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8.7.4 Samian forms with more instances of wear (cups and small plain bowls)

Around 22 cups with wear are listed in Appendix 8.4 and Table 58, representing over a third of the sample. There are several cases of the conical cup Drag. 33 being worn, these examples coming from various sites (Table 58). There are more examples of wear to cups with concave floors, particularly the Drag. 27, but also examples on Drag. 35 and 42, with these examples being associated with 1st to mid 2nd century AD dates (Table 58). The examples come from a variety of sites and locations implying, potentially, widespread practices in vessel use. In the case of a Drag. 35 from Alchester, Brenda Dickinson notes that it is heavily worn inside, perhaps as a result of liquids being stirred (2001d, 278). Biddulph notes that there are many cases of both Drag. 27 and 33 with wear among the c. 5000 sherds of samian from Elms Farm, Heybridge (2001). Significantly, Biddulph noted a consistent difference in the pattern of wear upon 27s as opposed to 33s. With the 27, the wear was central within the base, with some vessels showing wear on the sides of the wall as well. In the case of the Drag. 33, wear tended to ring the junction of the wall and floor. He interpreted these wear patterns as indicating different uses, with the Drag. 27 employed (i) for mixing and grinding small quantities of foodstuffs and (ii) as a receptacle for foodstuffs to be extracted with a spoon (Biddulph 2001). Biddulph argued that the 33 was a drinking vessel and that the pattern of wear may have arisen from repeated stirring; he speculated that these vessels may have been used for hot beverages, with added ingredients, such as honey, needing to be stirred in. He concluded that there may therefore have been a strong form-function association with the Drag. 33. These contrasting interpretations are plausible; lipid analysis may be a way of taking this work forward.

Small plain bowls account for 16 of the c. 60 cases of wear (cf. Table 58). The forms showing wear are Drag. 38 and its related forms Drag. 44 and Walters 81 (cf. Webster 1996 for the typology). Again, examples come from a variety of sites. In fact on the evidence of the present sample the Drag. 38, along with the cup, Drag. 27, is the most likely samian form to display wear (cf. Oswald and Pryce 1920, 213). This is a significant finding, since the 38 is a comparatively infrequent form among 2nd and 3rd century AD assemblages. This confirms that it was regularly employed for a specific purpose, evidently grinding. Of interest too is the absence from the modest sample collated here of examples of wear on analogous earlier plain bowls such as the Ritt. 12 and Curle 11 which were possibly used as mixing bowls (cf. Oswald and Pryce 1920, 213).

The Drag. 38 makes its debut c. AD 130 and thus pre-dates the appearance of gritted samian mortaria by c. 30 years; it may be that a propensity to use these small bowls for grinding created a demand that resulted in the eventual appearance of gritted mortaria, relatively late in the currency of samian ware. Gritted samian mortaria are comparatively infrequent finds even after c. AD 170 (cf. Section 8.4) and thus it may be that the Drag. 38 was often employed for the types of processes normally performed by mortars (coarse ware mortaria were not necessarily gritted, of course, as in the case of Camulodunum 191). Dickinson and Hurst note of samian from recent work in Worcestershire that bowls of Drag. 38 may have been used for grinding 'either to supplement the more expensive gritted mortaria or in the period before these were made' (1998, 19; cf. Dickinson 2001d, 278). This may be the case. It is indeed likely that gritted mortaria are likely to have been comparatively expensive given their fairly large size and weight and the effort required to make them. On balance, though, it is more likely that the Drag. 38 and related bowls were used for a different type of comparatively mild grinding than the later heavier gritted mortaria, as indeed the often patchy localised ware within these small plain bowls suggests (e.g. the Drag. 38 from Hayton, Burnby Lane and an example from Great Chesterford). There appears, then, to be a significant qualitative difference here between the wear on these small plain bowls and the likely function of the heavier robust mortaria, including Drag. 43 and 45 which are accordingly best differentiated (cf. Section 8.4).

The flange or cordon at the girth of these plain bowl types will have assisted a firm grip when such bowls were used for grinding. Mills states that, 'Excessive wear within the base of three bowls from Tort Hill East was observed [and can be] interpreted as resulting from the use of plain, ungritted bowls as mortaria, and often occurs when no samian mortaria are recovered, as is the case here' (Mills 1998, 68). The Drag. 44 and the Walters 81 were normally not stamped on the interior base, the Drag. 38 inconsistently so; instead stamps can occur on the outer wall of the 44 and 81 particularly (cf. Oswald and Pryce 1920, 203). While there is no absolute rule with the stamping of these vessels (cf. Dickinson and Hartley 2000) the absence of a stamp on the interior correlates with the potential purpose of these vessels, as stamps might be readily removed if these small bowls were used as a type of mortar. One never sees cases of the Drag. 38 or 44 or Walters 81 that have been worn through, or indeed nearly worn through as occasionally happens with coarse ware mortaria (whether gritted or not). This aspect, together with the fact that wear is often localised within the interior, suggests that the vessel may have been tilted and that whatever was being mixed or ground did not require great or concerted pressure. It is possible that the isolated wear comes from a whipping process involving semi-liquid, or mixing more paste-like substances as one might on a small palette.

8.7.5 Summary

The evidence of wear on samian vessels points to the selected use of different forms for different processes. This is a promising area for future investigation as knowledge of the uses of samian and other pottery vessels is pursued as we endeavour to understand the social context of artefacts. The sample presented here requires enhancement and doubtless will be increased by future work.

The fragmented nature of most samian assemblages works against the identification of this significant aspect of these vessels. This and the fact that wear is not especially frequent on these vessels, coupled with the tendency for wear to be something that was not normally reported in previous publications of samian assemblages hindered recognition of trends. Wear to vessels is now an aspect that is more regularly reported. Since there are many areas of uncertainty with regard to wear on samian, attention to the context of finds showing wear is especially important, since this may shed further light on patterns of use. Experimental work too is of value in this field. Edward Biddulph has undertaken some interesting research into use wear upon samian. See http://www.samianwear.com/index.htm

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