4.8 Prehistoric Ceramics Assessment

by T. G. Manby *

4.8.1 Background

The various sites excavated as part of the Heslerton Parish Project since 1978 have produced an important series of later prehistoric ceramics derived from both domestic and funereal deposits (Powlesland, Haughton and Hanson, 1986, Powlesland and Haughton forthcoming). Although the frequency of prehistoric material on the current site is lower than that from the Cooks Quarry and Anglian Cemetery sites to the north, the present site adds a number of new types to the overall assemblage and offers considerable potential for spatial analysis and interpretation of later prehistoric land exploitation at the base of the Wolds scarp slope and on the southern edge of the Vale of Pickering.

4.8.2 Material examined

The complete assemblage comprises just under 5,000 sherds. All the material was assembled and summarily inspected, with some bags opened to check the possibility of joining sherds and profiles. Randomly selected samples were counted to establish the ratio of stylistically determinable sherds in comparison with undiagnostic sherds and crumbs.

4.8.3 Potential for analysis

Preliminary examination indicates a wide chronological and stylistic range of Neolithic and Bronze Age ceramics with some particularly significant associated groups. The sherd material ranges from crumbs up to pieces 20cm across; there is obvious reconstructable material up to half profiles in extent. Sampling of context groups shows that 30% to 70% of sherds have determining characteristics of profile/decoration/fabric.

The pottery will provide chronological indicators for the site features, being contemporary with fillings when of fresh character, or residual if in weathered condition. Linkages between features can be sought by matching or joining material.

The overall Heslerton assemblage is important in that includes almost all the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age ceramic types found in Eastern Yorkshire and derives from both ritual and domestic settings. This assemblage includes some ceramic styles not previously represented in the Heslerton Reports 1 and 2 (Powlesland et al. 1986, Haughton and Powlesland forthcoming), notably Grooved Ware, Biconical Urn and Later Bronze Age urns.

The range of material provides a significant and well-documented addition to the ceramic corpus of the eastern Yorkshire region and contributes to the understanding of the wider cultural patterns and pottery traditions in the North Sea lands.

The new material generated by the current excavation contributes to the broader picture of land utilisation in the later prehistoric period already established in past excavations in the area. The overall prehistoric assemblage and associated features from the excavations at West Heslerton provide a firm basis for the examination of the evolution of the later prehistoric landscape between the foot of the Yorkshire Wolds and the centre of the Vale of Pickering; an area which, contrary to the established view, seems to be more actively utilised than areas on the Wold top where earthwork features survive. The spatial, temporal and functional relationships across different soils and micro-ecologies are worthy of study within the framework of the Heslerton Parish Project landscape study, and will allow testable land-use and activity models to be established for the southern margins of the Vale of Pickering.

a. Earlier Neolithic Plain wares of Grimston character
b. Later Neolithic Peterborough Ware of Rudston and Fengate styles; Grooved Ware of Woodlands style
c. Beaker Cord, comb and incised decorated, including a handled Beaker
d. Food Vessel At least two vessels and pieces of an enlarged Food Vessel
e. Collared Urn Scarce
f. Biconical Urns  
g. Later Bronze Age Bucket urns (from two small cremation cemeteries)
h. Later Bronze Age Decorated wares from domestic contexts, both Thwing 3 and Staple Howe groups.
Table 4.13 Chronological and stylistic groups present

4.8.4 Processing

The material is mostly individually bagged and accompanied by a prototype database record containing the context number, 3D location and basic data. The sherds need laying out in their context groups and directly compared to recognise the individual vessels and to locate joins. Some bags contain individual sherd groupings (urns) that require assembly into restorable pots. Details and profiles need to be constructed on paper.

New data will be added to the object records to include form, fabric type, decorative method and motif, weight, constructional techniques, evidence of abrasion and of sherd joins etc. Sherds need to be counted and weighed by context when relevant. Much of the geological determination of tempering agents can be accomplished by macroscopic methods. Some petrological and thin-section analysis may be necessary to satisfy reporting requirements, both with reference to the other prehistoric material but also as part of the broader examination of local ceramic production during the span of activity at the site. Inspection of surfaces and cores for organic impressions and carbonised plant material or other evidence of food debris may provide important evidence of vessel function and diet in addition to potentially important material for 14C dating.

Some material may require extraction for treatment and reconstruction in the conservation laboratory; this material can only be isolated once more detailed work has begun.


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Last updated: Tue Dec 15 1998