No. 45 – April 2003

Secretary’s Notes

Council met on 21st January at the Society of Antiquaries. Once again this was a very full and productive meeting. The President began by congratulating all concerned on the appearance of Volume 24 of Medieval Ceramics (distributed early in January), and reported initial good feedback on the volume. Fundraising had drawn in sufficient money to cover the cost of producing Volume 24 and to make the production of Volume 25 viable. All being well, the latter should be ready in time for the June conference. The Editorial Committee are still actively seeking grants and sponsorship towards producing Medieval Ceramics, and are pursuing mutually beneficial advertising offers. With the emphasis of fundraising focused on the journal, production of our new publicity leaflet has stalled – preliminary efforts to attract sponsorship were unsuccessful, but we shall be returning to this at a later date.

MPRG was represented at the APPAG (All Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group) meeting in December. APPAG’s report has now been published. APPAG is concentrating its attention on SMRs, with a view to improving relevant legislation, but outside the meeting the lack of provision for synthetic projects was the subject of some dismay. This point is raised in the APPAG report, along with concern over the dwindling number of specialists, and a general lack of interest in artefacts. On a similar subject, an umbrella organisation (Heritage Link) has just been formed, to raise the profile of the Heritage sector with government, and Council felt that MPRG should become involved if at all practicable. We are also considering closer links with other societies, such as the Societies for Medieval Archaeology and Post-Medieval Archaeology, and the Finds Research Group. We should be making our voice heard.

From the Treasurer, the news that the Group is solvent was thankfully received. Thanks to our Membership Secretary’s work on the membership list, subscriptions have been successfully chased, although we still have a problem with institutional members whose annual payments are more difficult to track. Gift Aid also seems to have been causing some confusion – the Treasurer has received contradictory responses from the Inland Revenue on the subject, and is still not sure what is correct. Despite this uncertainty, we are re-circulating the Gift Aid forms with this newsletter – please take a moment to fill one in and return it, unless you have already done so, or think that your tax definitely cannot be claimed back.

Our Bibliography co-ordinator, Liz Pieksma, sadly announced her resignation at the meeting due to other commitments. Council decided that this would be a good time to consider what we really need from the Bibliography, and how it should be structured. Meanwhile we thank Liz for all her hard work on the Bibliography so far.

The next MPRG annual meeting is in Nottingham on 14th June, with the theme of Technology – advance publicity has already been circulated and a number of bookings made. Fuller details and booking forms are enclosed with this newsletter – we hope to see as many members as possible there for what promises to be a stimulating conference. Our AGM will also be held at the conference, and an agenda with accompanying minutes, etc. is also enclosed here.

On a sad note, the recent death was announced of Peter Farmer, whom some of us met last year in Dublin, a conference which he made the effort to attend after an absence from active participation in the Group of many years. An obituary will appear in the next volume of Medieval Ceramics.

The next Council meeting will be held in the third week in June; if you have any comments or wish to raise any issues, please contact me before then.

Lorraine Mepham, Secretary

John Hurst

All of us involved with archaeological ceramic studies were shocked to hear of the violent death of John Hurst in Stamford. Struck down with him was his lifetime store of knowledge and experience, much of it irreplaceable. Our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time. A full obituary will appear in Medieval Ceramics.

Maureen Mellor, President

Bird Pots – Appeal for Information

MPRG has received the following appeal for information regarding bird pots:

I am currently at UCL researching the instance of Bird pots/bottles/jars (also referred to as nesting pots or sparrow pots or starling pots) in the archaeological record.

bird pots
Type 2 above, Type 1 below

These red or grey earthenware vessels have a date range of c1500 to c1850 and are usually locally made, but occasionally seem to be Dutch imports. The fifty or so I know of, from the London area, are of two types. The majority are Type 1 (see photos – a cutaway base with a keyhole attachment, plus nib or handle with a hole for a perch) with only two Type 2s (see photos – square cutaway in the base and a separate hole for attachment to the wall of a building). A number of other types are known from Dutch paintings. If you have, or know of, any complete pots or sherds, I would be very grateful if you could fill in the information requested below and return it to Mr ATD Cooper, 59 Potters Road, Barnet, Hertfordshire EN5 5HS.

