No. 39 – April 2001

Secretary’s Notes

Council met on 25th January at the Museum of London. The first main agenda item concerned the President’s chosen discussion topic – the relationship of ceramics with other artefactual and environmental categories. Clive’s introductory paper is included elsewhere in this Newsletter, in order (it is hoped) to stimulate further debate. Council’s discussion involved the sharing of experiences of working on integrated projects. These projects are, however, still very much in the minority, and we need to consider ways in which the situation might be improved before ceramic specialists become further isolated from the post-excavation process – suggestions included a one-day conference and the provision of dissertation topics for MA students.

Alejandra Gutierrez is pressing ahead with the survey of the state of ceramics teaching and research. Higher Education institutions have already been circulated with a questionnaire, and UK MPRG members should receive the second questionnaire with this Newsletter – do please take the time to complete it if you can. Hopefully the results of the questionnaires will help to raise awareness of medieval ceramics within Higher Education institutions, perhaps leading to a greater number of courses offered, and more research (and henceforth perhaps more younger members joining MPRG).

All members should now have received their copy of Medieval Ceramics Volume 22/23 (if you have not please contact the Assistant Treasurer – see contact details at the end of this Newsletter), and the Editorial Committee are already well ahead with the preparation for Volume 24, which should appear in summer 2001. There is as yet no firm news on other publications (Ipswich Ware, Trondheim Redwares), but the Minimum Standards document is going through final editing, and may be out in time for the May conference. We are meanwhile investigating the possibility of putting back numbers of Medieval Ceramics on the Internet, with the help of ADS (Archaeology Data Service).

We are now looking forward to our annual conference in Edinburgh in May, and we look forward to seeing as many members as possible there. Book now if you haven’t already done so! Preparations are also under way for a three-day conference in Dublin in 2002, probably in September but the dates have yet to be finalised.

The next Council meeting is scheduled for 21st June; if you have any comments or wish to raise any issues, please contact me before then.

Lorraine Mepham, Secretary

Treasurer’s Notes

The Treasurer, Bob Will, has been sorting out the MPRG mailing list as it appears to have been getting out of control recently. Please tell him if you know of anyone who is a member but isn’t receiving either the newsletter or the journal.

Overseas members please note that eurocheques are no longer available and that banks are adding high bank charges for processing cheques. Girobank transfers appear to be the cheaper option.

Please remember to send in your subscriptions, which were due in February, if you haven’t already done so. Thanks.

Note Bob’s new address: GUARD, Dept. of Archaeology, The Gregory Building, University of Glasgow, G12 8QQ.

Regional Groups


?June, West Stow, Suffolk.

The long-running saga of the next SEMPER meeting continues! Due to foot and mouth restrictions, the venue is currently closed but will hopefully be accessible again by mid-June. Watch for news on the arch-pot and britarch email groups, and via the post. As previously advertised, the theme will be ‘Saxon pottery’ and will be held at West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village (am Early Saxon, pm Middle-Late Saxon, with an opportunity to visit the Saxon village and museum at lunchtime), and SEMPER members will be mailed when details are finalised.

For further details, contact Sue Anderson or Anna Slowikowski, tel 01234 270009).

Meetings and Conferences

Supernovas and Black Holes: regionalisation in portable antiquities of the medieval period

15th May, Society of Antiquaries, London

A one-day conference of the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Finds Research Group 700-1700. There will be papers on detector finds in Romney Marsh, medieval seals, heraldry in use, a view from an area not covered by the scheme, settlement patterns in Lincolnshire from metal-detected finds, recognising regionalisation in medieval portable antiquities, ‘all objects of all categories are made in all places at all times?’, and 19th century catalogues and the implications for regionalisation. For further information contact Quita Mould, Eastmoor Manor, Eastmoor, Kings Lynn, Norfolk PE33 9PZ, tel 01366 328910.

Viking Period Settlement in Britain and Ireland

4th–7th July, Cardiff University

The biennial conference of the Society for Medieval Archaeology will be held at the Centre for the Study of Medieval Society and Culture, Cardiff University, and the National Museum of Wales.

For further details contact Prof John Hines, Centre for the Study of Medieval Society and Culture, Cardiff University, PO Box 909, Cardiff, Wales, CF1 3XU.

