine sandy clay paste, moderate quantities of clear and cloudy quartz grains visible under a magnifying lens. The sherd breaks show no obvious junction lines to indicate whether the coil or slab method was used. The clay paste was ‘leavened’ by the addition of fairly profuse fragments of crushed  burnt clay (grog ) made by crushing broken fragments of daub or pottery. The grog grains are generally fairly small but occasionally up to 5mms in size;  pale buff and  occasionally red-brown or grey in colour and mostly rounded, although some angular pieces are present.

The small pot has a basically biconica forml, with an angular shoulder set  from the rim down at approximately one-third its full depth. The lower body profile would have tapered down to a base with a smaller diameter than the rim. The rim is uneven, fairly narrow and may be slightly bevelled internally. The process of smoothing to level it has given the inner lip with a rather irregular bead.

The vessel is undecorated but does have a fairly small roundish lump of clay attached to the exterior, just below the rim on one side. The surface of this lump is irregular and scarred from either losing just the skin of its original finished surface, or of a larger element. The lump could be no more than an applied knob or lug, under which an encircling string could be tied just below the rim to hold down a thin skin or cloth cover to the pot.  It could be the stump where a broken handle was fitted, although it looks too small and lightweight to have served as the root of a handle.

After shaping the pot was minimally finished. The interior was roughly smoothed and the exterior rather superficially smoothed, with the more visually prominent  upper rim and shoulder portion lightly but more noticeably smoothed than the lower body. The fairly hard fabric with predominantly dirty dark grey colours  and patchy,  partially-oxidised drab pale buff-brown all indicate the pot was fired in a fairly low-temperature pit or bonfire.

The lack of any diagnostic forms and styles of decoration means that any dating applied has to be based on only burial type, the pot’s fabric and form and also the applied knob or lug. Although crouched inhumation burials can occur during the Neolithic period, single burials accompanied by grave goods are more of a feature of the Early Bronze Age.

The use of purely, or predominantly, grog-tempered clays was first employed for the production of Grooved Ware pottery during the Late Neolithic, from about 2800 BC. The form and small diameter of this vessel is quite unlike the highly decorated Grooved Ware, so a date for this vessel before c.2000 BC, when the currency of Grooved Ware ceased is most unlikely.

The use of grog to temper potting clays was separately introduced into Britain with the arrival of Beaker-style pottery from the continent, initially around c.2400 BC, at the beginning of the Early Bronze Age/ Beakers, lasting well into the second millennium BC until they disappeared around c.1700. The Beaker tradition is also characterised by highly and skilfully decorated pottery. Toward the end of the currency of the Beaker tradition quality tended to decline markedly and it is just possible that the pot could be an undecorated late-phase Beaker, dated around c.1900-1700 BC. It is worth noting that handled and decorated Beakers were also produced during this late phase, although they are mostly larger and sturdier than the slim handle that might have been attached to the present vessel.

Grog-tempered clay was also the principal fabric type in the south-east of England for three other ceramic traditions; Food Vessels; Collared Urns and to a lesser degree Biconical Urns. Biconical Urns appeared at the end of the Beakers currency, around c.1700 BC, outliving Food Vessels and Collared Urns and merging and overlapping with the flint-tempered Middle Bronze Age Deverel-Rimbury tradition by c.1500 BC.

Assuming that the lump of clay beneath the lip of the Bradstow jar is a handle stump, then handles have occasionally also been recorded on Food Vessels and Biconical Urns, but as mid-body suspension or lid attachment loops not as mug or cup handles set high on body as it may have been here here. Food Vessels are characterised by exuberant impressed decoration, but do not occur in the south-east as frequently as elsewhere so this category is  unlikely to apply here. Collared Urns are typified by the presence of deep, markedly undercut and frequently highly decorated collars, possibly a development from the need to tie down leather or cloth pot-covers firmly with a securing string passed under the collar overhang. In some examples the collar undercut is much slighter, little more than an exaggerated protruding lip which ultimately devolved into the angular shoulder seen on Biconical Urns, at much the same height position as on the present vessel.

If the lug is purely functional, the closest parallels are pierced or plain knob-type lugs on the fine and coarseware jars of Middle Bronze Age Deverel-Rimbury type. Most examples have two to four lugs spaced around the body, attached at shoulder height; a later variant of the function of the overhanging and undercut collars on Collared Urns. Pierced or plain lugs applied just below the rim are rarer so it is quite possible that this single knob had the same function as the more obvious examples on Middle Bronze Age jars.

