Fired Clay – The Unloved Ceramic

A Talk by Janice Kinnory to the Trendles Team

Fired ClayJanice described the number of different uses which fired clay was put to in the Iron Age and Roman period. Fired clay artefacts are often overlooked by archaeologists in favour of the better known fired clay item ‘pottery’.

Janice had studied the salt making industry in the Iron Age and Roman period and described the process and the unique clay vessels associated with salt called ‘briquetage’. This material is rare in Oxfordshire, but during post excavation work on the Marcham assemblage a fragment of briquetage, from Droitwich in Worcestershire, had been found which showed that salt was being traded to the Marcham site.

Crucible

Crucible

A fired clay crucible was also included in the assemblage showing that objects such as brooches and pins were being cast in copper alloy at the site and probably sold to those visiting the temple.  Interestingly these crude vessels, which are handmade and fired in a clamp, are discarded after use as the residual impurities remain adhered to the clay rendering the crucibles unusable for further castings.

Burnt daub has been found at Marcham although this has been accidently fired due to fire destruction. The burnt clay retains the pattern of the wattle core which would have burnt out in any fire. This gives the archaeologists an indication of another type of building on the site apart from the stone and mortar buildings which would not have survived if they had not caught fire. This was another way where fired clay adds to the picture of how people were living at Marcham nearly two thousand years ago.

tesserae

tesserae

One of the greatest uses of fired clay was in roof tiles (the flat tegula and the semi- circular imbrex) the style of which is still use in the Mediterranean today. Janice described the large number of roof tiles found in the Noah’s Ark area suggesting the temple had a tiled roof. Often shoe prints or animal prints are found on tiles which occurred when they were being sun dried prior to firing. The Romans also fired clay to make bricks, flue tiles for hypocaust heating systems and drain pipes although none have been found at Marcham. Finally tile has been recycled at Marcham by cutting them into small cubes to be set in mortar to make tessellated pavements and floors. A range of different size ‘tesserae’ were shown to the group,

Janice’s enthusiasm for this subject was quickly seen by the group who asked a number of challenging questions. The importance and wide range of fired clay uses shows how these often ‘unloved’ objects contribute to our knowledge of the past.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                John Hawes

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