2. The Late Iron Age

The main study of La Tène stamp and rouletted designs on Iron Age pottery in eastern England was published by Sheila Elsdon. She considered that there were five stylistic regional groups in her study area, which covered most of south-east England (Elsdon 1975, 2). These areas were:

  1. The Upper Thames Basin
  2. Sussex
  3. The Lower Thames and Thames Estuary
  4. East Anglia
  5. Lincolnshire

She also noted that there was a basic difference in decorative styles between the south-west and the south-eastern region which she was studying (Elsdon 1975, 2-3) and that although there were regional variations in 'stamp types, techniques and patterns' in this pottery:

'Nevertheless this whole group does share certain common characteristics throughout the area. There are four main elements shared by all the regions: circular stamps, the rouletting technique, basic unity of patterns, and the application of these patterns to a limited range of pot shapes, although this element does not apply in the Upper Thames and East Anglian regions, which have other vessel forms.' (Elsdon 1975, 37)

The La Tène ring stamps are found in a range of designs, from the simple negative ring (= AASPS Classification A 1bi) to four concentric negative rings (= AASPS A 2di). These motifs are also found in the early Roman period. There are also rosette stamps (= AASPS A 5avi-xiii) and a few rare segmented negative rings (= AASPS A 5dvi-xvi), which appear later on Parisian Ware as Elsdon's R1 (Elsdon 1982, 11, fig. 5). (A 5a motifs describe the classic rosette designs: they have a much smaller central positive circle and the negative 'petals' are correspondingly longer than in the A 5d motifs.) The 'dot rosettes' (= AASPS A 9di) on bowls from the Hunsbury hill-fort (Fell 1937) use the same sort of technique as the dimple decoration on 4th-century 'Romano-Saxon' wares, but there is only one example of this motif from the 4th century AD from Billericay in Essex and none that I have found in the early Roman period. 'Maggot' stamps (= AASPS K 1bi), made by pressing a piece of cord into the wet clay, are a feature of the Lincolnshire tradition (Gibson and Woods 1997, 207). Barry Cunliffe identified more than 20 styles and types of decoration on pottery from the Iron Age in mainland Britain, plus another group from the Outer Hebrides, Orkneys and Shetlands (Cunliffe 2010, appendix 1). There are very few similarities between any of these styles and those that are current in the early Roman period (1st to 3rd centuries AD) or indeed in those current in the 4th century AD.