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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 White ware (COL WH)

Seven samples

A veriety of forms, including flagons and mortaria, were produced in this fabric, but only the mortaria are described here.

General appearance

This is a soft cream-coloured fabric, often yellowish (2.5Y 8/2) in tone. In normal soil conditions the fabric survives quite well but it is particularly susceptible to acid conditions. It has a smooth fracture and a powdery or slightly harder feel. The fabric cannot be macroscopically distinguished from that of many produced in the north of France (North Gaulish White ware 4), at Wiggonholt and at least some sources elsewhere in Norfolk, nor does thin section provide a reliable means of separation. Inductively Coupled Plasma Spectroscopy has however been successfully used to distinguish between Continental and Colchester vessels (Symonds & Wade 1999).

Hand specimen

The overall impression is of a fine calcareous clay with some iron-rich inclusions. A wide range can be seen in the texture and sorting of sherds, but our samples generally have a fine clay matrix with sparse silver mica and variably sized inclusions, normally less than 1mm but with outliers to c 0.5mm. Common quartz normally dominates, but occasionally red and black iron-rich grains are frequent. Other inclusions are sparse iron-rich grains (except when common) and, less frequently, matrix-coloured clay pellets and limestone (to 1.0mm), and feldspar (0.3-0.5mm). Trituration grits of white, grey and black quartz are fairly well sorted, primarily 1.0-2.0mm in size, although grains up to 6.0mm are present. Flint normally dominates at abundant with less but still abundant monocrystalline or polycrystalline quartz.

Thin section

Our sample has an isotropic calcareous clay with rare muscovite mica. The silt-sized groundmass contains common limestone and sparse quartz, regularly occurring up to 0.5mm. Those belonging to the larger size range comprise common monocrystalline and polycrystalline quartz, numerous limestone fragments, the majority redeposited, and occasional limestone pellets, and rare feldspar, siltstone and fine-grained sandstone, flint and clay pellets. Opaques occur in the entire size range. It is difficult to distinguish some of the larger inclusions from the trituration grits, but only polycrystalline quartz and flint are interpreted as grits.


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

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

Plate 108a: Fresh sherd break of COL WH (width of field 24 mm). Click to see a larger version

Plate 108a: Fresh sherd break of COL WH (width of field 24 mm)

Plate 108b: Trituration grits on COL WH (width of field 24 mm). Click to see a larger version

Plate 108b: Trituration grits on COL WH (width of field 24 mm)

Plate 108.1: Photomicrograph of COL WH (XPL) (width of field 1.74 mm). Click to see a larger version

Plate 108.1: Photomicrograph of COL WH (XPL) (width of field 1.74 mm)