Category Archives: Roman pottery

VM_365 Day 363 Guest VM curator on (mostly) Prehistoric Ceramics

VM 363Today’s image is another in our series of roundups of posts contributed by our guest curators. This time we are looking at the posts Nigel Macpherson Grant contributed, mainly about prehistoric ceramics. Many of our posts have been based on his extensive knowledge and the detail published in reports and so much material in the VM_365 is based on his work.

A report from an archaeological specialist could appear to be a dry prospect for the average reader, but Nigel’s are always filled with nuggets of information about the potters art or the patterns in form, fabrics and techniques current at any time which make for interesting posts for the VM project. On the left hand side of the picture is Nigel himself, who appeared in Day 2 of the VM 365 project, sorting through boxes in our store for more pottery examples.

On the right of the picture are several examples of the pottery pictures Nigel produced for us, always with an interesting story to tell about how they were made or how they might have been used. The first at the top was a previously unreported Bronze Age Urn which featured on Day 212 of the VM_365 project, the middle image that featured on Day 155, showed how ceramics were influenced by other materials, in this case the stitching on leather containers and the third image from Day 172, shows a finely decorated Neolithic bowl from Ramsgate.

Archaeology depends on the dedication of people who make the detailed study of a single type of artefact their life’s work and the contribution of our friend Nigel to Thanet’s archaeology is immeasurable and continues to grow.

Links to Nigel Macpherson Grant’s contributions to the VM_365 Project:

VM_365 Day 362 Guest VM curator on Thanet’s Roman samian pottery

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For Day 362 of the VM_365 project we have a roundup of the images that accompanied posts made by one of VM_365’s guest curators, Dr. Steve Willis of the University of Kent, an expert of the distinctive Roman samian pottery which has been found on so many of the archaeological sites of Roman Thanet.

Samian vessels featured in several  VM_365 posts. Day 297 featured samian sherds from a site at Dumpton near Broadstairs and Day 102 featured a small samian cup from the remains of a kitchen found at a Roman site in Broadstairs. Day 183 featured a samian sherd  with evidence for a repair from the same site and Day 54 featured a sherd of samian with a name scratched on the surface.

With an expert’s eye and detailed knowledge the assemblages of finds collected by archaeologists can reveal hidden details, even from the smallest elements and Steve’s knowledge of Roman pottery has helped to provide detailed information for a number of VM_365 posts.

One of the most extensively excavated of the major buildings of the Roman period in Thanet is the large Villa at Minster, which appeared in several VM_365 posts. In VM_365 posts  two samian beakers of the rare Dechelette 64 form,  found in the Minster villa excavation, were examined by Dr. Willis. Day 175 of the VM_365 project featured a beaker manufactured in the workshop of Libertus, who was producing pottery at Lezoux in the early 2nd century. The beaker on Day 179 was slightly later, and is decorated with a chase scene. The post also featured an interesting biography of the French archaeologist Joseph Déchelette who first catalogued the samian vessels manufactured in Gaul.

On Day 86 of VM_365 the post visited a box full of samian and other Roman pottery, which belongs to an archive of finds and records which has been given to the Trust to store. Steve was able to examine the pottery contained in the box and to give more detail on the forms and dating of the pottery in a later post on Day 345. in a strange co-incidence, the post written by Steve for Day 346 pointed out that one of the vessels that formed the contents of the wooden storage crate was manufactured in the same place, near Colchester in Essex, nearly two thousand years later. The parallel was drawn that the transport of goods a very useful form of evidence for archaeologists!

The images that went to make up this round up picture were produced by Lloyd Bosworth, archaeological technician at the University of Kent.

VM_365 Day 356 Historic Margate ancient and modern

VM 356The image for day 356, which continues our intermittent Our Thanet series is a panoramic view of part of Margate, taken across the roof of the Margate Winter Gardens and facing the terrace of houses standing on Fort Hill. The roof top of the Turner Centre, overlooking the historic Margate Pier can be seen on the far right of the image.

Although much celebrated for its recent arty renaissance in association with the Turner Contemporary Galery and the the Dreamland theme park which opened its doors again this weekend, this area is one of Margate and Thanet’s richest areas for the archaeology of the Iron Age and Roman period.

An Iron Age burial lying in a circular pit cut into the chalk geology was found during the demolition of parts of the former Cobbs Brewery complex and the construction of a  Police Station which stands behind the last buildings at the right hand end of the terrace.

The remains of post built structures and pits also dating to the Iron Age indicated that a settlement had been present and a fine La Tene style decorated vessel found in a large pit nearby demonstrated something of the high status of the settlement.

Behind the houses at the centre of the image, in the area of Trinity Square redevelopment has revealed a dense cluster of Iron Age and Roman features cut into the chalk, these include several storage pits and at least three more pit burials. Roman cremations contained in pottery vessels were found in construction work in the 19th century, in the area behind the right hand end of the terrace of buildings shown in the picture.