International Medieval Congress

9th–12th July, University of Leeds

Information on the conference is available online, or by contacting the International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, tel 0113 233 3614.

Medieval Europe 2002

10th-15th September, Basel, Switzerland

Call for Papers and 1st Announcement

The theme of next year’s conference is ‘Centre – Region – Periphery’. Registration for papers or posters, with title and abstract, should be submitted by 1st May 2001. Further details from Medieval Europe Basel 2002, c/o Archaeologische Bodenforschung, Petersgraben 11, PO Box CH-4001, Basel, Switzerland. Fax +41-61-267 23 76, web

Ceramics Courses

Medieval Imported Pottery

10th-11th and 12th-13th September, University of Southampton

Subject to confirmation, two English Heritage-subsidised two-day practical training sessions will be held at Southampton this Autumn. They will follow the same format as previously, with lectures on, and handling of, pottery from Northern Europe, France and Iberia. The course will be taught by Duncan Brown and Alan Vince, with geological input from David Williams. These excellent and very popular courses are likely to be booked up quickly.

For further information or to book a place, please write to Sarah Jennings, English Heritage, Fort Cumberland, Eastney, Portsmouth PO9 4LD, fax 01705 838060.

MPRG Website

The new MPRG website is now online, providing information about publications and the MPRG conference, as well as up-to-date news, pottery links, and a contents list for all volumes of Medieval Ceramics. There will soon be a noticeboard for members to post queries, calls for help and items of news. Keep watching! The address is

Discussion Paper

These brief notes are intended to provoke discussion rather than point to any definite conclusions. The view expressed are entirely personal.

The fundamental unit of archaeological interpretation is the assemblage, and the basic tool of interpretation is the comparison of assemblages. Study of archaeological ceramics has so far concentrated mainly on the definition individual objects (vessels, sherds) and their characteristics (fabric, form, decoration, etc). This is a necessary stage for the discipline to pass through, but the time will come when much of this work will be considered to be ‘done’ (ie all common fabrics and forms will have been defined, sources sorted out, etc). We should therefore be thinking now about what comes next, or we face further diversion of resources as our task is perceived by others as ‘done’, or at least downgradeable to a purely technical task of sorting.

So – what comes ‘next’? Comparison of ceramic assemblages is seen in work at the ‘cutting edge’, eg that of Duncan Brown, and I have discussed elsewhere the issues of quantification needed for an appropriate level of comparison. But ceramics are only part of almost every archaeological assemblage, which are likely to comprise other classes of artefact (building material, ‘small finds’, etc) as well as ecofacts (animal bones, etc). Comparison of assemblages of small finds has been carried out at (eg) Winchester and York, and of animal bone assemblages at several places (eg London).

What I have not seen, but which seems the logical next step, is whole-assemblage comparison, including all classes of objects within as assemblage. This could open up a new dimension of interpretative possibilities – for example, do our ideas about ceramic ‘status’ correlate with those based on the supposed relative status of different parts of the body of animals consumed for their meat? The theoretical obstacles, such as the relative weighting of complete and incomplete ‘objects’, can now be overcome statistically (e.g. through Pie-slice). The major obstacles appear to be organisational, at both the local and at the institutional level. At the local level, different specialists prepare their archives and their reports, and never, so to speak, the twain shall meet. It may not even be possible to integrate their work if, for example, they have been using different software packages to catalogue their materials. At an institutional level, there is no collaboration between organisations that might be able to catch a vision, organise flagship projects, and influence the way the work is done on the ground. Is it time to be approaching other ‘umbrella’ organisations such as the Finds Research Group and the Association of Environmental Archaeologists, and bodies such as MoLSS which might have the data for such projects?

Clive Orton, MPRG President

New Publications

Scientific Analyses of Archaeological Ceramics

Katherine Barclay, 2000. Oxbow Books, £4.95, ISBN 1842170317.

This handbook sets out the range of information which might be sought in ceramic analyses and will be a useful resource tool for archaeologists, museums and specialists, who need to be familiar with terms and methods used by scientists in order to judge whether possible applications of science are likely to be meaningful. (Information from Oxbow Book News 47, Spring 2001).

