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The National Roman Fabric Reference Collection: a Handbook

Hand specimen picture panel
Thin section picture panel


Appendix 1: Keywords and Definitions
Appendix 2: Physical Layout of Sherds Housed in the NRFRC


Colchester Fabrics

A wide variety of ware and fabric types were produced at Colchester, and black-burnished ware, colour-coated, samian and white wares are included here, while mica-dusted and Pompeian Red ware are not.


All the fabric types presented here have known associations with excavated kilns from Colchester (Hull 1963).


Colchester Museums; Museum of London (COL WH only)


Colchester Museums


Going, C J, 1987 The mansio and other sites in the south-east sector of Caesaromagus: the Roman pottery, CBA Res Rep 62/Chelmsford Archaeol Trust Rep 3.2

Hull, M R, 1963 The Roman potters’ kilns of Colchester, Rep Res Comm Soc Antiq London 21

Symonds, R P, & Wade, S, 1999 Roman pottery from excavations in Colchester, Colchester Archaeol Rep 10

Colchester Black-burnished ware 2 (COL BB 2)

Eight samples

General appearance

Typically this fabric is dark grey (4/0) or brown (7.5YR 4/2, 2.5YR 3/4), less often completely black, and sometimes with a core in a contrasting shade of (paler) grey or red-brown (6/0, 2.5YR 3/4). Surfaces are dark grey or black and burnished: in the best examples they are smooth, even and semi-lustrous, while some sherds have a slip that can be described as ‘silky’ (Williams 1977, 196). The colour on the burnished surface appears semi-transparent rather than deeply saturated, as in examples of the Cooling fabric. Sherds are hard with an irregular fracture and a smooth feel. While the normal BB2 repertoire is present, plain- or slightly bead-rim dishes with wavy burnished lines, and folded beakers are both distinctive to Colchester (R Symonds, pers comm). Williams (ibid) also considers the following traits specific to Colchester in contrast to other centres: cooking pot rims tend to be thinner; down-turned rims and rolled-rims on bowls and dishes tend to be smaller and less thick proportionately to the vessel wall; the decoration is particularly competent.

Hand specimen

The inclusions in this fabric are ill sorted, with grains up to c 0.7mm. Quartz dominates, usually as abundant and measuring <0.1–0.3mm. All other inclusions are sparse: black iron-rich grains (c 0.3mm), silver mica (<0.2mm) and, less frequently, red-brown clay pellets (c 0.6mm).

Thin section

This sample contains well-sorted inclusions of common quartz in a sparsely micaceous (muscovite) matrix. Quartz occurs as both a silt grade and slightly larger groundmass (<0.2mm) and as larger, frequently rounded, grains between 0.3–0.55mm. Although quartz predominates, a variety of inclusions can be identified in the larger size range: polycrystalline quartz and flint are common; feldspar and clay pellets (to 1.5mm) sparse; opaques and, less frequently, glauconitic pellets are typical. The smaller sized quartz is less common here than for BB2 from Cooling or Cliffe. Profiles from heavy mineral analysis are available from sherds thought to have been produced at Colchester (Williams 1977).


Williams, D F, 1977 The Romano-British black-burnished industry: an essay on characterization by heavy mineral analysis, in Pottery and early commerce. Characterization and trade in Roman and later Ceramics (ed D P S Peacock), 163–220

See the related record on the Atlas of Roman Pottery on the Potsherd website

Plate 104: Fresh sherd break of COL BB 2 (width of field 24 mm). Click to see a larger version

Plate 104: Fresh sherd break of COL BB 2 (width of field 24 mm)

Plate 104.1: Photomicrograph of COL BB 2 (XPL) (width of field 1.74 mm). Click to see a larger version

Plate 104.1: Photomicrograph of COL BB 2 (XPL) (width of field 1.74 mm)