Iron Age ceramics
Later Bronze Age or earlier Iron Age pottery has been recovered from Finningley (Manby 2010), and a few mostly unstratified sherds from Sutton Common (Cumberpatch, Vince and Knight 2007). For many years, the only later Iron Age pottery known from South Yorkshire was from Pickburn Leys (Sydes 1993: 39-41; Sydes and Symonds 1985), but this situation has changed with the increased volume of developer-funded fieldwork and improved on-site sampling. Much of the Iron Age pottery from South Yorkshire was coarse, poorly fired and fragile, and where organic or shell tempers were used these have often leached out leaving voids. Many sherds thus do not last long in ploughsoil and might not survive even in stratified contexts or be readily recognised during excavation (Cumberpatch and Robbins n.d.; Cumberpatch and Webster 1998). Nonetheless, pottery still seems to have been relatively scarce compared to some other regions. Decoration was rare or absent.
East Midlands Scored Ware was found at Redhouse Farm, Adwick-le-Street (Cumberpatch 2004b). These vessels had surfaces brushed with twigs or scored with vertical or curving lines, with more regular or comb decoration in later vessels (Elsdon 1992: 84; Knight 2002: 133-134). This tradition originated in the late 5th or earlier 4th centuries BC around the Nene, Welland, lower Trent and Ouse valleys, extending north to Staffordshire, Derbyshire and South Yorkshire, east to Lincolnshire, and south to Leicestershire and Hertfordshire. Lug-handled vessels have possibly been found at Topham Farm, Sykehouse (Cumberpatch 2003: 19). Also significant were Iron Age Shell Tempered Wares, usually hand-made, and possibly derived from sources in Lincolnshire or around the Humber estuary, but also possible sources in the Trent Valley. It has been found at Topham Farm, Sykehouse; Enclosure E1 at Redhouse Farm, Adwick-le-Street; at Balby Carr; Pastures Road, Mexborough; Marr; Goldthorpe; possibly Pickburn Leys and Ashfields, Stainforth; and at Rossington Grange and Rossington Bridge (Cumberpatch 1985, 2003, 2004b, 2005, 2006, 2008a, 2008c; Cumberpatch and Leary 2014; Dransfield and Harvey 2012; Leary 2010a; Rowlandson, Monteil and Hartley 2016). This pottery is fragile and prone to fragmentation. Its dating is problematic, and as with some Scored Ware, Shell Tempered Ware in late Iron Age forms continued in use into the 1st and 2nd centuries AD (Evans, Wild and Willis 2005: 135).
Hand-made Iron Age pottery, including some with a distinctive ‘soapy’ texture, has been recovered from sites such as Topham Farm, Sykehouse; Pastures Road, Mexborough; Balby Carr; and Nutwell Lane and Gunhills Armthorpe. These were produced using quartz, sand or sandstone tempers, and the former may have been manufactured locally (Cumberpatch 2003, 2008a, 2008b, 2016; Cumberpatch and Webster 1998: 21; Leary, Evans et al. 2008: 28). Other locally made vessels that probably extended in date from the late Iron Age into the early Romano-British period include grog-tempered wares from Armthorpe and Rossington Bridge (Buckland, Hartley and Rigby 2001: 79; Cumberpatch 2001; Evans 2001a; Leary, Evans et al. 2008). Grog was derived from older, broken-up vessels, and if these were associated with specific individuals and/or events this may have reinforced familial and symbolic links between old and the new (q.v. Hill 2002: 152; Woodward 2002: 109).
Sherds from possible briquetage or coarse ceramic salt containers have been identified at Topham Farm Sykehouse (Cumberpatch and Roberts 2003: 24); perhaps from coastal salterns in Lincolnshire. Fired clay loomweights are often a feature of Iron Age sites in other regions, but few have been identified in South Yorkshire. Fragments of some were excavated at Jump, however, from a pit also containing burnt bone, coarse vesicular late Iron Age or early Romano-British pottery, a burnt quern fragment, and charcoal (Robinson and Johnson 2007: 8-9). Possible late Iron Age or early Romano-British clay loomweights have been identified at Rossington Bridge (Buckland, Hartley and Rigby 2001: 34, fig. 32), and at Hatfield Lane Edenthorpe (Rowlandson 2015a: 31-32). A triangular clay loomweight was found at Church Walk, Doncaster (Cool 2008b: 139, fig. 40.11).
