4.9 The Roman Pottery Assessment

by Maggie Darling * and Barbara Davies *

4.9.1 The ceramic potential

The occurrence of late Roman pottery in conjunction with Early Anglian and Mid-Saxon pottery on the site of West Heslerton provides a unique opportunity to examine the interface between the Roman and post-Roman periods on a rural site, likely to ha ve the greatest potential for exploring questions of continuity. Previous work in the area and elsewhere has concentrated on urban and villa sites, whereas a case could be made for continuity of occupation being more likely to occur on low status rural si tes. The apparent provision of late defensive measures at Malton suggests urban occupation continues into the latest Roman period, and it is essential that the interaction with rural sites with such occupation is explored. Recent work on fourth century pr oblems suggests the time is due for a re-evaluation of the period on a regional basis; the work at West Heslerton will contribute fundamental new evidence towards any such review. Occupation at Malton, the coastal signal stations, villas and rural sites n eeds to be assessed for their contemporaneity and character, and then related to the evidence from neighbouring areas.

The pottery from West Heslerton will be of great value to local, regional and to national studies due to the nature of the site, the associated material and its potential to address issues including continuity, spatial variation, fragmentation, site fo rmation/de-formation and the possible ritual association of some of the material. The discovery in 1995 of two probable kilns with associated waste material is of great importance in attempting to understand rural economy, production and exchange. The exa mination of these two on-site features and associated assemblages and comparison with material from the nearby Knapton kilns may allow us to examine different aspects of local production. The exact nature and interpretation of the possible shrine complex has yet to be tested but clearly the ceramics have an important role to play here. The remarkable assemblage recovered in 1995 offers an excellent opportunity to approach the question of continuity of the social and economic landscape but will require mor e detailed attention than might normally be the case on, say, a villa site examined using conventional recovery techniques. The application of 3D recording and individual finds recovery at West Heslerton provides one of the great analytical strengths of t he project but requires a slightly different approach in the detailed documentation stage. In most cases it will be the precise 2D referencing that is of prime importance; the provision of data in the third dimension being an added bonus with reference to the study of certain features and interfaces. The facility within the data for testing sampling strategies should be pursued as this could make a considerable contribution to refining recovery methodology for this sort of material in general.

While the bulk of the pottery from West Heslerton appears to be coarse local calcite-gritted fabrics, the occurrence of late fine wares demonstrates activity very late in the Roman period. The occurrence of late Roman coinage, in association with a ran ge of exceptionally crudely fashioned ceramics, in the post-destruction deposits associated with the large 'double-apsed' structure, appear to form a clear sub-Roman or transitional ceramics group; the fabrics were however very poor and it will require ca reful examination of the broader assemblage to determine the level, nature and distribution of the associated activity (see also Roman , Early Anglo-Saxon, 3.7 Material Culture, 6.2 The Changing Roman Landscape, 6.3 A Late Roman Ritual Landscape, 6.4 Continuity from Roman to Saxon and 7.1.2 Roman).

4.9.2 Quantity

Estimates have been based on a sherd count of 20,000 sherds, individually recorded three-dimensionally and individually bagged. This will enable an unprecedented opportunity to relate closely the pottery to the site contexts. Aspects of residuality , fragmentation and site depositional processes, essential to the interpretation of the site, can all be examined in far more detail than is normally possible.

4.9.3 Provenance

The pottery comes from all areas; over 75% derives from Sites 11 and 12, the southern half of the site. The majority of the material is well stratified and includes the potential for the isolation of good ceramic groups particularly from the ditche d enclosures which are a feature of the southern half of the site; these were evidently first defined during the 4th century. Earlier material makes up a relatively small percentage of the overall assemblage and includes individual fine-ware sherds found in a number of Grubenhäuser, perhaps a result of Anglo-Saxon collection and discard. The presence and distribution of material in buried soils is important for the examination of site function. The direct association of material with the various stru ctural elements, particularly those examined in 1995 will assist in the definition of site development.

4.9.4 Range and condition of the pottery

Although a few sherds of Samian occur, the bulk of the pottery appears to be of late Roman date and probably mostly 4th century. Coarse wares of local calcite-gritted type predominate, but there are also fine wares, some from outside the area. The general condition is good to excellent, with little evidence for notable abrasion. No problems are anticipated for long-term storage. The likelihood of any bias in the pottery is very remote due to the collection and recording strategy.

