4. Discussion: pottery consumption and cultural change

4.1. The late Iron Age

By examining the broader implications of the detailed analysis described in section 3, this section is concerned with the production of a synthesis through the exploration of four main components: patterns of pottery consumption over time; variability in ceramic deposition (both spatially and in terms of its depositional profile); morphological changes across the settlement; and the wider historical and archaeological trends affecting the region.

Starting in the Late Iron Age (c. 50-15 BC), and immediately following Caesar's short-lived campaigns in Britain of 55-54 BC, the site is characterised as a dispersed settlement, largely consisting of a series of ditches. Although the archaeology of the site is described as fragmentary at this time, evidence for the earliest settlement was consistent across the site (Atkinson 2002). In terms of pottery consumption, the most notable feature of this period was a relative emphasis on drinking vessels (after jars, which dominated all periods), to the exclusion of other functional classes, especially dining vessels. Such emphasis on drinking vessels, particularly large wheel-thrown pedestal jars in locally produced grog-tempered fabrics, is entirely consistent with contemporary domestic and funerary assemblages from elsewhere in the region, and a model of late Iron Age society focused around rituals of feasting and excessive alcohol consumption (Pitts 2005b; Dietler 1990; Diodorus Siculus 5.26-28). Consequently, the small quantities of imported wine indicated at the site in this period by the presence of Dressel 1 amphorae are likely to have been consumed in a 'barbarian' fashion, without reference to any notion of civilised drinking practice involving the mixing of wine and water around the table (Dunbabin 1993).

However, the picture described above was to undergo rapid change at the end of the 1st century BC. In this period, the morphology of the settlement shifted from the dispersed occupation described above to a planned nucleated settlement with a series of regular rectilinear enclosures in two rows, the southernmost row being associated with domestic remains and substantial evidence for metalworking (Figure 1). Roundhouses appear to have coexisted with rectilinear strip-buildings, an arrangement that was echoed at the centre of the settlement, with the erection of a pair of shrines, one square, one circular (Atkinson 2002). Amidst this substantial settlement reorganisation, significant changes in pottery consumption were also apparent. Notable increases in the proportion of drinking vessels, and especially dining vessels, Gallo-Belgic imports and wine amphorae suggest qualitative changes in the character of consumption practice in this period. Moreover, a large proportion of such imports and assorted consumption technology were concentrated in the southern or domestic zone of the site, with one pit in particular (15417) containing the majority of the wine amphorae and rarer imports such as mortaria and Pompeian red ware dishes. This deposit was interpreted by the excavators as the remains of a high-status ritual feast, with the possibility that it may have also represented a disinterred burial, owing to the burnt condition of most of the pottery (Atkinson and Preston 1998, 92-4).

The patterning witnessed at the site at the turn of the first millennium certainly hints at some profound changes. A speculative interpretation linking such changes with a Mediterranean-style urban foundation is outlined. However, focusing more on the material at hand, a number of more solid inferences can be made. Both the changes in pottery consumption (emphasising drinking and dining vessels) and building construction (with roundhouses occurring alongside rectilinear strip buildings) imply an intermingling of indigenous ideas and practices with newer continental ones. The coexistence of local consumption practices and conceptualisations of built space with newer forms seems to imply that change was being actively negotiated within the community, rather than being imposed from above. While no evidence exists for direct Roman influence, it seems likely that many of these changes were initiated as a direct result of Caesar's expeditions in 55-54 BC and the likelihood of south-east Britain falling under Rome's indirect influence as a client kingdom (Braund 1983), with direct changes being driven either via links with 'Romanised' groups and/or merchants from northern Gaul, a lasting vestige of Caesar's military expedition to Britain in 54 BC, or the return of Caesarean hostages educated in Augustan Rome (Creighton 2000). Irrespective of the specific mechanism, the site's location on the Blackwater estuary certainly places it in an ideal location for contact with the wider Roman world.


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Last updated: Tue May 08 2007