Most hand-made ceramics were probably produced at a domestic scale. The small numbers of pots produced by individuals might have had associations with those who had made them (Hill 2002: 153; Willis 1999: 90), especially where pots were physically marked by the fingertips and nails of their makers (q.v. Giles 2007b: 242). Most Iron Age pottery vessels found in South Yorkshire have been ‘closed’ forms such as barrel jars and open jars, although a few bowls have been identified (e.g. Cumberpatch 2003: 23, 2016: 10-11). This implies that ceramics were utilised primarily for the preparation and storage of food rather than its serving and consumption, for which wood and leather vessels and basketry may have been employed instead. A few jars were large vessels that would have been difficult to transport even when empty (ibid. 2003: 19). Together with its scarcity and restricted patterns of deposition, this all suggests that pottery was not a primary medium of everyday food production and consumption during the later Iron Age. Many households may have had a maximum of one or two ceramic vessels at any time.
Some Iron Age vessel forms were produced well into the 1st and 2nd centuries AD (Cumberpatch and Robbins n.d.; Darling 1995; Leary, Evans et al. 2008: 28). At many sites coarse or vesicular pottery may be Iron Age, or early Romano-British ceramics made in an Iron Age tradition. Such wares have been excavated at Church Field, Rossington (Atkinson 1998), Far Field Road, Edenthorpe (Darling 2004); Holme Hall Quarry, Stainton (Leary, Ward and Vince 2007), Windhill Plantation, Norton (Burgess 2001c), Barnburgh Hall (Evans and Ward 2005), Roebuck Hill, Jump (Didsbury 2007), Stainforth Marina (Rowlandson 2014); and at Deepwell Mews, Halfway and Whirlow Hall Farm, Sheffield (Vyner 2018; Waddington 2012).
The few thin-section studies that have taken place (e.g. Vince 2007) have tended to be site or project specific, limiting their usefulness for wider comparative purposes. Some vessels or clays might have been locally produced, others coming from north Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and the Humber area, but there are also parallels with ceramics in eastern Yorkshire (Cumberpatch 2008, 2016). A detailed comparative study of prehistoric ceramic forms and fabrics from across the region is highly desirable, but this must also be a comprehensive contextual-based study.
The Romano-British pottery industries of South Yorkshire are relatively well-known and published, but there are still many questions remaining concerning ceramic production, consumption, and deposition.
Some of the earliest Roman-style ceramics in South Yorkshire were probably produced by military pottery workshops or figlinae. These might have included some early mid to late 1st century vessels and wasters excavated at Templeborough (May 1922 235-7; Swan 2002: 35). Roof tiles with the stamp of the auxiliary unit cohors IV Gallorum but also the Legio IX Hispania were excavated at Templebrough (May 1922: 122-3, plate xxxvii), along with box flue tiles (tubuli) and ceramic roof antefixes. These were probably produced in Templeborough during the late 1st to early 2nd century AD (Stephens 1986: 17), a practice widely adopted during the reign of Trajan (AD 98–117). This is similar to the early military figlina excavated at Grimescar Wood near Huddersfield that supplied ceramic tiles and pottery vessels including bowls, cooking jars, flagons and mortaria to the forts at Slack and Castleford during the later 1st century AD (Betts 1998; Purdy and Manby 1973). There is an apparent temporal gap between the conquest of the north and these early ceramics products, and the wider adoption of Roman-style pottery, which does not really seem to have occurred in South Yorkshire until AD 120–130. It is unclear if there were as yet unlocated kilns producing pottery during this period, but the products were not widely distributed locally; as yet unexcavated assemblages (Daniel 2017: 29), or if there was a lack of a local market, perhaps caused by initial resistance to Romanised material culture.
The area around Doncaster saw a large number of pottery kilns established from the 2nd century AD onwards, many of which have been excavated and published (e.g. Annable 1956; Buckland and Dolby 1980; Buckland, Hartley and Rigby 2001; Buckland and Magilton 2005; Buckland, Magilton and Dolby 1980; Cregeen 1957; Gilmour 1954, 1955, 1956). Grey wares were produced at Cantley and Blaxton, with a form of Black Burnished ware and so-called ‘Parisian ware’ also being made at Rossington Bridge. Some of the Cantley kilns and pottery from them excavated by J.R. Lidster and J. Pallister in the 1950s and early 1960s have still not been fully published, however (Buckland and Magilton unpublished). Some of the vessels seem to have been transported directly up north to military garrisons along Hadrian’s Wall at Vindolanda and South Shields (Swan 2002: 59). This military demand seems to have declined by the later 2nd century however (Buckland, Magilton and Dolby 1980: 163). It is unclear if this reflects contracts lost to other producers, or if military preferences simply changed. Thereafter until the 4th century, much of the South Yorkshire pottery production was probably focused principally on local consumers.
