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8.4.5 The occurrence of samian mortaria by site type

Table 55 records the occurrence of samian mortaria among 20 dated samian groups and assemblages, ordering these by site type and date. The occurrence of samian mortaria by site type is also apparent in Appendix 8.1, where a sample of generally less tightly dated site groups/assemblages are considered (a few of which are employed in Table 55). Some general trends are apparent from these data, though a larger sample would be desirable, potentially clarifying the picture. One difficulty in assembling data has been that until recently there has been sporadic publication only of dated samian groups, that is, where the composition of samian groups by type is documented, as opposed to the selective publication of decorated pieces and stamps. From Table 55 and Appendix 8.1 it is clear that samian mortaria occur at all types of site. Evidently they occur with some frequency among samian groups from the later 2nd century. They are, however, not invariably present in Antonine and earlier 3rd century groups. There are no examples, for instance, among the 54 samian vessels from Building 2 in the extra-mural area at Blackfriars Street, Carlisle, dated to c. AD 162-210. Equally, there are no examples in the group of 71 samian vessels from Period 6 (c. AD 185-245) at the smaller civil centre at Alchester, 1991 (see database).

A bigger sample is required in order, particularly, to consider samian mortaria at major civil centres. Dickinson notes that gritted samian mortaria occur in 'large quantities' among most later Antonine samian groups in York, both from the area of the colonia and the periphery of the fortress (1997c, 944). Clearly, too, they were popular in the extra-mural canabae at Caerleon (cf. Table 55).

A series of smaller civil centres (sites of 'Small Towns', roadside settlements, etc.) are represented in Table 55 showing the incidence of samian mortaria from across the province, and sites of this type are also well represented in Appendix 8.1, including Baldock, Dorchester-on-Thames, Heybridge, Elms Farm, Pomeroy Wood, Whitchurch, Wall and Wycomb.

Noting the absence of samian mortaria at the Tort Hill West and East sites, Cambridgeshire (see Appendix 8.1). Mills posits that these vessels are often absent on rural sites (Mills 1998). While this possibility has yet to be demonstrated within a sample, it is interesting to consider her suggestion that samian mortaria may be seen as indicators of status, and indeed that they 'generally occur in towns' (1998). This idea is worthy of greater consideration as it is likely that samian mortaria were relatively expensive items. These robust vessels are comparatively thick, each vessel requiring significant prepared clay resources. They were heavy too, and hence may have been more expensive to transport than many other pottery types. Nor, with their functional flanges, zoomorphic spouts and grits, were they the simplest of forms to produce and so again may have had a price premium. Hence it is probable that these vessels were indeed somewhat expensive purchases. This being so, it is significant that they occur at a series of sites at the lower end of the site hierarchy such as Bullock Down, East Sussex (cf. Table 55 and Appendix 8.1); in addition to these instances some other occurrences at rural sites may be noted: three examples of Drag. 45 occur among the 42 samian vessels identified to form of Period 3 (c. AD 225/250-300/325) at Orton Hall Farm (Wild 1996, 190); similarly a Drag. 45 is present among the 63 Central Gaulish vessels recovered at Maxey (Wild 1985b).

On present evidence, samian mortaria seem virtually never to have been included in burial groups, unlike certain other samian forms which occur in some regions with regularity (see Section 9). There are no examples of samian mortaria among the sample of burial groups (from 30 cemetery environments) collected as part of this project (cf. Appendix 9.1). Oswald and Pryce do, however, note the occurrence of a Drag. 45 in an inhumation burial context at Vermand, north-west of St Quentin, dated c. AD 276-400 (1920, 216). Part of the explanation of their absence may be chronological, since they first appear towards the later part of the period when it became common to include pottery in graves. More significantly, there were evidently a set of marked definitions surrounding which samian forms it was appropriate to include in a grave (principally dishes, and occasionally cups and flagons; that is forms of the personal, not the communal), and mortaria did not fit the criteria (cf. Section 9).

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