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Wiltshire’s FLO (Finds Liaison Officer), Wil Partridge, his assistant Sophie Hawke and eight Volunteers gathered at Wessex Archaeology last weekend to be trained by Lorraine Mepham, nationally recognised pottery specialist, on the identification of Roman pottery.

Lorraine Mepham and some of her students

Wessex Archaeology have a huge archive of pots and pottery sherds and it was good to be able to handle and familiarise ourselves with so many. Lorraine unsparingly shared her knowledge and expertise and we were taken through the importance of recognising the fabric of a pot (ie not just the clay, of course, but the inclusions, the slip, the glaze and other finishes). Inclusions (small particles of materials other than the clay, eg flint, sand, shell) may occur naturally but were also introduced by potters to strengthen the clay. They also used grog – crumbs of fired pot – as inclusion. We can learn a lot from being able to identify these, and because some may be geologically distinctive, it is now possible, with modern science and technology, to match pottery finds with individual kiln sites.

Even before the Roman invasion of AD 43 pottery from the Empire was being imported, even moreso, of course, after that date. But local pottery was still made (particularly coarseware – for the kitchen, etc), and eventually British potteries began to copy Roman types.

Mortaria were Roman vessels – wide, shallow pots with a gritty substance lining the base to be used for grinding fruits, nuts, garlic, etc. This is a sherd from a British version, showing the archaeologist how and when diet began to change with Roman settlement.

Copies of the famous Roman Samian fineware, eventually made all over the Empire, began to be imitated here after about AD 250. The British potteries never quite made the best. Lorraine (perhaps diplomatically) suggested this was because we didn’t have the right clays here.

Samian bowl (probably from Gaul (France)


A perhaps particularly poor British copy of Samian. The covering slip is nearly worn off, but this may, in part be due to the conditions it has endured in the last 1 800 years!

From top left clockwise: an indented beaker made in the New Forest; a strainer (spot the holes) made on the Hants/Surrey border; a flagon also made there; grey ware; Black Burnished ware made around Poole harbour and distributed all over the country.

A wonderful day. Thank you Lorraine.

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