It is still unclear how this industry was organised. A notable and intriguing figure is the potter called Sarrius who was producing mortaria in the Mancetter-Hartshill potteries in Warwickshire, but who then seems to have established subsidiary workshops including one at Rossington Bridge (Buckland 1986: 45; Buckland, Hartley and Rigby 2001: 45-7, 86), probably during AD 135–165/170. These may have been associated with two men called Secundua and Setibocius. It is unclear whether Sarrius would have employed freedmen or slaves, or both. The South Yorkshire potteries may have been located to take advantage of the presence of the road to Castleford, York and the north; but also the Rivers Torne and Don. Administrative and tax reasons might also have played a part (Buckland, Hartley and Rigby 2001: 86). Frustratingly, very few associated or ancillary features associated with the Cantley, Blaxton and Rossington Bridge kilns survived and/or were recorded during the 1950s–1960s excavations, so the spatial organisation of the production centres is unclear. No specialist structures or centralised workshops appear to have been recorded. More recent investigations, however, have provided some clues.
At St Wilfrid’s Road, Cantley, a late 2nd to early 3rd century ditched enclosure was associated with significant quantities of pottery including a large dump of kiln wasters, but also ‘domestic’ features such as small ovens and possible traces of buildings (Daley 2007: 11-14, fig. 4). At Rossington Grange Farm, the south-eastern part of Enclosure 6 contained remains of three pottery kilns (Roberts and Weston 2016: 16-17, fig. 8, plate 3), whilst a ditch to the north-east contained another large dump of ceramics, including warped waster vessels but also pottery from domestic use (Rowlandson, Monteil and Hartley 2016: 22). There was also evidence of crop processing. Warped and cracked vessels deposited in pits and ditches of enclosures at Hatfield Lane, Edenthorpe suggested the presence of one or more pottery kilns nearby (Rowlandson 2015a: 25), but crop processing was also taking place there (Weston and Roberts 2015: 47).
These examples suggest that for some at least, pottery production was not rigidly centrally organised, and the potters or their families were also farmers. Pottery production might have been undertaken in ‘slack periods’ during the agricultural year, and thus perhaps on a seasonal basis. Potting was probably not a high-status or lucrative occupation, and so incomes would either have had to have been supplemented by agricultural produce; or these formed the main basis of subsistence with ceramics merely an additional, even occasional source of income. To the east of Cantley a group of three to four unusual small oval and sub-oval enclosures were photographed by Derrick Riley (SLAP Riley 51 SE627025), but to this author’s knowledge these have never been investigated further. The purpose of the enclosures is unclear and their date is still unknown, but it is possible that they might have been associated in some way with pottery production.
There are additional gaps in knowledge regarding the South Yorkshire pottery industries. There are similarities between the ‘native-style’ jars found at sites such as Topham Farm, Sykehouse and a type of pottery (GTA 17 ware, usually in bead-rim jars) found at Doncaster, which may be further indication of local manufacture continued by indigenous potters (Leary, Williams et al. 2008: 67). Typologically similar vessels are also found in Nottinghamshire, north Lincolnshire and Humberside where they are most commonly found in post-conquest groups, but there seem to have been differences in the fabrics used, which thin-section analyses might clarify (ibid.: 51). The products from Blaxton, Cantley, and Rossington Bridge were produced over a lengthy period from the 2nd to 4th century and were stylistically conservative with comparatively little variation in forms over time. This creates problems not only in understanding any changes in production and supply over time, but also in dating features using such pottery. Detailed characteristics of individual types are chronological significant (ibid.), and this indicates why it can be important that even grey ware assemblages should be fully published and illustrated.
Some artefacts associated with pottery production have been excavated – stone burnishers at Rossington Bridge, including a re-used Neolithic polished stone axe; and a flat rotary quern modified as a possible potter’s kick wheel (Lloyd Morgan 2001: 27, 28, figs 25, 30). Other stones and re-used querns might have been the pivots for potters’ wheels, and one quern fragment may have been used for crushing red ochre pigment. A ceramic brush handle with holes for bristles and a stylised swan motif was found at Cantley kiln 33 (Buckland, Magilton and Dolby 1980: 152, fig. 5).
