4. Material Culture

Overview | Flint | Prehistoric pottery | Briquetage | Roman and later pottery | Ceramic objects | Ceramic building material | Fired clay | Clay pipe | Metalwork | Worked stone | Glass

4.3 Briquetage

E.L. Morris

A total of 212 sherds (2.202kg) from briquetage containers, handmade ceramic vessels used to dry brine and transport salt to consumers (Morris 1985), was recovered from a variety of different features and soil layers (Table 14). The majority of fragments derive from vessels manufactured at Droitwich (Rees 1986 and 1992, fig. 37; Hurst 1992a, fig. 82, nos 1-6) but a single sherd, traditionally known as Stony VCP (Gelling and Stanford 1965) from an unknown salt production site in Cheshire (Morris 1985), was also identified. The sherds are in good condition but the mean sherd weight of 10g is surprisingly low compared to the pottery assemblage from the site, which has a mean weight of 21g. This suggests that the briquetage vessels had been deliberately smashed on site to retrieve the salt inside them.

4.3.1 Fabrics and sources of salt

Several sherds were selected for petrological analysis to confirm the types of briquetage fabrics present (Table 13). Three fabrics were identified. The two from the Droitwich source are the typical sandy (Worcestershire Fabric Series (WFS) 1) and organic-tempered (WFS 2) varieties (Morris 1985, 342-5; Hurst and Rees 1992, 200-1), as would be expected since Blackstone was so close to that brine springs source, located only 15km to the south-east. The Cheshire fabric type is richly gritted with angular fragments of masked, porphyritic rhyolite in a sandy clay matrix, which is derived from glacial drift (Morris 1985, 355-66, tables 2-4); the Cheshire brine springs and saliferous beds are located in the Cheshire Plain and approximately 85-95km to the north of Blackstone. There are 155 sherds (1616g) of the sandy Droitwich fabric, 56 sherds (578g) of the Droitwich organic-tempered fabric and one sherd (8g) from the Cheshire source, which is the ratio of fragments predicted to be present in the collection based on the relative difference in distances from Blackstone of these sources if a simple down-the-line exchange mechanism had been in action at that time (Morris 1994, fig. 4). Many other Iron Age sites in the region and outside the region to the north have been in receipt of Droitwich and Cheshire Plain salt containers (Morris 1985, figs 5-6 and 9-10), and examination of more recently published ceramic assemblages continue to reveal further examples (Britnell 1989, 124-5, fig. 26; Dinn and Evans 1990, 35, table 5, fig. 18; Hurst 2004a, table 1; Hurst and Pearson 1996, 129-30, fig. 3). The briquetage assemblage discovered along the route of a pipeline at Madeley Heath, Belbroughton, may have been the result of Iron Age ritual deposition, judging by the very large quantity of Droitwich briquetage sherds in two pits and the absence of any pottery in these features (156 sherds, 2.825kg; Hurst and Pearson 1996, 129-30, fig. 3). A total of 13 middle-late Iron Age assemblages in this area, including Beckford, Blackstone, Bromfield Iron Age enclosure, Croft Ambrey, Conderton Camp, Credenhill, Dinedor, Kenchester, Meriden Quarry at Solihull (Hancocks 2005, 21, fig. 10, IA14), Midsummer Hill, Sutton Walls, Twyn Llechfaen, and Twyn-y-Gaer, have both Droitwich and Cheshire types of salt containers (Morris 1985, tables 1 and 5), the latter always in very small quantities. Therefore, it is not inappropriate to conclude that the production and trade of salt in ceramic containers, or salt packs, was a significant activity during the Iron Age period in both Cheshire and Worcestershire.

4.3.2 Vessel form and manufacture

Figure 41

Figure 41: Briquetage.

From the 212 sherds in the Blackstone briquetage assemblage, a single rim and just two bases (Fig. 41, nos 1-3) were identified. This is a common occurrence, as Droitwich rims in particular are the rarest part of the containers to be identified in consumer assemblages. This may be the result of the industrial or roughly manufactured nature of these vessels, which leaves the rims little differentiated from the broken coils of body sherds (Rees 1986, 48) and, therefore, hard to identify with confidence. Some of the larger body sherds in the Blackstone assemblage display the classic construction method of Droitwich containers, which is by placing a ring or collar of clay on top of another collar of clay and roughly pressing the top one down onto the lower one to seal the joint on the interior, which leaves thumb impressions, and smoothing upwards on the exterior, which leaves finger ridges. The interior folds on these two sherds are particularly prominent. Evidence of this construction method is never hidden by smoothing of the surfaces of these industrial pots. Smashing the salt pack vessels, suggested above, is not unexpected as these interior folds, while likely to have been useful for holding the salt securely during transportation, become an impediment when attempting to retrieve it.

The shape of Droitwich containers is strikingly cylindrical, with a slight to moderate flaring of the open end compared to the strongly flaring profile at the top of Cheshire containers (Gelling and Stanford 1965; Stanford 1974, figs 100-101, and 1981, fig. 68; Morris 1985, 3-4 and 7-8; Rees 1986, fig. 2; Britnell 1989, fig. 26; Hurst 1992a, fig. 82, nos 1-6).