The rim appears to have been given a slight internal bevel, but its irregularity makes this uncertain. Bevelled rims are a distinctive aspect of Collared and Biconical Urns but not a regular feature of Middle Bronze Age vessel types. The apparent bevelling of the narrow rim, and its irregular inner-lip beading seem to be simply the bi-products of smoothing down and finishing the rim. As a finished product the simple rim type is much closer to the appearance of some examples of globular urns. The shoulder is a simple type that could almost occur at any time,  but it is exaggerated enough to suggest an influence from Collared Urns or the slightly off-set (on the upper side) shoulders of some Middle Bronze Age globular urns.

Despite the relative lack of obviously diagnostic aspects and its plainness and simplicity,  this pot can be variably linked to a number of Early-Mid Bronze Age pottery traditions: Early Bronze Age Beaker; Collared and Biconical Urns and Middle Bronze Age Globular Urns. This means that at the widest range, based purely on the ceramic analysis, this pot could have been made between c.1700-1500 BC since its various formal aspects appear to reflect traits of Collared, Biconical, and perhaps emerging Globular Urns, although a narrower dating to between c.1600-1500 BC  could be appropriate.

VM_365 Day 233 Reconstruction of Collared Urn in stages

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Today’s image for Day 233 of the VM_365 project shows the various stages of the reconstruction of a Bronze Age Collared Urn excavated from a child’s grave at Bradstow School, Broadstairs in 2009. The grave was located on the periphery of a round barrow which was partly excavated in advance of a construction project.

The vessel had been crushed flat by the pressure of the soil above and a significant portion had to be reconstructed so that the vessel could be properly identified and drawn.

After excavation the washed fragments of pottery from the flattened urn were allowed to dry. Joining sections of the rim and body  were laid out on a table in order  (image left) and  were then painstakingly glued and left to dry in a sand tray (top right).

Not all the sherds could be glued together and in the end it was generally  only the thicker parts of the rim that could be joined (bottom right). However enough was reconstructed to provide a profile of the vessel and allow our prehistoric ceramics specialist to understand the vessel and produce an illustration reconstructing the full profile.

VM_365 Day 232 Crouched burial at Bradstow School, Broadstairs

VM 232

Following on from yesterday’s image of the Bronze Age barrow at Bradstow School, Broadstairs, today’s picture for Day 232 of the VM_365 project shows the crouched burial of a child which was inserted on the periphery of the Barrow.

The grave, which is cut into the chalk geology, contained the remains of a child lying crouched on its left hand side facing south. Only the child’s skull, shown on the left side of the image and some of the long bones of the legs survived.

A collared urn was placed as an accessory vessel on the southern side of the skull. Sherds from the urn can be seen as grey fragments showing up against the white bones of the skull and the brownish discolouration of the chalk at the base of the grave.

The grave was  inserted on the periphery of the barrow , presumably  some time after the barrow had been constructed for a central primary burial which may lie outside the area of excavation.

VM_365 Day 224 Comb decorated Late Iron Age vessel from Margate

VM 224

The VM_365 post for Day 224 is of the reconstructed upper body of a comb decorated Late Iron Age vessel, found in an excavation at Hartsdown, Margate.

The post for Day 223 showed how a new trend for comb decoration on vessels made of fabric tempered with grog emerged in the Late Iron Age and continued into the Roman period. Typical vessels of the new ‘Belgic’ style pottery were cooking and storage vessels like the bead rim jars shown in yesterdays post and the reconstructed jar shown today.

The jar rim is everted, a term that describes a curved or straight rim that leans outward from the upper edge of the vessel. The  vessel has been decorated with three shallow horizontal grooves at the upper shoulder, which create the impression of  raised beads. The rim and upper body are burnished to a low sheen and the lower part of the body is decorated all over with oblique curved stripes, formed with a narrow toothed comb.

Close examination of vessels of this type help to reconstruct the range of potting techniques and decorative schemes that were introduced in the Late Iron Age.

VM_365 Day 223 Late Iron Age comb decorated pottery

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For Day 223 of the VM_365 project we have a series of images of pottery sherds whose surfaces have been decorated using a comb. All the sherds are from sites in Thanet and date to Late Iron Age, around 50  to 43/50 AD, although the comb decorated style lasted well into the Early Roman period after the conquest in 43 AD.
The post for Day 192 of the VM_365 showed a range of Early to Mid Iron Age vessels decorated using combs and other tools to create regular surface impressions. All the examples that were shown were from vessels were flint-tempered, where fragments of crushed flint were incorporated into the clay used to form the vessel improving its working and firing properties.
 The tendency for potters to decorate coarsewares with linear comb-dragged finishes almost died out after around 350 to 300 BC.  The style did not re-appear until the introduction of ‘Belgic’ style pottery from the continent around 125 to 100 BC. However, the clay used to make the new style of vessels was tempered with grog, ground fragments of pottery which served the same purpose as the flint in improving the working and firing properties of the material.
Comb decoration only became a regular feature in local domestic assemblages from around 75 to 50 BC, mostly used on kitchen cooking or coarsewares. A frequent style trend is for a narrow horizontal band of combing near the top of the vessel, with diagonal or vertical combing down the rest of the body (bottom left). Sometimes the combing was shallow (top left) and sometimes the pattern was deeper and bolder (bottom right). Often the direction of the combing combined to form complicated cross patterning (top right). Jars with a small rounded bead-rim, (bottom left) are a characteristic of the period. The reconstructed profile of a typical comb decorated bead rim jar from Hartsdown, Margate was shown on Day 170, a large comb decorated storage jar from Broadstairs also featured on Day 105.