In terms of ceramic consumption, outside of Doncaster and military sites cooking pots and storage jars generally predominated in most South Yorkshire Romano-British assemblages, with smaller numbers of bowls. Tablewares such as platters, dishes, flagons, flasks, cups, tankards, beakers and other ceramic vessels used for the presentation and consumption of food and drink were usually rarer. This might imply a resistance to ‘Romanised’ practices of eating and drinking, but it is also possible that wooden vessels served this purpose on many rural settlements. Some ceramic colanders or cheese presses are also known (e.g. Rowlandson 2015b: 9).
Imported continental wares found in Doncaster included samian from southern and central Gaul, amphorae from Spain, colour-coated wares from the Rhineland, and a few mortaria from northern Gaul (Buckland 1986; Dickinson 1986; Hartley 1986; Leary, Williams et al. 2009). These types were relatively rare outside Doncaster, however, and samian ware was scarce on most Roman-period sites. At Armthorpe part of a samian dish dated to AD 70–100 was a rare early form (Leary, Evans et al. 2008: 42), and at Topham Farm, Sykehouse a roundhouse was associated with two samian sherds dating to AD 100–130 (Cumberpatch, Leary and Willis 2003: 22, nos 10, 14a). Overall however, much of the samian ware at rural sites such as Armthorpe and Holme Hall Farm was produced after the middle of the 2nd century AD. This was also the case for the unusual deposit of two near complete samian bowls in a pit at Hatfield Lane, Edenthorpe (Rowlandson and Monteil 2015: 25). Even the relatively ‘Romanised’ settlement at Holme Hall Quarry, Stainton produced just 45 sherds of samian from 27 vessels (Leary, Ward and Vince 2007: 47). Outside Doncaster and within or close to military sites such as Templeborough and Rossington Bridge (Leary 2010b), samian generally only occurred on a few rural settlements as small numbers of worn sherds; as at Whirlow Hall Farm, Topham Farm, Sykehouse; Billingley Drive, Thurnscoe; Armthorpe, and Rossington Grange Farm (Beswick 2017c: 60-1; Cumberpatch, Leary and Willis 2004: 22, 24; Didsbury, Dickinson and Hartley 2004: 34; Leary, Evans and Hartley 2008: 28-31; Rowlandson, Monteil and Hartley 2016: 22). This is similar to Romano-British rural settlements in West Yorkshire. Either people on rural settlements did not desire samian and other imported vessel types, or they were outside the networks of its distribution and sale or exchange.
The context in which samian was supposedly used across the Roman Empire, mostly as tableware for the presentation and consumption of food and drink, was not always how it was utilised in provincial households. There is evidence at some sites in Britain such as Scrooby Top in Nottinghamshire (Robbins 2000) of samian being sooted or burnt from cooking fires, showing that it was sometimes used to prepare food; and several such examples were noted at Church Walk Doncaster (Leary, Williams et al. 2008: 65). This indicates how Roman material culture could be reinterpreted in local ways. Residue studies of mortaria in Britain have also demonstrated much variety in their uses and that in addition to processing animal fats, they were also utilised on occasion for spice or plant preparation, but were generally not simply new forms of vessels put to existing Iron Age-style food preparation uses (Cramp, Evershed and Eckardt 2011: 1347-9). At Stanwick in North Yorkshire, however, mortaria do seem to have been used for milk or cheese processing, an adaption to localised traditions.
There may have been early military production of mortaria at Templeborough, as May (1922: 112) records finding wasters that were probably from nearby kilns. South Yorkshire white slipped ware, Mancetter-Hartshill, Swanpool and Verulamium-type mortaria have all been found at Doncaster (Buckland and Magilton 1986; Hartley 1986; Leary, Williams et al. 2008); but have also been recovered as small numbers of sherds from some domestic sites including Whirlow Hall Farm (Beswick 2017c: 57), Topham Farm, Sykehouse (Cumberpatch, Leary and Willis 2004: 24), Billingley Drive, Thurnscoe (Didsbury, Dickinson and Hartley 2004: 35-6), FARRRS (Rowlandson 2015b: 9-10), St Wilfrid’s Road, Cantley (Leary 2007), Holme Hall Quarry (Leary, Ward and Vince 2007: 28), Rossington Grange Farm (Rowlandson, Monteil and Hartley: 22-3) and probably from the bathhouse at Hazel Lane Quarry, Hampole (Bevan 2006b: 27), although the latter pottery assemblage remains unpublished. In the 3rd and 4th century black iron slag was crushed and used as trituration grits in grey ware mortaria (Cumberpatch, Leary and Willis 2004: 22). Like the iron smelting kiln at Cantley, this may again imply interesting economic and social connections between metalworking and pottery production.
