Medieval Pottery Research Group

Old pots, new technology

‘Day of Archaeology 2017’ finds me working on the final stages of a finds project with a difference. Instead of working my way through boxes of pottery sherds, I’m sat in front of my computer, updating and enhancing the Worcestershire on-line ceramic type series. This work builds on the strong tradition of ceramic research in the County, which is one of the few regions in the country to have a comprehensive pottery type series covering all periods. This physical type series is the work of a series of dedicated finds specialists based in the Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service, primarily Derek Hurst and Victoria Bryant. It provides all archaeologists working in the county with a standardised way of identifying and recording pottery.

The on-line type series first went live in 2003 and has been added to piecemeal as and when small amounts of funding became available. However, this year we were lucky enough to secure funding from Historic England as part of its Improving Sector Reference Resources initiative. This has enabled us to not only enhance and add to the information available on the website but also update the software so that the site not only runs more smoothly but is optimized for use on mobile phones and tablets. This has not all been straightforward! A lot of my time has been spent in dialogue with the web designer, identifying things that work well and trying to solve issues and bugs that have cropped up along the way. I have to admit that a lot of the technical stuff has gone over my head and I’m sure that a lot of the detailed pottery information has equally confused the designer, but now we are on the final straight we can see that the time spent sending emails back and forth has been well worth it!

I have mainly been focused on uploading our form series for locally produced medieval wares and more commonly found post-medieval fabrics (the composition of the clay) and forms (the type of vessel). For the forms, this involved selecting and uploading representative illustrations and writing a brief description of each form type. Medieval vessels were also cross-referenced with the MPRG (Medieval Pottery Research Group) type series.

In the case of the post-medieval fabrics, each type sherd has had a clean break photographed. Getting this clean break isn’t as easy as it sounds – it has to be as even as possible to photograph well and in some cases, it felt as if there would be next to no sherd left to photograph as I repeatedly snipped to try and achieve this! However, it has been well worth the effort, with the resulting images being of extremely high resolution, enabling the user to zoom in and out to focus on specific inclusions or fabric details.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of this project has been the addition of concordance tables for all medieval and post-medieval fabrics. This provides a link to pottery type-series from surrounding counties and is hopefully the first step to creating a truly regional resource.

With the end of this stage of the project in sight, my main task today is to go back through each fabric to make sure that the text is correct, that uploaded illustrations and photographs are displaying correctly and checking that all of the links work smoothly. Any last little niggles are being noted so that we can get everything smoothed out before this new, enhanced version of the site goes live in the last week of August. It’s an exciting time – my colleagues and I are looking forward to seeing all of our hard work come to fruition and hope that it will be a valuable research tool not only for other finds specialists but for the archaeological community in general.

For me personally, it’s the end of an extremely successful project! Not only have I enjoyed seeing our rather ambitious vision coming together but I’ve learnt a lot in the process. Working through the fabric and form data and using some of the knowledge I have gained through 18 years of working on pottery in Worcestershire has been particularly satisfying. However, perhaps even more useful has been to opportunity to revisit older reports and discuss content, ideas or issues with colleagues and fellow specialists from other organisations.

For those who are interested in the project, the old version of the website can be viewed at www.worcestershireceramics.org .  The new, enhanced version will be available to view at the same address from the end of the month.

Bits and Pieces

A day of many colours, it started with dark grey clouds and a blue green sea with white-topped waves, as I headed to a finds drop! I had to hand over a box of finds to a National Trust colleague,  from a dig we did on Brownsea Island so they can create a display for Festival of the British Archaeology event at the end of July. A drive through the glistening rain to the Warminster office, past lush green trees and between kamikaze birds jumping out of bushes! First another finds drop, this time a feely bag activity for another NT  colleague to use in Gloucestershire for FofBA. Then up the stairs past magnolia walls to my desk, first sort out more activities stuff for yet another FofBA event, this time  at Corfe Castle, spinning and weaving kit, colouring sheets, a notice to say we are closed for lunch (so my volunteers can get a break) and some pictures of mosaics. One thing I really wanted to get done was a photomontage in memory of ‘Gerry the Rope’, who passed away recently and we  will miss him so much at our event. He was a historical interpreter who had been coming to Corfe Castle for about twenty years doing rope making (both Medieval and Victorian), games, pole lathe demonstrations and candle making. He was a great communicator and friend.

As late afternoon approached I had to turn my mind to getting everyting ready for our excavations that start on Monday!  write and print risk assessment, get day volunteer form printed, and  go to the shed to sort the tools.  We are digging up the last of the mosaics at Chedworth Roman Villa; they had been re-covered by the Victorians. It’s the last part of a big Heritage Lottery Fund project to put a new cover building over the mosaics and the reinterpretation of the site. Three weeks of mosaic digging, Yay! Red, purple, green, yellow, blue ‘gorilla’ buckets, soft bruhses, hand shovels and a pick axe!  The last item is for prising up the tarmac path. Note to self ‘bring foot pump to blow up flat wheelbarrow tyre’

Nearly the end of the day,  just a couple of things to do before the weekend. One is to send a flint report, web link and finds drawing to an artist, Simon Ryder, who is making an art work for the ExLab project, part of he Cultural Olympiad down in Weymouth. He is getting a 3D scan and printed model of a Mesolithic Portland Chert microlith which we excavated from a site on the cliff edge near Eype in West Dorset, an exciting project. The final job was to check a newsletter article about a pottery grenade found at Corfe Castle and finally identifed 25 years after it was dug up!  Thanks to the Wessex Archaelogy  finds specialist for posting the pot on the Medieval Pottery Research Group facebook site, the wonders of social media.

So into my Red Berlingo and southwards to Weymouth, with the wheelbarrow rattling in the back.