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13.4 The relevance of the results of the project to the broader context of the archaeology of Roman Britain, the North-West Provinces and beyond

The database shows, like some other studies, that the application of straightforward analytical and statistical approaches to a structured body of artefact evidence can broaden the information yields and transform our archaeological understanding of the period. Analysis of the database has been aimed at answering specific questions relating to samian and Roman Britain and to test hypotheses. However, further statistical exploration of the database should generate further new perspectives using this material, as there are many more avenues for the user to explore. The samian evidence gathered and interpreted by this project relates to wider themes in the study of the Roman phenomenon in western Europe.

Comparison with like data from sites on mainland Europe is an important priority for developing understanding of cultural practice in the Roman west. Reference to trends and specific cases observable among sites on the continent have been made through the above report, for instance, with regard to the composition of samian assemblages by form (Section 8.2), samian in burials (Section 9), and the supply of samian (Section 6). Studies of samian in continental Europe focused on typology and chronology have long been first class, such as the work of Vanderhoeven (e.g. Vanderhoeven 1975). As synthetic work develops, looking at social and economic aspects of the distribution of samian on the continent, it will become clearer how similar or different patterns discerned in this study for Britain are manifest in the archaeological record in the Western provinces and beyond.

It is hoped that the present report will be used by those working not only on samian in Britain but also samian from sites and regions in other provinces. It should provide researchers in both Britain and the rest of Europe with a body of substantive information and, hopefully, it will assist and stimulate study, comparison and synthesis.

Work on samian distribution in Britain has shown how receptive local populations were to this particular fine ware. There occurred a widespread 'uptake' of the ware immediately following incorporation into the Empire, if not before (cf. Millett 1980; Willis 1997a). Its diffusion through to virtually all sites within the province of Britain is confirmed by the present study. Equally this ready 'take-up' of samian ware at indigenous sites, region by region, in western Europe is well attested. This receptiveness and use of what must surely have been a culturally loaded artefact class might be cast as an aspect of 'Romanisation' (cf. Millett 1990), though there are issues here which are not straightforward (Willis 1994; Hill 2001, 13). The use in Britain of pottery types originating from mainland Europe already had a precedent in the Late Iron Age, and was one aspect of a wider pattern of shared or semi-shared cultural knowledge, material forms and expression. Samian ware does not appear to have been avoided or rejected across communities in the Western Empire, though, as noted in Section 9 samian seems to have been avoided as a grave furnishing around the mid 1st century AD in Britain, with Gallo-Belgic pottery preferred. Regional and local receptiveness to samian is also reflected in the widespread emergence of the emulation of its forms, often from an early date (e.g. as grave furnishings (Biddle 1967); imitations/copies of samian vessel forms are to be found on all types of site. Typically it is the forms which are emulated, not the fabric, finish or the decoration: hence the 'imitations' display close parallels in terms of basic form, formal details, zoning, and size (with zones that were decorated on the originals perhaps displaying a simple decorative scheme, but unlike the samian prototype). These 'copies' were made across north-west Europe in local fabrics and traditional finishes; thus the exotic was combined with the local to create something new (cf. Willis 1994; 1997c). That these 'copies' are so common from site-to-site is perhaps an ultimate testimony to the success of the samian phenomenon.

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