VM_365 Day 213 Manston Beaker before Restoration

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The image for Day 213 of the VM_365 project is one of our pictures from the slide archive collection. Taken in 1987, it shows the Manston Beaker prior to its restoration.

The Beaker, previously featured on Day 161,  was found resting on its side and was lifted on site in a block of soil, tightly wrapped in bubble wrap, before being transported back to the laboratory where it was excavated from its soil block.

This picture shows the base of the beaker during cleaning. We often forget when we see an object cleaned up and on display how many stages it may have gone through to get to that condition. In the case of this Manston Beaker it involved the heavy restoration of its missing parts and decorative pattern.

VM_365 Day 212 Early Bronze Age Urn Conundrum

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The image for Day 212 of the VM_365 project shows an Early Bronze Age Urn found buried with a crouched inhumation within a ring ditch at the former Dumpton Greyhound Stadium, Ramsgate in 2000. It was excavated by Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit (KARU) and is now in the Trust’s stores.
This vessel presents a slight conundrum. Rather inconveniently our Ancestors did not always do things according to strict tradition. In this instance we do know that this ‘Urn’ is definitely of Early Bronze Age date, since it came from a crouched inhumation within a burial ring-ditch. However it rather obviously lacks any decoration and the form is not altogether informative either. Superficially, its rather basic form is quite untypical of any of the four main Early Bronze Age often richly decorated ceramic traditions – Beaker, Food Vessel, Collared Urn or Biconical Urn. However, its fabric is coarsely grog-tempered – hence its rather lumpy surface. This aspect and its buff-fired surface is much closer to some of the manufacturing trends associated with the Collared Urn tradition, current between c.2000-1600 BC so that, despite being a rather unimaginative creation, it can be confidently placed into this period at least.
This vessel joins the vessel shown on Day 200 as an example of an outlying variation in what are usually quite standard vessel forms.
The Virtual Museum would like to thank Nigel Macpherson-Grant for this information about the vessel.

VM_365 Day 203 A Beaker from Dumpton Down Broadstairs

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Today’s image for VM_365 Day 203 is of aLate Neolithic/Early Bronze Age Beaker, found in an excavation at South Dumpton Down near Broadstairs in 1992, which was led by David Perkins, the first director of the Trust for Thanet Archaeology.
The beaker was found among a complex group of graves that were enclosed by the ring ditch of a roundbarrow. The graves that were excavated at the centre of the ring ditch contained the remains of seven individuals laid in a variety of orientations. Some of the burials were in crouched positions, others were truncated and disarticulated.
The complexity of the grave group led to some confusion about  what the exact association was between the Beaker and any of the individuals in the grave  group. The confusion was aggravated by the presence of Food Vessel type pottery within the grave group, which is not often associated with Beaker graves. Recent reflection on the exact sequence of events represented by the deposits that were excavated and the initial interpretation made of them, points to the probability that the burial sequence was not properly understood. It seems that the graves within the barrow accumulated over a period of time, cutting through earlier burials and truncating them.
The earliest of the graves appears to be that of an adult buried on its left hand side in a rectangular grave, accompanied by the Beaker. This fits recent discoveries of Beaker burials in Thanet, which generally seem have been made in well cut rectangular graves, probably enclosing a coffin or chamber.
The Beaker is quite crudely made in comparison with vessels like the one from North Foreland shown in VM_365 Day 176, with an unusual scheme of impressed decoration with possible connections to the Netherland’sPotbeker‘ tradition. In the classificatory models that have been proposed for Beakers it belongs to Clarke’s Mid Rhine Group, or Lanting and Van der Waals‘ (1972) Step 3 classification.
The South Dumpton Down Beaker is currently on long term loan to Dover Museum and can be seen in the Bronze Age gallery at the Museum. More information on Thanet’s Beakers can be found in the Beaker gallery of the Trust’s Virtual Museum.