Roman ceramic oil lamps or lucernae were rare in South Yorkshire. A partial example was recorded at Templeborough (May 1922: 117, plate xxxvii). One allegedly found at High Street, Doncaster before the First World War (Bailey 1986: 114, fig. 26) may be a relatively modern ‘import’ from Italy or North Africa rather than from an archaeological deposit. Four complete examples with makers’ stamps of late 1st to early 2nd century AD date were deposited in the cremation cemetery at Doncaster Waterdale; and these originated in East Gaul and Kӧln (Griffiths 2013: 85-6). A more fragmented example from the same context may have been made in Italy. Although Iron Age-style roundhouses might have relied on central hearths for internal lighting, if oil lamps were rare then how Roman-period rectangular buildings were lit inside and experienced by the occupants must so far remain unknown.
Apart from the early kiln at Templeborough, the nature and extent of Roman tile and brick production and consumption in South Yorkshire is also almost unknown. At Doncaster, the Roman brick and tile assemblage from the 1960s and 1970s rescue excavations has not been published, though the excavation report notes its occurrence in some features (e.g. Buckland and Magilton 1986: 52). At Church Walk, Roman tile tegulae and imbrices, box-flue tiles or tubuli, and brick bessales, pedales and bipedales were all identified (Tibbles and Tibbles 2008: 109-113), some with traces of mortar and opus signinum adhering to them; though much of the assemblage was residual in medieval contexts. The presence of several wasters and low-quality ‘seconds’ suggested at least some localised manufacture.
In line with the lack of evidence for Roman-style rectangular buildings, however, outside of Doncaster and Templeborough few sites have produced tiles. Hypocaust pilae and roof tiles were recovered from Hazel Lane Quarry, both in association with the possible bathhouse but also in some outlying features (e.g. Pine 2002; Pine and Taylor 2003, 2006). Occasional finds on rural settlements hint at tiled roofs on ‘Romanised’-style buildings located nearby. That no definitive remains of such buildings have been identified to date might mean that these were comprehensively robbed after abandonment, and the materials re-used. Eight fragments of tegula and imbrex roof tiles were found in a ditch and in two waterholes at Rossington Inland Port (Daniel, Harrison and Powell 2014b: 14), which along with a fragment of Roman window glass might hint at such a building somewhere in the area; and five tegulae fragments came from Rossington Grange Farm (Mills 2015: 60). Alternatively, these examples could simply represent materials re-used for other purposes.
Part of a moulded terracotta clay figurine was found at Doncaster High Street (Jenkins 1986: 112-3) and was probably from Cologne and of early 2nd century date. No other such ‘pipe-clay’ figurines are known from South Yorkshire.
Pottery production at the Rossington Bridge kilns and perhaps from as yet unexcavated kilns at Blaxton continued into the 4th century, but their products were increasingly only for local consumption. Across northern Britain, Dales ware and ceramics from York, Crambeck, and Huntcliff became dominant (Buckland, Magilton and Dolby 1980: 146-7; Swan 2002: 72-3). There was a general decline in tablewares. Much more work is still needed on how these macro-level artefactual and economic changes occurred across northern Britain, but also their impact at a local level in South Yorkshire. The end point of Romano-British ceramic use in South Yorkshire is difficult to ascertain. There are known problems with dating late Roman artefacts, including the fact that some metal objects and ceramic vessels appear to have been made in deliberately archaic styles harking back to the past (Cool 2000b; Fitzpatrick-Matthews and Fleming 2016; Gerrard 2016), so these might easily be attributed to earlier periods. The late Roman or post-Roman radiocarbon dates from two corn-drying kilns and a field system ditch at Goldthorpe Industrial Estate (Ross 2014: 15) indicate that great caution must be taken in future with late Roman and ‘post-Roman’ archaeological evidence. Independent scientific dates must be sought in such circumstances.
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