The terrace of houses in today’s image follows the crest of one side of the deep valley that carries the Dane Stream to the Bay at Margate. On the downslope beyond the terrace are the subterranean passages of the Margate Caves and the Shell Grotto.

Until it was  sealed in a culvert in the Early 19th century the Dane Stream ran along the base of the valley parallel with the terrace in the image. The water supply for the Reeves and Co. Soda Water plant was drawn from this stream. Nearby, at the junction with Trinity Square and King Street at the bottom the valley is the restored 15th century house, formerly known as the Old House but now called the Tudor House. Adjacent to the house are the remains of a 17th century Malt House, which was  associated with Cobbs Brewery which extended over a large part of the valley slope at Fort Hill.

Margate continues to occupy a place in the nations heart as a quintessential seaside town. The image of the knife we posted on Day 95  shows that even the town’s newer attractions like  Dreamland, restored and re-opened as an attraction to a new generation of visitors produced its own historic artefacts to be  discovered by contemporary archaeologists.

Such a significant gathering place generates its own archaeological footprint and the ancient discoveries from the same area show that the landscape around Margate has been a place of gathering for over two millennia.

VM_365 Day 345 Wooden box stores Roman pottery collection. Part 2

VM 345Today’s  image for Day 345 of the VM_365 project shows a selection of pottery from excavations carried out by Joe Coy at Draper’s Mill, Margate during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. These vessels and sherds were stored in a wooden box and a general exploration of the samian contents have previously featured on Day 86 of the VM_365 project.

A deeper dig into Joe Coy’s box of Roman pottery reveals more about the site and the collection. The ensemble features samian ware very prominently and some is shown in this photo; it is clear that this ‘boxed set’ is a selection of items considered particularly interesting by the excavator.

Samian ware was the fine imported table ware of the Roman period which was relatively expensive and, indeed, rather ‘flashy’ perhaps when set on the Roman dining table alongside other locally produced vessels. Several vessels here have the stamp of their maker present. Leaving aside the three complete or near complete vessels in the foreground of the post from Day 86 there are a number of vessels which are represented by several sherds and in these cases much of the vessel is present. This being so we might speculate: was there an accident one day when several vessels were broken and needed to be discarded?

Two of the larger samian vessels are bowls made at Lezoux in Central Gaul, now located in modern France (top right). From the reading of the names of the makers (or is it the name of the workshop?) impressed into the floor of the vessels, together with their shape, it is possible to say with confidence that they date to the middle of the second century AD. The makers stamps show them to be the work of Paterclinus and Patricius ii. The most frequent vessel form amongst the samian is, however, the conical cup (Dragendorff’s type 33) though this is present in a variety of sizes.

The small whole buff-coloured globular vessel is a beaker (Jason Monaghan’s type 2C6) and is a form seen at other sites in the region such as Colchester. Pots in this form have likewise been recovered at Cooling in north Kent (on the Hoo Peninsula) where there was a major pottery industry at this time.

The samian includes first century ware, while a little later in date is one of the type 33 cups which is a particularly fine example of Hadrianic date and more orange than red (bottom right). Later samian forms occur too. One of these late samian vessels came to the Drapers Mills site from Trier, then in Eastern Gaul, in the early third century and is noteworthy in lacking the finesse of earlier samian wares. Present too in the box are other non-samian Roman finer wares including a sherd from a beaker from the Nene Valley near Peterborough, and the lower part of a vessel with gold mica-dusting giving it an intentionally attractive glittery appearance (on the left but with glitter not caught in this photo).

Another fine table item present is of much more recent date being a decorated base fragment of black Wedgewood Jasperware (bottom, right of centre on top of a small pile of fine Roman greyware sherds) which was perhaps originally thought by the excavators to be fine Roman ware. Samian and Nene Valley beakers were the equivalent to Wedgwood products in their time and Jasperware often featured goddesses and other imagery drawn from the classical world so their companionable boxing-up here seems very apt.

Dr Steve Willis

Photos by Lloyd Bosworth, University of Kent.

VM_365 Day 316 Roman pot lids. One size fits all?

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The image for Day 316 of the VM_365 project continues from yesterday’s post with our lid theme and shows part of an early Roman lid seated vessel from the Roman Villa at Minster.

 The post for  Day 315 of the VM_365 project showed a rare Mid Iron Age lid used for slow cooking. Deliberately-made lids became much more common during the Late Iron Age (c.50 BC-50 AD) – and from thereon were a common item in Roman kitchens. However, the deliberate provision of rim top or inner-rim lid-seating, so that the lid rested snugly in place over what was cooking, mostly only occurs during the Roman period and from Medieval and Late Medieval times onward.

