Pottery Fabrics

This section describes pottery fabrics identified in the University of York project and does not refer to the 1989 fieldwalking pottery finds.

Select a Type

Bronze Age

Type 1: A rough, soft, orange-buff, hand-thrown fabric containing very large mineral (dolerite) grits up to 5mm across. The fabric is represented by only one sherd (96) which, as noted, comes from the body of a collared urn (Gibson 1986, 42-3; Gibson and Woods 1990, 122-6).

Iron Age

Type 2: A rough, relatively soft, hand-thrown fabric which has buff to grey-buff surfaces with a mid grey core and is tempered with very large mineral grits up to 5mm across, quartzite sand and occasional shell. Relatively thin-walled when compared to Bronze Age material. The assemblage fits within a broad spectrum of recently published Iron Age fabrics in the northeast although the specifics of the inclusions vary geographically (for example, see Buckland et al 1990; Sumpter 1990).


Type 3: Samian. A smooth, hard-fired, oxidized tableware with a distinctive glossy orange-red slip which was mass-produced on the Continent during the Roman period and imported in large quantities (eg Johns 1971, 24-5; Swan 1988, 12-3). Specifically the material at Cottam appears to be of Central Gaulish manufacture and datable to the mid to late 2nd century (Darling and Davies 1993).

Type 4: Grog tempered pottery. A smooth, hard-fired fabric which generally has a dark grey exterior and grey-buff interior with a mid grey core. Crushed pottery has been used as a filler with visible shrinkage lines caused by the wet clay drying away from this inert material (eg Gibson and Woods 1990, 171-3). The pottery appears Roman in date with the only identified rim sherd typically Roman in form.

Type 5: Crambeck parchment ware. Produced very late within the Roman period and ranges from a smooth, fairly hard-fired, white fabric with few visible inclusions to a white buff fabric tempered with abundant fine sand 0.1-0.2mm across (Evans 1989, 55). Of the four sherds recovered three were from mortaria with the fourth probably from a dish or platter. Vessels were often painted (eg Corder 1989, 16) but as it survives none of the Cottam material was so decorated.

Type 6: 'Other' grey wares. A group of sherds which are clearly in the Roman grey ware tradition but not assignable to the East Yorkshire and Crambeck fabrics (below) which dominate here.

Type 7: Calcite gritted wares. Rough, medium to hard-fired, orange-buff to dark grey fabric with characteristic voids (up to 5mm) where calcite crystals have been leached out. The fabric also contains fine quartzite sand which may have been added or already have been present in the clay. The use of calcite starts as an Iron Age tradition in the east of Yorkshire and continues throughout the Roman period with a greatly expanded distribution from the mid 3rd century in the form of hand-thrown Knapton type cooking pots or jars (also at Norton - Hayes and Whitley 1950, 30-1; fig.11) which have a more pronounced out-turned rim. In the later fourth century Huntcliffe type jars come to prominence with their distinctive wheel-turned hooked rims and internal grooved lid-seating (see Gibson and Woods 1990, 183-4; figs. 68, 142, 150; Swan 1988, 36; fig.16). The fabric of the latter additionally often contains large quartz fragments. The rim forms at Cottam are mainly Knapton and Huntcliffe type which suggests this assemblage largely represents activity late within the Roman period. A small number of rim sherds appear to come from bowls or dishes (e.g. COT93, 1027, sf27; 3053, sf537) and a parallel may exist in York within the fortress area where 20% of calcite gritted vessels recovered from Blake Street were late Roman dishes (Monaghan 1993, 719). An unusually decorated sherd was recovered during fieldwalking (F15) with stamped 'c' shapes and short vertical incised lines which may date beyond the range of the rest of the calcite gritted material in the assemblage.

Type 8: Crambeck grey ware. A hard, slightly abrasive, wheel-thrown fabric that has slipped medium grey surfaces and a very light grey core. The clay contains sand which includes quartz (0.1-0.2mm) and grits such as iron ore. Production appears to begin very late within the 3rd century and continues into the fifth (Corder 1989; Evans 1989, 55). At Cottam a range of forms were present including jars, beakers, bowls, dishes, flanged bowls or platters and mortaria.

Type 9: East Yorkshire grey wares. A hard, slightly abrasive, wheel-thrown fabric that generally has a light to medium grey core and surfaces with the latter sometimes decorated with burnished lines. The clay contains sand which includes quartz (0.1-0.2mm) and grits such as iron ore. It has an expanded production from the mid 3rd century with kiln sites including Norton and Holme-on-Spalding Moor (Corder 1934; 1950, 27; Hayes 1988; Swan 1988, 34 and pl xvi). Forms known at Cottam include jars, bowls, flanged bowls, jugs or flagons and a colander or sieve, the latter found by metal detectorists.