4.9.5 Sources of information relevant to the pottery

The area is relatively rich in kiln sites and other excavations with quantities of stratified material, all of which will be of value to work on the pottery, and provision is made for its use. The documentation from the site is computerised and eas ily accessible for interrogation and editing. Comparative sites include Beadlam, Welton Wold, Durham/ERAS sites, Shiptonthorpe, Hayton, Holme Parish Survey.

4.9.6 Collection of primary data

The pottery potential was assessed over a period of three days by the authors, involving the rapid scanning of targeted samples. A large sample of the non-calcite-gritted wares was examined to check the range and nature, and in addition most of the rims and diagnostic sherds were viewed. A similar sample of the calcite-gritted wares was also viewed. Over 10% of the pottery recovered prior to 1995 was viewed (c.5% of the total).

4.9.7 Suggested programme of work

The work planned will produce a specialist ceramic archive from which the publication of the excavated material can be prepared, and will provide a sound basis for identifying future sampling and finds analysis to explore specific aspects and probl ems identified during the archive preparation. The identification of key context groups will assist in the detailed phasing of the site and provide insight into site function and development as well as the transition from Roman to Saxon. Aspects of site f unction will be examined and comparison will be drawn between the material from Heslerton and other sites in the hinterland.

4.9.8 Priorities

The first priority is to establish a type series of both fabrics and forms, and will initially involve extracting all rims and other diagnostic sherds to define the form series, start the fabric series, which will expand during work on the rest of the material. Much of the form type series can be set up using already-published illustrations from kiln and site reports, although some drawing will be necessary at this stage. The fabric series will require some thin sectioning to aid definition.

4.9.9 Background research

Once the range has been established in more detail, background research on various kilns and site reports is essential. This will involve visits to various museums to compare assemblages from Malton, Crambeck, Norton, Knapton, Langton, Rudston, the Yorkshire Signal Stations, Throlam, Beadlam and other local sites.

The specialist database will be derived from the existing database, with additional information being added to ordered computer printouts or entered directly into hand-held computers, leading to the production of an expanded and fully verified analytic al database. Apart from definition of fabrics and forms, this will involve the addition of weights and EVEs (estimated vessel equivalents based on rims) to the existing sherd count quantification. Weights are considered to be essential to enable fragmenta tion to be assessed, and EVEs are equally necessary to examine the typological composition of the assemblages. The bulk of the material is considered to be of 4th century date, and the possibility that assemblages change typologically over the century nee ds to be investigated.

4.9.10 Illustration

Necessity for illustration beyond a site form series will largely depend upon assessment of the content of master contexts or key groups to explore the composition and character of the assemblages, residuality and fragmentation. Extensive cross-ref erencing to material published elsewhere will be required.

4.9.11 Specialist work

A small quantity of Samian occurs, much of which is likely to be later Central Gaulish and East Gaulish wares. Mortaria seem to be mostly Crambeck types, although an earlier vessel with a name stamp has been noted, and will need to be referred to M rs K.F. Hartley. No amphorae appear to have been found, their absence being consistent with the later Roman dating.

4.9.12 Fabric analysis

The ceramic petrology and fabric analysis programme, which is primarily focused upon the Anglo-Saxon ceramics will include an element of work on the Roman material particularly with reference to the transitional phase and for detailed comparison be tween local products. It is important to establish, for instance, the degree to which there is continuity of use of particular clay sources.

4.9.13 Integrated analysis and interpretation

Once the archive is complete, extraction of data and its interpretation can proceed in consultation with the excavator. Full spatial analysis will be undertaken in collaboration with the project team in order to generate the necessary graphics and supporting statistics required for the reports. This should integrate other associated finds and stratigraphic data, and will encompass both overall spatial aspects of fabrics, forms and functions, and more detailed examination of specific areas (including identification of any chronological spatial biases) within the overall site, different types of context and master contexts. Fragmentation and degrees of abrasion need special attention to explore site depositional processes. Considerable attention will have to be paid to aspects of continuity, site function and economy.


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Last updated: Tue Dec 15 1998