The new Wiltshire Finds Liaison Officer (FLO), Wil Partridge, has quite a team working with him these days. At the moment, in addition to the new Finds Liaison Assistant, Sophie Hawke, with us for a few months, there are four or five regular Volunteers and assorted colleagues on work placements, etc. It’s just as well, for the metal detectorists’ finds come thick and fast.
Winter is a good time to be detecting, when there are no crops in the fields. The most common finds in Wiltshire? Roman coins, and more Roman coins. The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) encourages detectorists to bring in even the worst preserved of these (known as ‘grots’!) as all data obtained from these is important in providing an archaeological picture of what was happening all those centuries ago. Unless the coins are ‘treasure’ they are always returned to the detector after being processed by the PAS.
Sometimes it is not metal that arrives on Wil’s desk, but pottery, usually stumbled across by the detectorist when seeking those coins, but occasionally dug up by a farmer or gardener.
This is a sherd of Black Burnished Ware, c AD 250 – 410. In technical terms it is ” a coarse grained fabric, reduced grey-black throughout and containing abundant sub-angular quartz inclusions with infrequent small ferrous inclusions…the sherd exhibits burnishing on the exterior surface, with no surviving decoration.”
Black Burnished Ware was hand or wheel formed ‘coarse ware’ – sandy, rough pottery used for everyday kitchen and table ware such as jars, dishes and bowls. It was produced in huge numbers in the Poole (Dorset) area and distributed throughout Britain for centuries (pause to consider the logistics!). It was also produced in the Thames Estuary and in the Malverns. No wonder it turns up fairly frequently!
Pottery is important as a dating tool as it is well researched when and where certain types of pottery were made throughout history. If something metal (a knife, a key, a horseshoe…) turns up with the pot then the metal item can be dated with some certainty.
The Roman period, of course, is famous for its Samian Ware, a strikingly modern looking, characteristically red, ceramic. One of the ‘fine wares’. Quite a lot is brought to us here at the museum, sadly usually only fragments, but interesting nevertheless.
The technical description written by one of the PAS interns at Salisbury Museum is as follows: “A fragment of a Roman wheel made, Samian ware vessel. The fragment forms part of the body and is almost pentagonal shape. The sherd is an oxidised, sandy and pink colour fabric with an orange-red slip. There are no visible inclusions. The sherd is decorated with a stamp representing two figures. The figure on the left is bending forward the one on the right, extending his hand. The figure on the right is smaller than the first one and appears to hold something over his head. The scene is inserted into a circular and raised frame.”
A somewhat finer example of Samian ware from Vindolanda Museum (Northumberland).