Study Group for Roman Pottery

National Research Framework

Issues and Research Objectives: Major Site Types

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Collated and Edited by Steven Willis - October 1997


4.1. Background and Potential

Section 4 examines issues and research objectives relating to certain types of sites and collections, this area of work forming part of the core of Roman pottery study. Roman pottery study can address many themes related to these types of site. There is clearly great potential for the linkage of studies between sites, following particular research themes, as well as integrated work connecting pottery and the study of other categories of evidence to produce a 'bigger picture', and to address questions from various angles (cf. Hanson & Breeze 1991).

4.2 Urban Sites

4.2.1 Importance and General Research Potential. Roman pottery from excavations on modern urban sites has well known potential in that it tends to occur in quantity and in deeply stratified datable sequences. Roman towns and cities cannot be understood on the basis of one or a few excavations, the results of which may be unrepresentative. It is widely appreciated that a clearer, more reliable picture emerges when the evidence of a number of investigations can be put together, and in turn built upon. The study of such groups can provide a unique, qualitatively rich, perspective upon Roman urban life through analysis such as aspects of spatial patterning and trends in the occurrence of different functional forms of pottery.

4.2.2 The Scope for Spatial Analysis. When a number of urban excavations have been conducted in a town or city and their artefact assemblages analysed it becomes possible to identify spatial variation across the site landscape. This exciting possibility is a key objective of Roman urban study; hence this wider goal should be borne in mind when evaluating individual projects. Detailed analysis can demonstrate clear variations in the supply and consumption of Roman pottery between sites as well as at different locations across individual sites, leading to the characterization of functional zones, areas of economic specialization, etc. (eg. various reports in Milne & Wardle 1993).

4.2.3 The Potential of Large Urban Groups. The large amounts of comparatively well dated Roman pottery which urban excavations often produce are especially useful for the range of typological diversity which they can display. This diversity will contain valuable information on the exchange connections of a site through time and analysis of the relative importance of different sources of supply should be reasonably reliable if the sample group is large. Large groups also enable the occurrence of form types and functional trends (ie. trends in the proportions of different form types present through time) to be reliably established. Further, the larger the group, the greater the chance that the less common and specialist pottery vessels will be represented.

4.2.4 The need for Consistent Methodology - enabling comparative analysis. One of the difficulties in the past (and perhaps also presently) has been a frequent lack of compatibility between pottery reports on excavated sites in the same town. To ensure that consistent data is recovered from the various excavations that may occur in a town and that published results are amenable to comparison it is essential that County Archaeologists and other commissioners specify that consistent recording systems be employed across urban sites. This is most important since if this is undertaken it will mitigate erstwhile problems associated with (i) personal preferences in pottery recording methodology, and (ii) comparing the work of one organization with another; further, it will make pottery data archives far more useful than they currently are. One outcome is that it will ease the possibility of examining spatial variation across the urban landscape (cf. 4.2.2). Where they exist fabric type series should be made available to those writing reports.

4.2.5 Publications. For large towns and cities there should, ideally, be a system of site-by-site publication with reports following, in their core at least, a set of agreed standards (upgraded as necessary) for data presentation. Full publication of basic data is highly desirable since without it any report will be of limited use to other researchers. Synthetic discussions should be occasional. The latter should not be considered substitutes for detailed reporting since, firstly, they will lack basic data and, secondly, being contemporary interpretations they will be likely to date as new discoveries are made.

4.2.6 Residuality. Residuality has clearly been a long standing problem for urban pottery research and is likely to effect almost all assemblages, especially urban, to some degree. The extent and implications of this aspect have probably been under-appreciated in the past. New work has shed some light on this process (eg. Evans & Millett 1992; on-going work by M. Darling & B. Precious; Willis 1997b) though it is clearly a substantive area warranting systematic research in the immediate future.

4.2.7 Planning Urban Projects. Urban assemblages and projects are faced by a number of logistical problems arising mainly from the time it takes to process the large volumes of material that excavations generally produce and write the report. The cost-effectiveness of such work needs to be of central consideration. Given this context it is recognized that urban pottery projects should be carefully planned, be of comparatively short duration (c. two to five years), with sharply focused aims and a well defined end. Resources should be concentrated to ensure rapid completion and prompt publication.