The example shown above is Early Roman and of a Canterbury grey sandy ware cooking-bowl made between c.100-150 AD. Although the rim is flat it has been provided with a series of grooves in order to receive a lid. This feature occurs regularly on contemporary cooking-bowls.

The interesting issue is – why provide the rim with two grooves when one would do just as well? Is this to accomodate unavoidable productional irregularities in lid sizes or as a ‘help-meet’ to distracted or over-busy Roman cooks – when one lid will do as well as another?

The images and information above were kindly provided by Nigel Macpherson-Grant.


VM_365 Day 313 Colour coated dish from Minnis Bay, Birchington

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After P. H. G. Powell-Cotton and G. F. Pinfold, 1939, Plate IV.

Today’s image for Day 313 of the VM_365 shows half of a Roman pottery bowl found in one of the pits excavated and recorded by James Beck and Antoinette Powell-Cotton at Minnis Bay, Birchington in 1938.

The bowl, described as a half of a red ware colour coated dish, was found in the same pit as the double handled wine jug featured in yesterday’s post for Day 312 of the VM_365 project. Half of a 4th century black pottery vessel, fragments of millstones and part of an upper quern stone were also found in the pit.

VM_365 Day 312 Roman pottery from pits on foreshore at Minnis Bay

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After P. H. G. Powell-Cotton and G. F. Pinfold, 1939, Plate III.

Today’s image for Day 312 of the VM_365 project shows three Roman pottery vessels found and excavated by James Beck and Antoinette Powell-Cotton in pits on the foreshore of Minnis Bay, Birchington in 1938.

The vessel on the left hand side of the image was found in a square shaped pit and is described as a ‘grey Belgic vase’ by Major Powell-Cotton and G. F. Pinfold in their report and catalogue of the site in 1939. This late Iron Age/Early Roman vessel was found along with the base of a 1st century rough cast pottery beaker and a fragment of Quern stone.

The vessel shown in the centre of the picture is described  as a two handled wine jar of New Forest type.  A wide range of wheel thrown fine wares were produced in the New Forest  in the 3rd and 4th century,  sometimes decorated as is the case with this vessel, and are generally found distributed across southern Britain. The vessel was found complete, in a pit along with some other pottery and a fragment of the upper part of a quernstone.

The vessel on the right was found in a pit beneath the millstone that featured in yesterday’s, Day 311 post for VM_365. The vessel was described as a fine red ware pot with the remains of decoration with white slip.

Some of the pits may be the remains of the bottoms of well as three contained springs. The pottery found in the pits dates from the early 1st century to the 3rd or 4th century indicating that this area had been a focus of activity by the Romans for at least 300 years.

VM_365 Day 304 Tiny ceramic tazza, Roman temple near Margate?

VM 304The image for Day 304 of the VM_365 project shows two images of a group of small ceramic vessels of a type  that have been called tazza, a term derived from the Italian word for a cup. The image on the left shows the upper surface of the vessels, the right hand image shows the bases of three of them.

The term Tazza occurs in archaeological literature mainly in reference to elegant Late Iron Age and Early Roman pedestalled cups or goblets of Gallo-Belgic origin. The vessel design is ultimately stimulated by Roman originals and their British counterparts in Late Iron Age grog-tempered ‘Belgic’ style. The term tazzeti occurs less frequently but has been used in reference to the cluster of little saucer-like vessels shown in the images.

Seven of these small tazzetti, complete or broken, were recovered from an excavation in the 1980s near the Sunken Gardens at Westbrook, which was led by David Perkins. The vessels are wheel-made. The image on the right shows the characteristic whorl, typical of many wheel made pots, on the upturned bases of three of the pots that show the whorls most clearly.
The tiny cups are made in a sandy fabric, very similar to the products of many Roman pottery kilns in Canterbury made between c.75-175 AD.  They fact that they are not very hard-fired suggests a likely manufacturing date between c.75 or 100-150 AD.
But what were they used for? There is no certain answer.
The small cups are a rare vessel type and nothing quite like these has been found in Thanet or the East Kent region before. The only clues may lie among the finds associated with the cups which include several fragments of pseudo-marble wall facing and a small rounded quartz pebble. Perhaps the quartz pebble could is no more than an object picked up by a child from the  beach nearby, but the rounded and semi-translucent nature of the pebble might have been considered ‘special’ by an adult.
The occurrence of both the unusual little dishes and the pseudo marble  seems altogether different and  ‘special’. The ‘marble’ is not true marble, but is composed of broken fragments of genuine red and green marble deliberately added to a fine white mortar, which is polished so that the whole mix of small inclusions shines like genuine colour-flecked marble. A similar technique called Terazzo is still used to create wall and floor finishes.
The marble finish suggests the presence of a building with a pretension to opulence,  although the community was not rich enough to afford the real thing but had enough resources to have a reasonable facsimile created. In turn this suggests that the ‘marble’ fragments could come from the wall of a domestic shrine belonging to a fairly well-to-do family, or just possibly a public shrine or temple.
Whatever the context of discovery, a reasonable explanation for the use of these little vessels in the Roman period is as little offering dishes