Standards in Action. Working with Archaeology Book 3.

C Longworth and B Wood (eds), 2000. Society of Museum Archaeologists and MDA. A4 paperback, 60 pages. ISBN 1900642077. £15.

This is a set of guidance notes intended as a reference guide for anyone working with archaeological material which will eventually be deposited in a museum.

The book is divided into two main parts, the first a list of 30 ‘notes’ which cover aspects such as access and use, repositories and the archive, backlogs, ethical and legal issues, catalogues and recording, and selection and dispersal. The second part is entitled ‘Questions and Answers’ and consists of a series of flow-charts which present advice for a given set of scenarios, the outcomes of which are cross-referenced to the notes or to other published standards. There is also a glossary and a list of useful organisations. The document forms part of SPECTRUM, the UK documentation standard for museums.

Inevitably, given the originators of the document, most of these ‘questions’ relate specifically to museum workers, although a few mention ‘field archaeologists’ and the list of acknowledgements (presumably consultees) is also heavily biased towards the museums sector. However, archaeologists in all areas of the field need to be aware of the issues raised, as they affect the way we work and the archives we generate.

Standards in Action neatly summarises and draws together a range of earlier guidelines, such as those of the UKIC, MGC, Museums Association and SMA, and provides a useful reference for dealing with the main problems of archaeological archives.

Cera¡mica Nazara­ y Marina­

Transfretana 4, Ceuta, 31 May–2 June 1999. Published 2000. 376 pages, 26 plates. (€12.02 euros).

Collection of ten papers on ‘Hispano-Moresque’ pottery in Granada, Almeria, Malaga and North Africa. Available from Pórtico Librerías, Muñoz Seca 6, 50005 Zaragoza, Spain, fax +34 976 35 32 26.

MPRG Bibliography

It is a pleasure to announce that the Bibliography has now been published in its entirety on the Internet.

There are over twelve thousand records from Britain, Ireland and offshore islands in the database. A main query page allows users to ask complex questions such as ‘select all the reports from excavations in Scotland which include clay pipes’ (this returns 841 records) or ‘select all the sites from Norfolk where dating includes Middle Saxon’ (92 records) or ‘select within the grid square SJ 4066 all the reports from sites of type – Castles and Naval Earthworks’ (6 records). Users can choose a short, medium or long format for the output that is returned to their screen. Links with explanatory pages provide help with these choices. A further set of more straightforward queries allows searches by author, journal and range of publi-cation years or to find the details of an individual record using the index number.

These latter queries will allow you to check not only your own publications but also those in your geographic region. Despite a great deal of effort we are aware that there are still gaps and the only way we can fill these is for everyone to search for missing references. The main journals were thoroughly searched but it is the one-off monographs and local excavation reports which may have been missed. Instructions for collecting records for the bibliography are given on the web site. We will also be pleased to be informed of any errors in the data. If you have any problems or comments on the website, please email PRT @ Liverpool.

We are grateful to Susie White and Jenny Woodcock for their greats efforts in collecting, checking and inputting much of the data. English Heritage funded the project and we would like to thank them and particularly Sarah Jennings for her continued support. Many thanks must go to Nick Johnson who has done a tremendous job in getting the interface between the database and website to work efficiently.

Annual Bibliography

The website database will continue to be updated each year as the Annual Bibliography is produced. The production of the Annual Bibliography is no small task and it has been carried out in recent years by Peter Davey and David Higgins. The website gives full details of all the people, including volunteer compilers, who have been involved in the Annual Bibliography since 1984. David Higgins, after a major stint of eight years, has decided to retire from the job of collating and editing the Annual Bibliography. We are very pleased that Liz Pieksma has agreed to take on this task. Peter Davey will continue to oversee the project and maintain the website.

Philippa Tomlinson, Centre for Manx Studies

Student help wanted

A local group in Suffolk has been excavating Priory Farm, Preston St Mary for several years and now has an assemblage of medieval pottery which needs cataloguing. They have no funds, but hope a student may be interested in undertaking the work as part of a dissertation or post-graduate project, preferably in contact with the Suffolk Unit. Please contact Adrian Thorpe, Priory Farm, Preston St Mary, Sudbury, C010 9LT, tel 01787 247251 for further details.

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