Introduction | Samian from Brough | Mortaria | Amphorae | Brough local production | Fabrics | Forms | The function of the Brough pottery

4.8 The function of the Brough pottery

Despite the difficulties of identification of function noted above, the pottery has been examined for its functional content, to see if there are any changes between the different periods, and for future comparative use. Since the bulk of the pottery came from Trench 1 and its adjacent Trench 2, no spatial analysis is necessary. The functions denoted by pottery change considerably on a chronological basis over the Roman period. Vessels in different materials, for instance glass, metal or wood, may replace ceramic vessels at certain periods, and the cessation of the importation of samian impacts on the quantity of identifiable tableware in the 3rd century, while the arrival of colour-coated beakers in quantity similarly affects any analysis of drinking vessels. There are also differences between the functional profiles of regions, particularly apparent here where body sherds in certain fabrics can be fairly confidently assigned to a function. Bearing these factors in mind, it is still useful to compare site assemblages, aiding understanding of local ceramic traditions, and socio-economic status.

The analysis starts by assigning to each fabric and form combination of the pottery an assumed function. Clearly this is hazardous for while some jars for instance were obviously used for cooking, the function of some bowls and dishes is much less clear, many ending up in a Roman ‘Pyrex' category of ‘Table or kitchen'. The functions identified follow those first set up by Kevin Greene in dealing with the Usk pottery (Greene 1993), with the addition of amphorae, and consist of:

LH Liquid holders
DRDrinking vessels
TWTable ware
TKTable or kitchen
K Kitchen
S Storage
L Lighting

No pottery relating to lighting or writing occurred, and the only possible industrial sherds were the coarse shell-gritted OXSH. Once the pottery data has been filtered through a ‘look-up' table to assign functions, it is analysed. The measure used is sherd count, for two main reasons; firstly it allows archive data to be used, giving a wider range of comparative material, and secondly because of the problems of excessive variation between weights of individual categories, as between mortaria (included as kitchen vessels) and beakers (drinking vessels). Analysis inevitably produces a quantity of unidentified sherds, body sherds, and the proportion of these can vary considerably according to the type of group and its fragmentation and the date (earlier groups with quantities of samian for instance have lower percentages of unidentified sherds than for example a later 3rd-4th century group). The percentages of sherds unidentified for function range over the periods from 26-54%, with an average overall of 38%. These are excluded from the percentage calculations so that the identified functions of all groups, often of disparate sizes, can be usefully compared. Although there is no clear minimum sample, analysis of small groups is inadvisable; at least 100 sherds are needed, the larger the sample, the better.

Analysis of the pottery has excluded the waste from the local production of fine wares as this is not part of a normal rubbish assemblage. The coarse shell-gritted OXSH fragments, whether of some industrial function or not, have also been excluded. All other Roman pottery is included. The samples from the earliest periods, Periods 0-2, are too small for use, and Period 8 is also borderline with only 97 sherds identified for function. The small ritual content in Periods 4, 6 and 9, all under 1%, has not been included in the charts. The samples of sherds identified for function (excluding local production ‘waste' and the coarse OXSH fragments) are: Period 3: 155; Period 4: 708; Period 5: 1838; Period 6: 2092; Period 7: 352 and Period 9: 1182. The marginal groups included in the analysis are Periods 3 and 7.

The period groups have been divided between two charts for clarity, the first showing the earliest, Periods 3 and 4, and the second the later Periods 5-7 and the topsoil Period 9. Both charts have an underlay showing the overall function profile from the site as a whole.

figure 58
Fig.58: Functions, Periods 3 and 4, and site (sherd percentages)

figure 59
Fig.59: Functions, Periods 5-7, 9 and site (sherd percentages)

The functional profiles of the periods are broadly very similar, given that the sample size of Period 3 is the smallest, and therefore likely to produce atypical results. On the other hand, the Period 3 profile is consistent with being the earliest group, with higher liquid holders and table wares, and lower drinking vessels and table-kitchen, both usually higher in the 3rd century. The high tableware in Period 7, again a relatively small sample, is entirely due to the high percentage of fairly fragmented samian sherds, the highest percentage relative to coarse wares of any of the groups. Thus it would appear that there is no appreciable functional change, and the site's functional profile reflects the relatively confined dating of the bulk of the pottery.

This site profile has been compared with similar functional analyses from the city of Lincoln (Darling forthcoming a), using two of the areas of the city, Wigford and the Lower City, south of the original fortress on the hilltop (Fig.60). These groups cover a range of sites with differing chronological profiles, but with an emphasis more from the late 2nd through into the later Roman period. Much of the pottery from Wigford, a suburb south of the Witham, centres on the 3rd century.

figure 60
Fig.60: Functions, comparison with Lincoln groups, sherd percentages

The overwhelming difference in the kitchen area comes largely from the easier identification of cooking vessels in the Brough assemblage, shell and calcite-gritted jars, whereas such jars in Lincoln are often in normal grey wares, with individual rims and body sherds less certainly used for cooking. Combining the table-kitchen and kitchen categories to ameliorate this problem of comparison between areas with different ceramic traditions produces a clearer view (Fig.61).

figure 61
Fig.61: Functions comparison (sherd percentages)

Since amphorae and liquid holders decline as site finds after the 1st and 2nd centuries, the lower percentages for amphorae and liquid holders are likely to arise from the lower 2nd century content of the Brough assemblage compared to the Lincoln groups, and it is notable that the tablewares coincide. Again, as with the fabric analysis, the paucity of drinking vessels is the notable difference. It is unlikely that this is due to chronology, since the decline in colour-coated beakers appears to be a 4th century feature. Such decline would occur in the Lincoln groups, both with 4th century groups, but the Brough assemblage has virtually no evidence of 4th century pottery beyond a few sherds in the topsoil.


© Internet Archaeology URL:
Last updated: Tue Nov 28 2000