Saturday, 6 March 2010

A peek into history

For the past two days, Marcus and I have been digging out the foundations for the shed in the garden. Not your ordinary potting shed I hasten to add, but a rather more palatial 6m x 3m workshop/studio with mezzanine floor which will provide us with enough space to earn our living right here at home.

I know that digging is hard work, but if you only do it every now and then, you do tend to forget just what a strenuous job it is. The loosening up of the soil, the filling of the barrow and the wheeling it away seem to never end. the only thing that kept me digging was the occasional finding of a piece of pottery.

Now I'm no expert in this field but I am very interested in the subject, so it was with great excitement that each piece of pot was gently unearthed and studied. It's amazing to think that I can run my fingers along the same traces in the pot made by man several hundred or even a thousand years ago.
A couple of the pieces look as if they could be from the same pot, you can almost begin to see the shape that the pot once was. A couple of others have a very faded and worn glaze that looks like it was once red.
With a quick Google search, I found out that the first people to start using a red glaze instead of the traditional black was the Romans.

This description of Roman pottery from Mariamilani seems to describe the ware that I found.
Roman coarseware was just that: coarse. The intended use of this type of pottery was to be found in everyday needs, especially in cookery. Given the use it was put to and its tendency to chip and break in the kitchen meant that it was produced cheaply and in greater volumes.

This meant that the clay used was less refined and included rougher (coarse!) inclusions and impurities. The walls would tend to be thicker in order to make the wares more resistant to kitchen use. From a materials point of view it is likely that the inclusions would make the wares more likely to break and therefore also contributing to a need for greater thickness of clay.

Firing was less careful and generally done in a closed furnace, which would tend to consume less fuel. The "reducing" atmosphere in these ovens ie smoky and short of oxygen, tended to make the baked clay go brown/black in colour. Darker patches on the earthenware surface would also arise where one pot touched another in the furnace.
The general size, weight, finish and shape of coarse ware was strongly driven by the utensil's intended use. Pots for storage, cooking, eating and so on all had their particularities. A rough grain surface on a plate intended for semi-liquid poultices would hardly be impermeable and certainly not easy to clean! A "slip" would generally be used to provide a smoother finish when required.

It's a lovely notion that our garden could have been home to a roman settlement, and I would love to believe it to be true, but being a realist, until I see evidence a little more based in fact, it remains just a romanticnotion.