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9.7 The absence of samian from the eastern cemetery, London

The absence of samian from the 200 pottery vessels recovered from burials in the eastern cemetery at London was discussed above (cf. 9.2), with it being noted that the burials mainly dated to the 3rd and 4th century, this being a time when samian was circulating in lower quantities than previously and so might not be expected to occur with much regularity with the burials. Barber and Bowsher observed that samian forms are mainly open types, while among the 52 cremation containers from the cemetery (excluding Site L) all are closed forms and, similarly, of the mere eleven vessels accompanying the cremations nine were closed (Barber and Bowsher 2000, Table 52). Closed forms also predominate among the inhumation burial goods from the cemetery: 75 vessels were associated with inhumations, 65 of which were closed forms with only a few bowls and dishes and a solitary cup (ibid, Table 52).

Chronology is an important aspect but since there are examples of 3rd century burials with samian vessels in Britain, and Londinium continued to receive quantities of East Gaulish samian in the 3rd century, it might be considered surprising that there are no examples from this large cemetery. It may be that there was a factor operating here specific to London.

A further point of special interest arises. As demonstrated in this section, decorated vessels are very rare generally among grave groups in Britain, but they form a high proportion among samian assemblages from occupation levels and areas in London. Hence it is curious that within the 553 records of samian from all deposits associated with the eastern cemetery sites (with 33 stamps present) there occur only 20 decorated sherds (Barber and Bowsher 2000, 124)! Such a low proportion can now be seen to be very much in line with a cemetery environment or assemblage. This dimension was not apparent to Barber and Bowsher though, who record that such a proportion 'does not appear to be exceptional' (2000, 124).

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