Mortarium mystery revealed – #MuseumWeek #AskThe Curator

Mortaria Mixup
Mortaria Mixup

Tuesday’s curatorial conundrum from the Virtual Museum of Thanet’s Archaeology is finally answered.

The two questions we asked were; What on earth is it? and Who made it?, the answers to both can be found by looking at the pictures.

The pictures we posted were of a type of Roman mixing bowl, called a Mortarium. The example we have in our collection was found in the excavation of the Roman Villa at Abbey Farm, Minster in Thanet. Two of the sections of the image show the stamps on the rim that allow us to identify the manufacturer, although part of the stamp is damaged and part of the name is unreadable.

The mortarium was made in the factory of MATUGENUS, the name shown in two parts in the first stamp. The second stamp reads FECIT, that is ‘he made it’ in Latin.

Manufactururs stamp on Roman Mortarium
The stamp reads MATUG ENUS in two parts

Matugenus is a well known manufacturer, working near Verulamium, the Roman town near St.Albans in Hertfordshire between 80 and 125AD. Stamps tell us that Matugenus was the son of an earlier maker of mortaria, Albinus.

These heavy clay mixing bowls with their distinctive thick lipped pouring spouts were covered on their inner surface with find grits, embedded in the dense yellowish brown fabrics of the clays they were made from.

In the case of the vessel from Minster, the grits had been worn down so far the surface was nearly flat, and it is very likely the base of the vessel had been almost rubbed through, allowing it to break and leaving a large hole in base before it was finally smashed and cast with other rubbish into the outer boundary ditch to the north of the villa. The sherds of the vessel had not moved far and were found in a tight group that allowed the vessel to be nearly completely reconstructed after the dig.

Matugenus made this Mortarium - it says so on the tin
Matugenus made this Mortarium – it says so on the tin

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