4.3 Military Sites

4.3.1 The Unique Value of Military Sites and Pottery. The importance of Roman military sites in Britain is internationally recognized; these sites are studied at a detailed level by many foreign scholars. The designation of Hadrian's Wall by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site is a recognition of the 'universal value' of the intellectual information which the archaeology of the Wall and the frontier in general represents. Military sites are of supreme value within the framework of Romano-British archaeology, as seen from an Empire-wide perspective, and pottery from these sites is of equivalent value.

4.3.2 Importance in terms of Chronology and Dating. Military sites provide much of the most useful dating evidence for Roman pottery in Britain. Many first century forts have short lives and their foundation and abandonment can often be more or less securely tied to historically attested events. In the later Roman period forts were sometimes built de novo on hitherto unoccupied sites, and this proves helpful for establishing pottery dating horizons; similarly other forts were abandoned before the end of the Roman period, providing termini for the pottery recovered from them.

4.3.3 Spatial Analysis. The compact yet complex arrangements of forts offer opportunities for associating pottery with the status and function of buildings (cf. Hoffman 1994; 1995). With the exception of Usk (Manning 1993) there has yet to be a systematic comparison of pottery from barracks, store buildings, administrative buildings and high-status residencies (Commanders' and tribunes' houses). Such studies could be used to test the validity of such analyses on civilian sites, where building functions are less precisely defined.

4.3.4 Supply. The complexities of military supply are still being unravelled. It is unlikely that civilian supply in many areas of Britain at various periods will be understood without comprehensive knowledge of the role of the Roman army.

4.3.5 The Northern Frontier. The Regional Framework for Northern Britain considers research and publication priorities in terms of military sites on the northern frontier in some depth (Evans & Willis 1997).

4.4 Kiln Sites

4.4.1 Publication Priorities. As noted by the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies in their Priorities submission to English Heritage (1985, Section kiln sites provide information which is out of all proportion to the resources required to dig them but they do require above average allocation of resources for post-excavation and publication, which is justifiable. The study of kilns and kiln products has multiple benefits, not least by helping to date traded items occuring in site deposits, but also providing information upon technology, the endurance (or not) of traditions, and economics, while study of the location and siting of kilns raises interesting issues, for instance to do with economics, the organization of industry in the Roman period, the relationship between town and country and so forth (cf. Tyers 1996a).

Excavated kilns and kiln groups requiring publication are prioritized in the Regional Documents following careful consideration by the Regional Groups and Vivien Swan. Several kiln sites and industries are of national importance due to the wide dispersal of their products in quantity. The list of national priorities for publication includes the following: Hartshill/Mancetter; Hadham; the Lower Nene Valley; kilns in the Waveney and adjacent valleys, including Wattisfield (especially since these products were exported to the northern frontier); and Alice Holt (the 1974 and 1977-9 excavations). Publication of the South Yorkshire and Brampton (Norfolk) kiln sites is also highly desirable, as is a corpus of the Holt products. This list closely reflects the evaluation of the Fulford and Huddleston report (1991) and there has clearly been regrettably little progress in this field in recent years. Publication should, where appropriate, be linked with corpora for these industries.

Also of national importance, and priorities for publication, are a number of small kiln sites of the early period (first century A.D.) which were evidently geared to military supply and/or possibly military. These include Eccles (Kent), Nayland with Wissington (Suffolk) and Morley St Peter (Norfolk).

4.4.2 Updating the RCHME Kilns Volume. A significant number of new kilns and further information have come to light since the publication of the RCHME kilns volume (Swan 1984). It is desirable that this widely used fundamental resource is updated in due course, either with a new edition or with periodic publication in the Study Group's Journal/county journals.

It is widely felt by pottery specialists that it would be extremely helpful if the microfiche to the volume, which contains a great wealth of relevant detail, were available in a database/disc version. This will render it much easier to access and could be accomplished relatively quickly via computer scanning. Logically these two needs (ie. publication of the microfiche on disc and updating of the volume) could be combined within a single project. It is suggested that English Heritage consider this possibility.

4.5 Rural Sites

4.5.1 Importance and General Research Potential. The study of rural sites and their associated artefact assemblages is self-evidently crucial for our understanding of life in the Roman period. The great majority of the people of Roman Britain lived on these sites and their consumption patterns (of which pottery provides important evidence) must have had a major bearing on the functioning of regional economies. Hence rural sites are highly significant for our understanding of the Romano-British economy and 'Romanization'. Potentially study in this field should provide a sophisticated picture of the 'depth' of rural integration into the Romano-British economy establishing whether this was genuinely deep, that is covering most of society, or 'superficial', involving, essentially only high status sites (eg. villas).