  1. Site address; date excavated; type of structure excavated
  2. Context; description; spotdate of context; earliest date; latest date
  3. Bird pot type if known; description of sherds or complete pot
  4. Dimensions if possible (mm); base diam; rim diam; height; colour; fabric
  5. Estimated number of vessels; current location; publication reference
  6. Any other known literary reference
  7. What is believed to be the function of these pots?
  8. Other comments; Museum Accession Number

Undelivered Medieval Ceramics

Two journals of Vol 24 (surname A-N) were delivered back to MoLSS with address labels missing so we have no way of knowing who didn’t receive their journal. These people need to contact Nigel Jeffries at MoLSS.

Worcestershire Online Ceramic Fabric and Form Type-Series

The Worcestershire online fabric and form type-series is the first part of Pottery in Perspective, an innovative project to provide information on the pottery used in Worcestershire from prehistory to cAD1900.

The county fabric series currently contains 250 pottery types dating from the Neolithic to the 19th century and includes types which are of national and international interest. Extensive analysis of ceramic production and consumer sites has resulted in a substantial corpus of illustrated vessel forms. These resources, along with the results of 30 years research and synthesis, are essential to researchers studying material culture in the Worcestershire region, but are not generally easily accessible.

The online fabric and form type-series brings this data together into one accessible research resource. For each type of pottery the database contains information on:

  • Fabric
  • Manufacture
  • Forms
  • Source
  • Distribution
  • Date

In addition there are magnified images of pottery sections to aid identification, together with bibiographical references for each fabric including cross references to other fabric series. The search engine facilitates general and detailed searches.

The database you can see now is just a small part of the whole project and will develop over the next two years. At the moment it only contains information on medieval fabrics but, when complete, it will include:

  • Prehistoric, Roman and post-medieval fabrics (Roman fabrics by June 2003, prehistoric fabrics by December 2003, post-medieval fabrics by June 2004)
  • Overviews of the ceramic history of the county
  • A form type-series for each fabric with descriptions, images, dates and bibliographies
  • Information on kiln sites, including text, dates, maps and bibliographies
  • Descriptions and images of thin sections
  • Photographs of typical sherds as well as sections
  • Database of all the pottery assemblages in the county linked to the Historic Environment Record GIS

This digital resource will help researchers address the complex economic and social questions generated by the material, and has regional and national applications. At present this is a specialist database, but it is being developed for use in schools as well as in the wider community.

We are hoping that the project provides a model for the dissemination of resources using the web. The wider adoption of this model for regional or national fabric and form type-series would provide a resource flexible enough to cope with regional traditions but consistent enough to facilitate the study of widely distributed pottery types.

The fabric and form series was developed by the Archaeology Service of Worcestershire County Council. Its development as an online resource is being undertaken with the Ceramic Research Centre (a partnership between Worcester Archaeology Service and University College Worcester). The software was developed by OxfordArchDigital. It is a research resource which will support the Historic Environment Record for Worcestershire. For more information on the HER please visit our website.

Fabric series example 2
Fig 2. Example of the form series

Fabric series example 1
Fig 1. Example of general information in the fabric series.

Regional Group Reports

Scottish Group

Ring Vase Image

Ring vase

Ongoing excavations by SUAT Ltd at Horsecross in Perth have recovered a fragment of a glazed ceramic ring vase (see picture). This is the first such Scottish example known to the author and appears to be directly associated with the site of the medieval chapel of St. Laurence which stood on part of the site until the 16th century.

Minimum Standards

A recent seminar at Historic Scotland addressed several worrying trends identified by members of the Scottish Group during the fieldwork elements of the important review. This includes excavated ceramics not being marked prior to study and a general sloppiness in the naming of fabrics and their dating. The seminar was very successful and several suggestions at the best way forward are in the process of being addressed by the group.

C14 dates from shelly ware at Perth High Street

Derek Hall has now received all the dates from the sherds of carbonised shelly ware from this excavation. All of them fall consistently between the 9th and 11th centuries AD and would seem to indicate that the early phases of activity on this site are pre-burgal. The identification of these fabrics as being London-type shelly wares would now seem unlikely given such early dates, further research will be required.

Scottish contact

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *