Study Group for Roman Pottery

National Research Framework

Required Research Infrastructure

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Collated and Edited by Steven Willis - October 1997

3.1 The Importance of an 'up-to-date' Research Infrastructure

In order that the high professional standard of work invested in and achieved within the field of Roman pottery studies be maintained it is believed necessary for a number of developments to take place aimed at enhancing the research infrastructure (cf. the Regional Frameworks). Such improvements in the environment of research will clearly require financial investment, but they should be recognized as important in order that Roman pottery research address its objectives cost-efficiently whilst also offering valuable academic dividends.

3.2 A National Database Catalogue of Roman Pottery Collections

A project identifying and assessing the contents of museum and other collections of Roman pottery across the country is considered both a logical and highly desirable initiative by Group members (eg. the East Midlands and Anglia Framework, Section 3.2.1). The intention of such a project would be the creation of a national electronic database of the Roman pottery resource in Britain. This would be along the lines of the current English Heritage backed project cataloguing later Prehistoric pottery collections.

Many Roman pottery projects require to know of the existence of comparable material within their area, and of its quality and availability for reference study. However, little information is currently to hand regarding what material is held in local museums or private collections and accessioning such basic information needs to be made straightforward for potential researchers. A project cataloguing collections would constitute a sensible and effective stage in infrastructure enhancement. (This would need to be 'rapid' (ie. not sherd by sherd).

Clearly at a national level this would be a big task, greater than that for later Prehistoric pottery since Roman collections are more numerous. However, much information is held already on various databases, etc., for instance, the National Monuments Record, and not least the Groups own extensive annotated Bibliography incrementally complied in Journal of Roman Pottery Studies (cf. 3.5.3). The Gazetteer to the RCHME kilns volume (Swan 1984) is another important source of information. It is sensible for such information to be brought together in a register of collections. Once established this database would comprise a foundation for report writing and a sophisticated tool for wider research. Work on museum collections will highlight significant unstudied and unpublished sites and provide the necessary data to assess their potential.

3.3 National and Regional Fabric and From Series

3.3.1 The National Collection. The value of a national reference collection of Roman fabrics is appreciated by members, and its institution, with the support of English Heritage, the British Museum and other parties is welcomed. Work towards the compilation of the National Collection and its associated publication is nearly complete. The existence of the collection is important in principle; it is likely to be a valuable resource, not least through the associated publication, the fabric-by-fabric format of which will make it a standard reference. [Now published under the authorship of R. Tomber and J. Dore]

3.3.2 Regional Fabric and Forms Series. Reference collections for the regions (linked to kiln groups) are generally seen by Study Group members as desirable, though the practicalities of establishing these are, at present, uncertain. Regional collections would doubtless constitute helpful research tools and, importantly, could include basic form series for regional wares - the latter aspect not being one appropriately covered by the National Collection (eg. the Northern Britain Framework, Section 10).

Wales is an exception. Here the National Museum of Wales is intending to house and curate a collection covering the Principality.

3.4 Scientific Analysis

3.4.1 Routine Scientific Analyses. Small scale scientific analytical projects can be of great benefit in Romano-British pottery studies, but often do not lend themselves to the site specific funding criteria for post-excavation work. In addition, the need for them is frequently not fully realised until a late stage in post-excavation analysis. Therefore the need for some provision of funds for routine scientific applications, such as discrete grants for petrological and geochemical work, is required. In all cases analysis should be allied to visual identification and form typology, and examine pottery samples from a range of relevant sites.

3.4.2 Residue Analysis. Residue analysis appears to be offering major opportunities to examine the types of foods being conveyed and prepared in Roman vessels. The analysis of residues found on/in well defined types, such as certain jar forms or amphorae, (eg. London 555 and Richborough 527) for instance, will help further our understanding of the relationship between form/fabric and content and use. This work has wider implications for the study of trade in the Roman world. In addition, there exists considerable scope for using these techniques for examining diet, and hence for investigating differences between military and civil, and urban and rural consumption, and exploring the 'Romanization' of diet. In order to achieve effective comparisons between different types of site and chronological periods with residue analysis, it is essential that representative samples are taken, reflecting the functional composition of assemblages and the forms represented within these classes.

3.4.3 Neutron Activation Analysis. The Framework for Northern Britain notes that there is a considerable library of NAA characterisations of kiln sites and other material from that region (both of Roman and later date). The wider dissemination of this information is desirable.

3.4.4 New Science based Research Projects. The research possibilities of new science based projects must be fully appreciated by both those working with Roman pottery and those potentially funding study.