It should be borne in mind that for the Roman period the definition of a rural site is broad, ranging from 'small towns' to individual farmsteads and enclosures.

4.5.2 Methodologies of Study. Qualitatively different approaches are required in the collection and analysis of material from these sites as opposed to methodologies for urban and military sites. In some cases pottery from such sites may be comparatively difficult material to work with since, for instance, its contexts may lack the chronological definition of some other assemblages. On the other hand rural groups are likely to have been less disturbed than material from urban sites. This, together with the probable differing modes of rubbish disposal between urban and rural sites, suggests that rural sites will probably have lower levels of residuality.

4.5.3 Spatial Analysis. In rural contexts the threat to sites is often in the form of wide area destruction (by various processes). This, combined with the fact that stratification at such sites is usually comparatively thin (and hence may be sampled and understood relatively quickly), means that there are opportunities for wide scale spatial analyses. Indeed, the Fulford and Huddleston report (1991, 41) emphasises the need for spatial information to be recorded when excavating rural settlements to enable intra-site analysis. The study of pottery assemblages has a good potential for identifying differing functional and status zones within such sites.

Recording and analysing such data is costly. However, if the aim is to produce quality results then there must be provision for this work within project designs and budgets. If financial strictures mean that areas of sites with no or little apparent structural or artefactual evidence are not excavated, the consequence is that it is impossible to compare areas that have readily identifiable evidence with areas that do not. The implication is that a 'good level of practice' needs to be established so that the use of an appropriate methodology is not restricted by the need for competitive costing.

4.5.4 More Publication Needed for Rural Sites. Analysis of excavations conducted on Roman sites in Britain between 1969 and 1989 shows that there had been a marked emphasis in such work, away from rural settlement as a whole, and within rural settlement categories, in favour of high status sites such as villas (cf. Evans 1995b). Future project planning and fieldwork should bear this in mind. There is a strong a priori case therefore for increasing the examination of rural sites, especially lower status settlements, both for ceramic and other aspects. Since this should not be to the detriment of continuing programmes of valuable research on other types of site (military and urban), which such work would complement, the implication is that additional resources need to be made available to conduct this work.

4.5.5 Sampling Rural (lower status) Sites. Given this situation it is suggested that Roman archaeologists aim to get the best results possible from collections arising from excavation at rural sites, especially the lower status sites. This would help mitigate both the erstwhile under-examination of this category, as well as the fact that they often produce only comparatively small assemblages under normal sampling regimes.

In large parts of Western and Northern Britain lower-status rural sites tend to yield only very small groups of pottery, even where sites have been extensively excavated. This low level of occurrence may be socially and economically significant, but more work needs to be done on these sites to determine the extent to which it is a function of poor preservation, artefact discard practices, supply, etc. Project planning for such sites needs to take active account of the relatively low incidence of pottery and other objects and maximise recovery, for instance by excavation of above-average proportions of feature fills such as enclosure ditches.

4.5.6 Using Information from 'Evaluations'. Post-PPG 16 evaluations are adding significantly to the database of material from rural sites (eg. in Lincolnshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire), and it is suggested that syntheses of this material would go some way towards providing insights into the rural pattern of pottery use.

4.5.7 Comparing Rural and Urban Assemblages. There is a need to improve and standardize methodologies for comparing rural and urban assemblages.

4.5.8 Hinterland/Landscape Projects. Hinterland/Landscape projects - such as the Wroxeter area survey - may well offer an extremely valuable approach for examining rural sites (cf. Hanson & Breeze 1991, 73). In principle such work holds much scope for comparative analysis and assessment of social and economic integration (eg. in terms of pottery supply) between urban and rural sites.

4.6 Cemeteries

Cemeteries are a further category which has seen little excavation in recent years. For a number of reasons the publication of these sites and their pottery is extremely valuable (cf. Fulford & Huddleston 1991, 43). Given the 'primary status' of vessels from burials they are of special importance (being chronologically useful and potentially revealing 'preferred' vessels for this type of practice). In particular the third century cremation cemetery at Brougham, Cumbria, is a priority for publication.

4.7 'Backlog' sites

'Backlog' sites/Pre-PPG16 developer funded excavations should be assessed for publication with EH, CADW, or Historic Scotland support. Existing unpublished studies should be supported through to publication, given that resources have already been expended upon them; with the proviso that this not entail extensive re-working/up-dating.

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