4.3.3 Evidence of use

Normally both Droitwich and Cheshire briquetage is completely oxidised and the fabric colour is orange, with examples of incomplete oxidised firing resulting in a grey core and/or grey interior of the sherds. One of the sherds from pit 0098 (context 0098.2) displays a complete buff-white effect throughout the fragment. Traces of this white-buff effect can be found on the exterior of 50% of the sherds in the assemblage and is the result of the natural bleaching of the iron in the clays by the chlorine from the salt. The more intensively used a briquetage container has been, the more bleached the vessel became (Morris 2001, 41; 2007).

4.3.4 Acquisition of salt

Twenty-five years ago, a salt index was developed as a method for comparing the amounts of briquetage recovered from different sites in the region and wider area (Morris 1983, 307-10). This consisted of the weight of the specific salt container sherds (either Droitwich or Cheshire) divided by the total weight of all salt containers sherds and all pottery sherds together. The use of the total weight of all ceramic containers derives from the need to compare two strikingly different areas of pottery consumption during the later Iron Age: the Lancashire-Cheshire-Shropshire-North Wales zone with low pottery consumption and deposition compared to the Hereford-Worcester-Gloucestershire-Gwent zone with high pottery consumption and deposition. Similar indices have been developed to provide a mechanism for comparing the quantities of material culture regionally and between regions (Sidrys 1977; Galle 2004, 44-8), which are usually defined by the material culture itself such as pottery style zones (Cunliffe 2005), by geography and topography, by historic conquest, or by economic, social and religious settlement migration.

The Droitwich salt index for Blackstone is 0.164, while the Cheshire salt index is 0.0006. It is important to recognise that Blackstone is a late Iron Age site with one principal ceramic phase of occupation, equivalent to ceramic phase E at Beckford (see pottery report). With this in mind, it is inappropriate to compare either index with those resulting from multi-period Iron Age sites such as Beckford, those with only middle Iron Age occupation such as Croft Ambrey (0.16) or Midsummer Hill (0.50), or those with both middle and late Iron Age activity as at Guiting Power (0.046), but it is highly appropriate to compare the results to salt indices from late Iron Age sites such as Salmonsbury (0.11; Morris 1983, table 8.6). The difference between the indices of Blackstone and Salmonsbury is likely to be a combination of the distance from each of these sites to the Droitwich source, 15km in the former case and 50km in the latter, and also the differences between these two sites with the defended enclosure at Salmonsbury providing a major focus for the acquisition of material goods symbolic of a new cultural concept, Romanisation, and at the same time obtaining more salt from the regional source to emphasise the occupants' ability to acquire this special commodity. This difference of status and identity, or the desire to obtain material evidence of Romanisation, might be seen in the much smaller salt index for middle and late Iron Age activity at Guiting Power (Saville 1979).

4.3.5 Deposition

Most of the briquetage sherds were recovered from the area of the double-ditched enclosure entrance and the pits (PG1) just inside the entrance on its south side, with a scatter of fragments from features elsewhere (Table 14). Twice as much briquetage by weight was found in outer enclosure ditch southern butt end (1014) compared to an inner ditch butt end (1012). Fragments were also recovered from the post-pit 1009 and posthole 1021 of the inner ditch gate complex. Pits 1033, 1034, 1036, 1039 (PG1), 1042 and 1043 (PG1) all contained many sherds of briquetage, with pit 1039 containing the largest amount (80 sherds; 886g). This collection was nearly four times as much in weight as any other deposit of briquetage from the excavated areas and, therefore, must represent an unusual deposit of this material. It contains sherds from more than one vessel, as both the sandy and organic-tempered fabrics are represented in this key group. Examination of the quantities of material from each feature or ditch cutting demonstrates three patterns of deposition:

The 18 examples of Category 1 collections from features or cuttings at Blackstone could be interpreted as evidence of everyday life and a more casual approach to the discard of briquetage and its incorporation into below-ground deposits, while the single example of Category 2 deposition could be viewed as something different and possibly similar to the larger deposits recovered at Madeley Heath (Hurst and Pearson 1996).

The presence of 87% of the briquetage collection found in this one zone of the site, which includes the richest deposit as well as 11 occurrences of Category 1 deposits, must also signify that the deliberate discard or dumping of briquetage took place in the area just to the south of the inside of the enclosure entrance. This could be interpreted in at least two different ways: that this is an area of the site away from the house structures and primary social activity landscape where salting was allowed to take place to avoid disturbance of everyday life, or that this is a special zone where this activity had been awarded a distinctive and prominent place clearly visible upon entering the enclosure. In line with the discussion of pottery deposition (see Prehistoric pottery), it may be that the richest deposit in particular, and this area in general, are evidence of ritual deposition to propitiate the gods of the underworld with unusual things derived from nature and created by special people through the use of fire, such as salt (Morris 2007) and metalwork (Cunliffe 1992), or of the sharing of salt and iron metalwork during special social events (Hill 1995).


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