3.4.5 Collaborative Research. Potential avenues for collaborative science based projects should be exploredproactively by the Study Group for Roman Pottery,

3.5 Methodology

3.5.1 Quantitative Study. It is considered extremely important that pottery reporting and other pottery projects include fully quantitative study as a matter of course (eg. the East Midlands & Anglia Framework, Section 1.2). This means, for instance, including mortaria, Samian and amphorae within quantification and presenting tables of basic data by period and fabric (eg. Timby 1987; Monaghan 1993; Pollard 1994). Adequate provision must be made for such work in project funding grants, sufficient to support such work to publication, including the basic data. The value of this work is proven by routine analytical results; moreover, it represents an essential component of basic data that will not age and which can be easily accessible and communicated.

For a number of types of site and specific areas the amount of quantitative pottery data is limited. As is pointed out in the Northern Britain Framework, for instance, although there are seemingly many pottery publications for northern frontier sites, modern and quantified data in fact come from a much smaller subset of recent excavations, many of which are yet to be published. The publication of quantified information in this and other cases, therefore, must be regarded a priority.

3.5.2 Standardized Recording. It is widely accepted within the Group that progress needs to be made in encouraging the use of closely compatible methodologies and recording systems (cf. 4.2.4), perhaps linked to the National Fabric Collection. The advantages to be gained from electronic exchange of data may ultimately lead to the widespread use, by practitioners, of a standard computer-based recording system. This would facilitate spatial surveys both regionally and nationally.

3.5.3 The Potential of the Journal of Roman Pottery Studies annotated Bibliography of Pottery Publications. This bibliography, published annually in the JRPS, is an extremely important resource, containing useful data on pottery publications, cataloguing information such as site type, date, the contextual provenance of collections, the incidence of types and fabrics, etc. This already large resource holds much potential for enhancement (eg. Section 3.2; unpublished archive data might also be added) and especially analytical work, profitably through linkage to GIS (cf. Tyers 1996a; 1996b). Its potential assistance in addressing research questions and themes is considerable and should be fully explored. In addition to general analyses, discrete and thematic projects would benefit from its interrogation. English Heritage, or other bodies, may well consider this an attractive research project area.

3.6 Professional Standards, Expertise and Training

3.6.1 General Points. Roman pottery specialists constitute a highly trained and motivated group of professionals with a variety of skills. Expertise has almost invariably been acquired through unique 'on the job' experience over at least several years, often the consequence of project investment by bodies including English Heritage and Local Government Authorities. This pool of skilled labour, as with other skilled archaeologists, represents a national asset, in part the product of funding by public money. It is a fundamental necessity that the high standard of Roman pottery publication now achieved is maintained. Given this background, and the fact that pottery reporting requires a knowledge base, it is essential that pottery work is carried out or closely overseen by those qualified to do so (ie. persons with a proven expertise).

The Group has produced a widely disseminated guidelines volume Guidelines for the Archiving of Roman Pottery (Darling 1994) aimed at ensuring 'minimum standards' in pottery processing and which also represents a significant step towards encouraging the employment of closely compatible methodologies between workers of the type suggested above (3.5.2).

During the drawing up of the Framework Documents a variety of concerns were expressed by numerous Group members regarding the key related issues of the maintenance of professional standards, the expertise of those reporting upon Roman pottery and training. These concerns are clearly articulated in Appendix 2.

3.6.2 Research Fellowships. Many practitioners of Romano-British pottery studies possess considerable amounts of data together with the analyses, interpretation and understanding of these data which are not normally suited to publication in specific site reports. In order to facilitate the wider dissemination of this knowledge workers require the time away from routine report writing to produce occasional synthetic pottery papers. To some extent this is achieved in conference papers prepared at practitioners own expense (and only rarely at that of a sympathetic employer). However, some form of fellowship, competitively open to all practitioners (with or without an employer) might encourage a considerable increase in the output of synthetic work on Romano-British pottery for comparatively little expense. A six month duration might suffice for these fellowships.

3.7 Strategic Publications assisting efficient pottery work

Several key documents which will greatly assist pottery reporting and research in the years ahead can be identified. They would benefit from assistance towards publication:

(i) Production of the revised edition of the Gillam typology (1968), which Vivien Swan has already devoted much time towards, needs to be supported to publication.

(ii) The new, updated, edition of Graham Webster's Student's Guide (1969) also requires support to publication.

(iii) It is anticipated the Study Groups' Guidelines for the Archiving of Roman Pottery will be published within the Groups' Journal in the near future.

(iv) An updating of the RCHME kilns volume (Swan 1984) and the publication of its useful microfiche in electronic format is desirable (see 4.4.2).

(v) Agreement on archiving levels means that work can proceed towards the revision of the Guidelines for the Processing and Publication of Roman Pottery from Excavations, edited by Young (1980), funded by the DOE. This is urgently needed as a manual of best practice. This requires support to publication and dissemination throughout the profession.

(vi) Work towards the publication of the national corpus of mortaria stamps should be supported. The Leeds corpus of Samian stamps similarly requires support to publication (cf. 5.3.2 (iii)).

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