Looking at fragments and reproductions of clay and glass vessels with Dr James Gerrard of Newcastle University.
Perhaps one of the most hackneyed clichés about archaeology concerns pots. The archaeologist is seen as someone who scrambles about gathering broken vessels and then sticks them back together.
Well yes, and no. The truth of the matter is that Roman archaeologists are looking for more than a jigsaw puzzle when they study pottery and glassware. Aside from any aesthetic appeal, there is a huge amount one can learn from both.
Pottery combines two extremely important qualities. Firstly, It is made of fired clay, fragments of which will survive millennia when other types of archaeological evidence do not. Secondly as pottery vessels are eminently breakable and their fragments hard to recycle we find them liberally discarded on many sites.
Close study of the vessel form (shape), its fabric (the clay from which it is made) and its decoration allow us not only to date the vessels (thus helping date the objects and features with which they are associated) but also to reconstruct the networks of communication and exchange that brought them to the site. Ceramic petrological analysis
of the fabric, for example, allows us to determine the source of clay used to make the pots.
Glass, whilst more likely to be recycled in ancient times, still survives in large quantities. The very presence of glass on the northern frontier testifies to a revolution, as it was not made in northern Britain prior to the arrival of Rome. Interestingly though, once it did arrive, indigenous artisans were quick to learn how to melt it down and model it into the distinctive types of adornment that their people sought.
With both pottery and glass,we can attempt statistical analysis to determine the relative quantity of different types of vessels. Use-wear analysis
can help identify their functions. This involves microscopic analysis of the objects to help determine precisely how they were used. Surprisingly, in many cases we are still uncertain as to how otherwise familiar vessel types were actually used. Both the use patterns and the source of these vessels can offer important clues about the cosmopolitan nature of the frontier.
In this video we take a brief look at the range of drinking vessels by the units garrisoning the frontier.
- What do you think these can vessels tell us about those who lived in the forts?