Anglian or Early Medieval

Type 10: Maxey type ware. A medium-hard to hard fabric which has clearly suffered from irregular firing, possibly within a clamp kiln, with the surface and core colouration of recovered sherds ranging from black through grey to red-brown. The clay has been tempered with crushed shell and vessels were hand-thrown with surfaces finished by washing giving a soft soapy feel. The sherds at Cottam suggested by Alan Vince as a possible Maxey type ware (pers comm) appear similar to type G within group III of Peter Addyman's classification of the pottery from Maxey (Addyman 1964, 47-58; Addyman and Whitwell 1970, 96-101); however, the one rim sherd recovered (COT95, 4157, sf196) has a rounded top outside of the Maxey flat-topped rim tradition. Group III Maxey type wares are generally dated within the later part of the Middle Anglian period (later eighth to earlier ninth centuries) and have been noted in York (Mainman 1990, 394-5; 1993, 566-7).

Type 11: Organic tempered. A softish fabric that has been irregularly fired, probably within a clamp kiln, with core and surface variations in colour from brown to dark grey or black. The fabric contains quartzite sand and mica and has voids suggestive of organic tempering (or possibly post-deposition root activity?). It appears to fall within the range of similar Middle Anglian organic tempered material identified in period 3 at Fishergate in York (Mainman 1990, 398; 1993, 568) and at nearby Wharram Percy (Green 1992, 27). With one exception the recovery of organic tempered material was restricted to the 1993 excavations and it may be that sherds break up rapidly during surface exposure, certainly post-excavation cleaning affected the material. The shape of some of the sherds suggests they may be fragmented from loom-weights.

Type 12: Torksey type ware. A characteristic Late Anglian or Viking period sandy grey ware with a 'pimpled' surface. The hard-fired fabric is generally reduced but with irregular firing often producing a 'sandwich' effect with surfaces varying from red-brown to near black surrounding a red to light or dark grey core. Tempering includes coarse sand, quartz and calcite which produces the abrasive surface (see McCarthy and Brooks 1988, 151-3; Mainman 1990, 426-41). None of the sherds from Cottam bear the rouletting or thumbed decoration often associated with this tradition. The bulk of the rim sherds present are from recognizable Torksey forms of cooking pots, bowls and flanged bowls which represent tenth-twelfth century production; however, at least one sherd (C12) in a Torksey type fabric has an unusual vessel form. This sherd lies outside an otherwise concentrated distribution of Torksey type ware and may in fact represent a different tradition.

Type 13: York ware. Like the Torksey type ware a Late Anglian or Viking period sandy ware with a 'pimpled' surface. Generally hard and wheel-thrown with irregular firing producing a wide colour range from buff through red to grey in both core and surfaces including 'sandwich' effects. Visible tempering consists of a coarse quartzite sand, feldspar, sandstone fragments (up to 2.5mm) and may include muscovite, oxides, calcite and rock fragments containing these (see McCarthy and Brooks 1988, 141-2; Mainman 1990, 406-7). York ware forms are dominated by cooking pots as are recognizable sherds at Cottam which are probably tenth century.

Type 14. Fabric C / A hard fired wheel-thrown grey ware. Originally classed as Roman but it easily falls within the range of Late Anglian or Viking period sandy grey wares such as Thetford or Torksey. Sherds have medium grey surfaces and a light grey to buff pink (unevenly fired?) core and are tempered with coarse grits (average 0.5 but up to 5mm) and quartz (up to 0.1mm) which give surfaces a pimpled texture. A number of 'fresh' looking and conjoining sherds of this fabric were recovered from a context (4279) which also contained York ware.


Type 15. Here grouped and mostly consisting of a few small abraded sherds recovered during field walking. Broadly reflects a larger assemblage from nearby Wharram (eg Le Patourel 1979) and ranges from regional fine orange wares (see Hayfield 1985; Jennings 1992), some suspension glazed, to local coarse wares possibly from nearby Staxton (see Brewster 1958).


Type 16. A loose grouping of post-medieval and modern fabrics ranging from seventeenth century coarse earthenware such as black ware and salt glazed mottled stoneware to later pattern glazed pottery (eg Crossley 1990, 243-67). Emphasis within this assemblage is towards the seventeenth-nineteenth centuries.

The medieval and post-medieval assemblages have not been broken down into specific fabric types here. The former is represented by a very small group of sherds and the latter largely beyond the interest of the current project. Fuller details are available through referencing the project archive.

A small number of sherds could not be assigned to specific fabrics and have been grouped together (Type 0) for the purpose of analysis.


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Last updated: Wed Apr 18 2001