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.



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.



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

Ritual Deposition at Marcham

NathalieOn March 26th Nathalie Garfunkle gave a lecture to the Tuesday stratigraphy group entitled ‘An investigation of ritual deposition at the Romano-British temple site at Marcham‘, which focused on the finds in Trenches 21 and 36.  Deposits found in a water logged pit in Trench 21, near to the semi-amphitheatre drain, included two deliberately perforated pots, a Roman basket, items of worked wood, stakes for hanging ritual objects and a leather shoe; the organic materials having been preserved in the wet conditions.

Trench 36 had revealed a Roman shrine surrounded by three Iron Age pits.  Within the shrine was another pit with an offset shaft aligned with the centre of the Romano-Celtic temple.  A deposit of coins were found in the top layers of soil with a terminus post quem  (time after which) it was deposited, of AD 388. There was much debate about the construction and purpose of the shaft, and whether the shrine was part of a processional route from the temple to the semi-amphitheatre.  A possible comparison was drawn between an older pattern of ritual deposition found in Trench 21 and a more formal Romanised ritual taking place around the area of Trench 36.

Much was learnt about the finds from Marcham, ritual deposition, and also about the importance of water in ritual sites.  All of which provided interesting background and helped to put the statigraphy work into context.

Thank you Nathalie for a very interesting lecture.

Carol Hughes  (Tuesday stratigraphy group )

Volunteering on the Trendles Project

About ten years ago I took some youth groups to the then new dig on Trendles Field.  We started by field walking (even found a piece of Samian ware) and later progressed to looking for ‘finds’ in the spoil heaps.  From this initial start I turned my hand to pot washing for a number of years until family commitments and holidays took over.

After eleven years the project had to close owing to the sheer number of finds and records that were awaiting analysis.  Imagine my delight when I saw that the project had been granted a three year National Lottery Heritage Grant which would enable volunteers (including me) to analyse some of the finds.  Apparently there are so many aretefacts from this site, awaiting defining and recording, that they have divided the work into three groups, worked over two days, Tuesday and Thursday.  I am on the Tuesday Stratigraphy Group learning all about already recorded trenches and their cuts, fills, layers and finds, checking the readings and entering them onto a database.  I am learning a lot and working in a friendly environment with a group of people at all different levels of knowledge – some like me working from scratch.  I am really enjoying this return to archeology and am looking forward to learning more about pots and bones, which is the subject of the other two groups.

Margaret Willis

Animal bone identification begins

P1020069 copyToday was our first full training session on animal bone with Priscilla, an animal bone specialist from Oxford University.    Last week Paula showed us what animal bones from archaeological sites look like and explained about taphonomy – the various processes that might happen to an animal from its time of death, to when it is rediscovered by archaeologists, and why animal bone specialists often have only fragments of bones to work with.

First animal bone sessionBags of jumbled animal bones soon began to make sense as we sorted them into large, medium and small animals, and teeth of different shapes and sizes.  Then, with the help of Priscilla, we learnt which part of the body the bone came from and from what animal.  So far we have found bones of sheep, cow, horse, pig, deer, dog, and birds, and several small rodents.

We also found evidence that a small number had been used as tools or  worked in some way, and these have been bagged separately.  One or two had patches of green staining showing that they had lay in close contact to a copper alloy object, possibly a coin, brooch or pin, when they were in the ground. Others had cut marks which provides insights into how they had been butchered for food.

It was a good start for the animal bone team, with four boxes of bones sorted into species by the end of the day.

First seminar for the stratigraphy team

On Tuesday Project Officer Sheila introduced the Tuesday group to the basics of on-site recording and planning, and to the methods used in the post-excavation stage to analyse all the data and create the stratigraphic relationships that can tell us the story of the site.  There are thousands of plans and sections of the many prehistoric and Roman features that were excavated over the 11 seasons at Marcham, and tens of thousands of context records – a formidable assemblage for a complex and fascinating site!   Initial checking work has already been done on these records by volunteers at the Institute of Archaeology, and trench matrixes (a diagrammatic way of showing key relationships between contexts) have been created for us to work with in this second stage of the Trendles Project.

Sheila explained that our task over the next few years is to go through all the records and transfer the key information to stratigraphy recording forms, which will, at later stage, be fed into a searchable context database.  The information on the database is being structured in such a way as to make it as helpful as possible to all the many finds specialists accessing the site data in order to write their reports.  The work on the site records is working in tandem with that of the projects other volunteers who are identifying and analysing the pottery and animal bone, with the specific aim that the results of all the different areas of volunteer post- excavation work will inform and assist each other.

For complete newcomers to the world of archaeological recording, there was a lot to take on board, but with a few much-needed tea-breaks and some lively discussion, we managed to keep everyone awake and hopefully not too daunted!

First training Day…

P1020048Many thousand sherds of Roman pottery were recovered during our excavations.  Over the years our busy group of regular volunteers have washed and marked every individual piece and we are now ready to take a closer look.  Jane Timby, our Roman pottery specialist, came and gave us a talk about what we can learn from these small fragments, such as how and where the pot was made, what type of vessel it came from, and how small pieces such as these can be used to date archaeological features.

P1020046We have a wide range of pottery types from our Marcham excavations and much of the everyday wares probably come from the nearby Oxfordshire pottery kilns, but we have some from much further afield.  Jane taught us how to identify the different types and we have begun to sort them into groups of finewares and coarsewares, and by their production method, type of clay used, decoration, and into bases, rims and body sherds.   By the end of the day we had our first bags of identified pottery sherds  – only several thousand more to go….

January brings the snow….

Stalwart project leaders brave the weather to prepare the new training sessions which begin on Thursday January 24th (Megan was behind the camera)

Stalwart project leaders brave the weather to prepare the new training sessions which begin on Thursday January 24th (Megan was behind the camera)

We have been preparing our workrooms ready for the first training sessions.  It’s snowy outside, but the rooms are warm and cosy.  Will and Janey Cumber have very kindly offered the use of their ‘studio’ room next door to the farm shop, which has doubled our workspace.  Those who visited us just before Christmas will remember this was the room where we had our open morning.

The studio will be used as the workroom for the stratigraphy and pottery sessions while the new portacabin will be used for animal bone identification.

We look forward to seeing some of you at our first training session tomorrow.

First Post

Just beginning to get a feel for how the website is going to look.  There is so much to talk about, but it is beginning to take shape and we will soon have a few of the hundreds of photographs taken over the past 12 years to illustrate our first pages. Throughout the project we will record our progress with images and updates, so please check back soon.