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8.4.2 The samian mortaria types

The occurrence of worn interior surfaces indicates that some samian vessels, particularly those of bowl and cup-shaped form, were occasionally used for mixing and grinding substances (presumably including foodstuffs), despite the fact that they lacked interior gritted surfaces (cf. Oswald and Pryce 1920, 210-14). This seems to have been the case, especially with the smaller bowls, such as the Drag. 38, and some cups, notably the Drag. 27 (Section 8.7; cf. Dickinson and Hurst 1998, 19; Mills 1998, 68). The larger decorated bowl types, specifically Drag. 29, 30 and 37, were virtually never used in this manner. At Tort Hill East, Cambridgeshire, for instance, three plain samian vessels show excessive wear internally, which is seen by Mills as arising from the use of ungritted bowls as mortaria (Mills 1998, 68). This phenomenon is considered elsewhere in this publication (Section 8.7). In the second half of the 2nd century AD several forms appear that were evidently designed for the purpose of mixing and grinding, and these are defined by convention as samian mortaria.

There are three principal forms conventionally seen as specialised samian mortaria: Curle 21, and Drag. forms 43 and 45 (cf. Webster 1996). These three forms were of similar scale. The Curle 21 was bowl shaped, with a hook flange and fluted exterior wall surface; examples often have no trituration grit, though this feature occurs on a proportion of examples. Drag. 43, again of substantial bowl form, has a pronounced flange (sometimes decorated), trituration grits and a projecting spout resembling coarse ware mortaria. Drag. 45 is another type, of heavy bowl form, though in this case there is no flange. Instead, the upper wall of the vessel is vertical or near vertical, descending to a junction with the bowl of the vessel where a marked 'undercut' occurs, perhaps the functional equivalent of a flange. Again this type had trituration grit, though its rudimentary spout took the form of a pierced hole in the upper wall, this hole appearing as the mouth of an applied moulded lion's or bat's head. These samian mortaria are of relatively modest size when compared with some coarse ware mortaria. A large proportion of these vessels came from Lezoux, as testified by fabric. Vichy was another source in Central Gaul. These forms were also produced in considerable numbers at the East Gaulish centres, particularly Trier, Rheinzabern and in the Argonne.

8.4.3 Chronology

Samian mortaria are a type associated with the later phases of the samian phenomenon. It is not precisely clear when these types first appear in Britain (cf. Holbrook and Bidwell 1991, 11). All three emerge after c. AD 150, being conventionally dated to the period c. AD 160/170-200, with East Gaulish examples continuing the currency of the type to the mid 3rd century. Peter Webster states that in the case of the Drag. 43, 'Most examples are East Gaulish, and so importation up to the mid 3rd century is possible' (1996, 53). The Drag. 45 is of late 2nd century date, conventionally dated c. AD 170 or later, with East Gaulish vessels being imported into Britain to the mid 3rd century (Webster 1996, 56).

Table 55 records the occurrence of samian mortaria among 20 dated samian groups and assemblages. This sample underlines the established existing chronological view that these vessels are of late 2nd century and 3rd century date. Of interest is the occurrence of a Drag. 45 (from Lezoux) in a context dated to the decade c. AD 170-80 at Biglands milefortlet on the Cumbrian coast, and particularly of a gritted mortaria at Bar Hill on the Antonine frontier in Scotland where occupation ceased c. AD 163 (cf. Table 55). Presuming that this item is contemporary with the latest occupation at this site, then it must constitute a precocious example of the type, confirming its debut c. AD 150-65. In contrast, the group of 115 samian vessels of the period c. AD 142-63 from Strageath fort does not include any examples of samian mortaria (see database).

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