VM_365 Day 301 Dumpton archive confirms Roman building

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The image for Day 301 of the VM_365 project is taken from a digitised colour slide that was taken at the site at Dumpton near Broadstairs which was excavated by Joe Coy in the 1960’s. The archive from this excavation has been featured in a series of VM_365 posts, which have been looking at the detail of the finds to try to understand the significance of this unpublished site. Although the archive box for this site is labelled 1965, it appears that the dig began in 1961, when the slide archive indicates that this image was taken. The labelling of individual pottery sherds in the archive also indicates that some were recovered in a dig on the site in 1961. The picture is very important because it proves that one of the major features investigated on the site was a Roman structure, partly built in a distinctive local type of building stone used extensively in the Roman period.

Several strands of evidence have led to previous suggestions that a structure  from the Roman period was present on the site. The earliest evidence was given in Reverend John Lewis’s History of the Isle of Thanet, where it was noted that Roman coins had been found in the Dumpton area. At the time of writing in 1736, Lewis reported that a Roman wall had relatively recently been observed, but had fallen into the sea following a cliff fall. An excavation carried out by Howard Hurd on the cliff tops when new roads were being laid out on the sea front also recorded ditches and enclosures, which were predominantly of Iron Age date. A dig by the Trust for Thanet Archaeology at site near to Joe Coy’s excavation that re-examined part of Hurd’s published site, recognised that the period of occupation on the site extended well into the Roman period, much later than Hurd had suggested. One significant find in the Trust’s excavation was of a small number of fragments of distinctive Roman roof tile forms, including both Tegula and Imbrex. this evidence all pointed to the previously unrecognised presence of a building on the southern slopes of the dry valley at Dumpton gap.

Recent evidence from excavations on major Roman buildings in Thanet have suggested that all were founded on substantial Iron Age settlement sites. It is likely that prosperous Iron Age farming communities in Thanet quite quickly adopted Roman building methods and began to use imported Roman pottery alongside vessels that continued to be made in traditional pre-Roman forms and in local fabrics exhibiting various degrees of influence from the material imported from the Romanised continent.

Sadly many of Thanet’s Roman buildings have been so heavily damaged by ploughing and stone robbing that little remains of their structure but the lowest courses of walls or those lining deep recessed parts of the structures like cellars and sunken floor levels. However the presence of structured remnant of walls, built of the distinctive rounded flint cobbles is paralleled on so many sites that their presence in this image, taken with the range of finds that were associated with the excavation site, are strong evidence that another Roman building was present on the southern side of the dry valley that leads to Dumpton Gap. The topographic location of the structure is also similar to the buildings excavated at Stone Road, Broadstairs and the Abbey Farm Villa at Minster.

In today’s VM_365 image, the presence of a building is confirmed by the presence of the  line of rounded flint cobble wall which is visible running from left to right in the foreground of the image. Although the pictures have not yet been reconciled fully with the plan that was contained in the archive, it appears that the wall is part of the southern side of a rectangular  flint lined cellar, which once formed part of the structure of a building. There are striking parallels with the image and the pictures of the surviving structures found further to the north at Stone Road and on the cliff top on the northern side of Viking Bay at Fort House, Broadstairs, which have appeared in previous VM_365 posts.

It is likely that further research on the archive and re-examination of the results of the other digs in the area will bring more evidence confirming the importance of this site which spans the Iron Age and earlier part of the Roman period.



VM_365 Day 297 Samian from the 1964 Dumpton Gap site

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The image for today, for Day 297 of the VM_365 project, is of eight sherds of Roman samian pottery , which were present in the collection of paper bags storing finds from a site archive from 1964.  There are lots of  types of pottery present in the archive box dating from the Iron Age and Roman periods and these will give us clues as to the nature of the site  that was excavated there. Yesterday’s post showed three sherds of Roman Mortaria, a distinct type of kitchen ware, from three different vessels.

The imported high quality samian pottery above represents foot rings, rims and body sherds, mainly from plain cups and bowls although there is also one small decorated sherd. One of the sherds has a makers stamp reading ‘ERICIM’ impressed in the base (image right). Although re-analysis by a modern pottery specialist might bring to light up to date information discovered through research since the dig,  the excavator was knowledgeable and had done some research identifying the potter as Ericus I, possibly from the Lezoux area of central Gaul and dating the sherd to between 80-120 AD.

Examples of rare decorated samian sherds from the same region have featured on Day 175 and Day 179 of the VM_365 project.