Tuesday Times Table: How did the ancients make pottery?
Pottery is the most common archaeological find in most places, and the Roman Baths Museum has a great collection of pottery, from which various interesting points can be discovered. I focused on the techniques of making pottery and tried to connect pottery fragments with the processes of decoration and firing they had experienced.
Prehistoric people collected clay from nearby, dried it in the sun, sieved and mixed it with water, and made ring-built or thumb pot vessels by hand. Firing was also quite simple. They use dried dung and brushwood on the ground and the firing process took only 30 to 60 minutes. Later people started to select the clay, remove impurities from it and then leave it to weather before using it. They also used several pools to wash clay and mix it with grit and sand for special use. Turntables were used in shaping and glazes were introduced as decoration. Various kilns and kiln furniture were designed to make firing more effective.
In the activity, I chose different types of pottery to show the improvements in ceramic technology, from Iron Age coarse ware to modern fine ware. Many of them were manufactured in Europe while almost all of them were excavated in Bath, which shows the ancient trades of pottery. The spread of pottery techniques and the imitation of styles are my favourite points, thus I chose a British imitation of Samian. Compared with Samian made in continental Europe, this British samian is of grey and orange fabric, and its surface is variegated. This is due to the preparation of clay and the temperature in the kiln.
During the display, people enjoyed feeling the decoration and glaze on the pottery, and many people were interested in the Roman finewares. Children were satisfied with their own pieces of clay decorated using stamps, sticks and ropes, just as the ancients did.
University of Leicester MA Museum Studies
Placement with the Collection team