Material Histories 4 – Gritty Ware

Material Histories 4 – Gritty Ware

(An occasional series to help you keep sane in an insane world)

Gritty Ware is a catch all term for medieval pottery made of pale grey through to red brown fabrics with angular to sub angular quartz rich grit temper. Fabric is a collective term for the materials used to construct the body of the ceramic object and temper is the stuff added to the clay to stop the pottery breaking when fired. The gritty temper in the fabric gives it a texture that has been likened to toad skin.

Early in the medieval period it was unglazed but by the thirteenth century the use of glazes was widespread. The most common colour in North Western assemblages seems to be a translucent yellow green. The glaze was generally ‘splashed’ from the late twelfth century with covering glazes becoming the norm in the late thirteenth to fourteenth centuries. Bright green to blue/green glazes become popular in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries though in the North West they seem to stick with the yellow/green more than in other parts of England. Unglazed and partially glazed wares continued to be made, especially for use in cooking.

Very few production centres have been found in the North West and it was long conjectured that most was being brought in from other areas, notably form Yorkshire along the salt trading routes. This is probably true to an extent but I feel certain that there was a reasonable sized production centre in east Lancashire and others elsewhere too. If there was, they are yet to be discovered, though the pottery found in the county, and the post Medieval ceramic industry, support the likelihood of local kilns.

Gritty Ware body sherd
Gritty Ware body sherd

Our featured find is from near Burnley in the east of Lancashire. It a splash glazed body sherd from a large vessel, probably a storage container of some kind. It has a ‘reduced’ fabric which means that inside ‘core’ of the vessel did not ‘oxidise’ or react to oxygen during firing in the kiln. Similar fabrics have been found nearby at Whalley (Museum Of Lancashire collection) and at the excavation of a Medieval site a few miles to the north of Burnley. Dates from c1150 to c1400 AD.

https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/575020

Material Histories 3 – Iron

Material Histories 3 – Iron

(An occasional series to help you keep sane in an insane world)

Iron was a widely used material in antiquity, yet it is under-represented on the PAS database, especially in comparison to copper alloys. There are two primary reasons for this. The first, most obvious, reason is that it is reclaimed by the earth. It rusts away to next to nothing, or into a blob that requires x-rays to determine what it once was. The second is due to discrimination. The majority of finds on the database are detectorist finds and most detectorists continue to dial iron out. This leads to a recording bias. If it is not being looked for, it has less chance of being found. These factors make our featured find all the more remarkable.

It is an almost complete Roman iron hipposandal. These were used on horses with injured hooves, a equine orthopaedic shoe of sorts. The hipposandal is formed from a sub oval plate which tapers towards the front and rear with projections at the front, back and on either side. The two projections or wings to the sides are damaged and incomplete due to corrosion. The heel is upturned at about 45 degrees and flares outwards. It would have terminated with a downward facing hook, but that is now missing. The base of the sole is flat. The loop located by the toe is complete, still bent upwards at a 90 degree angle.

Roman Iron Hipposandal, c43 to c200 AD
Roman Iron Hipposandal, c43 to c200 AD

Overall, the hipposandal is in good condition for a Roman iron object. It is a Type 1 hipposandal as classified by Aubert in “Revue des Musees” (1929) and followed by Manning in “Catalogue of the Romano-British Iron Tools, Fittings and Weapons in the British Museum ” (Manning, 1985, pp 63-66).

The finder had the hipposandal preserved at Lancashire Conservation Studios in Preston. The image was taken by the conservator.

The material we will be looking at next time is Gritty Ware.

Material Histories 2 – Marles Chert

Material Histories 2 – Marles Chert

(An occasional series to help you keep sane in an insane world)

Marles Chert is named after the area in Lancashire where it was first recorded many years ago. This burin was found about ten miles away from that site and the stone is likely to have been sourced from either glacial drift or a local stream. Marles like chert has been found in Cumbria and North Yorkshire as well, but is most prevalent in lithic assemblages from northern and eastern Lancashire, and the Calderdale area of West Yorkshire.

It is characterised by its glassy appearance and tiny sub-rectangular voids that occur in places. If there are not too many voids, then it makes a good robust material for creating stone tools. Its colour varies with different mineral content, and lithic implements have been found that were made of dark purplish Marles Chert. Our featured find, a Late Neolithic to Early Iron Age chert burin, is made from the typical black form of the chert.

It has been formed on a secondary piece of Marles Chert, probably a worked out core. The retained limestone cortex on the proximal end exhibits quite a high degree of wear, and there is wear gloss on most of the chert. There is sub-parallel, semi-short, abrupt retouch to the shorter of the tool’s mesals (side edges). This is probably to make the tool more ergonomic but would also have created a small but functional side scraper. The shoulder of this mesal has been reduced with a series of removals at its distal end. The longer mesal has short, abrupt, semi-parallel retouch at its proximal end. The burin has been formed at the distal point with three removals creating a concave sided point 2mm high. There are other areas on the edges and ridges which have very removals, but these are possibly the result of natural agencies.

The tool probably dates to between c2700 and c400 BC. The possibility exists that it may be an unusual Mesolithic form of burin, but the majority of burins of that period in the locale are either on existing tools or microliths or micro-debitage.

Late Neolithic to Early Iron Age Marles chert burin
Late Neolithic to Early Iron Age Marles chert burin

Material Histories 1 – Lead and Lead alloy

Material Histories 1 – Lead and Lead alloy

(An occasional series to help you keep sane in an insane world)

Lead and its alloys are possibly the most under appreciated material that occurs in the archaeological record. It has not received the attention that other utilitarian metals, especially copper and its alloys, have enjoyed. All to often lead objects are weighed in by their finders, or not recorded because comparatively little diagnostic work has been done on them. Many of the established ‘rules of thumb’ are incorrect and based on assumptions. There is a growing awareness of this and hopefully the objects recorded by the public on the Portable Antiquities Scheme’s database will provide a constantly expanding resource for experts to study.

A recycled lead token may net its finder a penny or two, but it is then lost to us all and cannot contribute to the story of Britain. It is the everyday story that needs to be read now, the story of the privileged and powerful has been the centre of attention for too long. Lead is a very useful material. It is heavy, malleable, and slow to rot. It is why it is constantly melted down and turned into new objects. Every now and then a lucky member of the public finds a lead based object that can still tell us its whole story. Our featured find, a lead and lead alloy suspended weight, is one such find.

The weight, found in Cumbria, is hollow with a perforation approximately 23mm in diameter in the base. 7mm inside this perforation is a purer layer of lead with a central smaller perforation of 16mm x 11mm. The centre of the weight contains a void with an approximate maximum diameter of 35mm and an approximate maximum depth of 25mm. The shank of the iron suspension loop is visible inside this void and is approximately 12mm long. The two layers of lead show that the original Roman to Medieval weight had been recoated in a lead alloy of lesser purity at a later period, probably Post Medieval. The ‘repair’ may have enabled this humble object to remain in use from c43 AD up until quite recently.

LANCUM-B1D420

Roman to Post Medieval lead and lead alloy suspended weight