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10. Samian and Spatial Analysis

10.1 Introduction

The incidence of samian recovered across sites provides scope for intra-site spatial analysis. Samian is a particularly useful class of artefact to examine in these terms because of its distinctiveness (it is readily recognisable), relatively tight chronology (the approximate dates of the types are known and follow an established sequence) and range of forms (the range of vessel types is wide and the balance of these forms within site assemblages from particular areas may be related to economic and cultural factors). Moreover, it is particularly amenable to database building and interrogation. Variations in the incidence or distribution of samian across a site occur and the investigation of such variations and their explanation are of key interest for understanding the social morphology of sites (cf. Eckardt in press; Willis 1998a, 89). Recent reviews (Millett 2001; Burnham et al. 2001) have pointed out how under-explored such spatial variations are for sites of the Roman period in Britain, despite the suitability of the records we now have; samian is one obvious area to explore spatial variations and their causes.

A proportion of the larger sites of Roman Britain have been subject to numerous interventions over the years. Some sites, such as at Heybridge, Scole and Stanwick, Northamptonshire, have had extensive area investigations. At sites where archaeological investigations have been of this nature, a range of samples of contemporary date exist from differing locations and analysis of the samian from these localities may reveal areas of differing function and status across the site. It may highlight differing depositional regimes or events in particular zones. Variations are to be anticipated due to the wide set of factors behind assemblage formation processes (cf. Millett 1980; 1987a; Martin in press). Not only are different functional/status areas within sites likely to be associated with differing finds and pottery assemblages, it is also likely that such areas will have been associated with different rates of pottery turnover (cf. Orton 1989). The data collected in Tables 24 and 28 (cf. Section 7.2), showing the relative frequency of samian among dated pottery groups, confirm both variations and consistencies between contemporary groups from the same site (e.g. at Brancaster, Carlisle, Leicester and Neatham). This is a promising and important arena for analytical work, at all types of site, such as at London and Silchester, and potentially at the military complexes, such as the Colchester fortress or Birdoswald, at some 'Small Towns', plausibly, Alcester, Braintree and Godmanchester, and at rural sites and villas, where contemporaneous deposits have been excavated at various points. Preliminary work has shown that attention to samian groups drawn from a number of interventions across a site can yield important information regarding the development of a site, while variations in samian consumption/deposition at different locations may be indicative of contrasting functional and status areas of the site. With the exception of London (where the Museum of London's artefact data from excavations is being linked to GIS), Lincoln and perhaps one or two other sites, though, this type of work has not yet been brought together for large settlements. Recent years have seen the publication of some studies examining detailed spatial distributions relating to domestic spheres.

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