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The National Roman Fabric Reference Collection: a Handbook

Hand specimen picture panel
Thin section picture panel

References

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.

Source

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

Donors

Colchester Museums; Museum of London (COL WH only)

Museum

Colchester Museums

References

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).

References

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)


Colchester (Early) Colour-coated ware 1 (COL CC 1)

Single sample

General appearance

Our sample is buff (7.5YR 8/4) and soft, with a smooth fracture and a harsh feel. The internal surface is covered with a thin buff or brown-grey (7.5YR 4/3) slip, the external a red-brown (5YR 4/4) one, much of which has been abraded. Many of the forms produced in this fabric imitate the Lyon industry, with globular beakers (sometimes roughcast) and hemispherical cups typical.

Hand specimen

The sample is dominated by fairly well-sorted (<0.1mm) abundant quartz, which occasionally measures to 0.7mm, set in a sparsely micaceous matrix of both silver and gold mica. Both limestone and red iron-rich inclusions are sparse and average between 0.1–0.2mm, although limestone can measure up to 0.4mm. On our sherd abundant sand roughcasting measures 0.4–0.6mm.

Thin section

A micaceous clay containing common muscovite and some biotite is visible in thin section. Common fine quartz and limestone (<0.1mm) are the main constituents, with fewer opaques and flint in a similar size range. Rare ill-sorted larger inclusions measure to 0.5mm, or rarely 1.0mm, and comprise primarily quartz (including polycrystalline), but also limestone, feldspar, opaques, clay pellets and argillaceous siltstone.

Plate 105: Fresh sherd break of COL CC 1 (width of field 24 mm). Click to see a larger version

Plate 105: Fresh sherd break of COL CC 1 (width of field 24 mm)

Plate 105.1: Photomicrograph of COL CC 1 (XPL) (width of field 1.74 mm). Click to see a larger version

Plate 105.1: Photomicrograph of COL CC 1 (XPL) (width of field 1.74 mm)


Colchester (Late) Colour-coated ware 2 (COL CC 2)

Six samples

General appearance

In contrast to the early fabric, both the fabric and the slip of COL CC 2 are darker. On our samples the break includes browns, ranging from a warm red (2.5YR 6/6–5/8) to paler, yellow tones (7.5YR 7/4). The fabric typically appears as a warm brown, speckled with yellow and covered with a dark brown (5YR/10YR 4/1–3/1) slip. It is a hard fabric with a smooth fracture and a smooth feel. A range of bag-shaped roughcast beakers and folded beakers are commonly found (Symonds 1991, figs 6–7).

Hand specimen

The fabric is fine (<0.1mm), and characterised by abundant well-sorted quartz and limestone with sparser red and black iron-rich grains and silver mica. A sparse scatter of larger inclusions comprising quartz (0.6mm) and red-brown iron-rich grains (0.2mm) is also visible. In contrast to COL CC 1, where present, roughcasting is in the form of applied clay pellets (R Symonds, pers comm).

Thin section

The texture and composition of this sample is essentially identical to that described for COL CC 1.

References (for both colour-coated fabrics)

Symonds, R P, 1990 The problems of roughcast beakers, and related colour-coated wares, J Roman Pottery Stud 3, 1–17

Symonds, R P, 1991 Datation et résidualité: où sont les limites de la certitude?, SFECAG. Actes du Congrès de Cognac, 137–51

Symonds, R P, 1997 Early Romano-British fine wares, Acta Rei Cretariae Romanae Fautorum 35, 225–31

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

Plate 106: Fresh sherd break of COL CC 2 (width of field 24 mm). Click to see a larger version

Plate 106: Fresh sherd break of COL CC 2 (width of field 24 mm)

Plate 106.1: Photomicrograph of COL CC 2 (XPL) (width of field 1.74 mm). Click to see a larger version

Plate 106.1: Photomicrograph of COL CC 2 (XPL) (width of field 1.74 mm)


Colchester samian (COL SA)

Three samples

General appearance

This fabric is orange-brown (2.5YR 5/8) with red-brown (10R 5/8) surfaces that are sometimes duller and pinker (10R 6/6) in colour. It is hard with a smooth fracture and feel. Forms are similar to those produced by the east Gaulish samian industries.

Hand specimen

Colchester samian is essentially a silty fabric, much coarser than Continental ones. A fairly wide variety of size and sorting is represented by our samples, with quartz, limestone, silver mica and black iron-rich grains consistently present. The standard fabric (Plate 107) is fine (<0.2mm) with only sparse inclusions, but in other samples mica and quartz are more visible and limestone may be abundant and measure up to 0.4mm.

Thin section

This is a slightly micaceous (muscovite with some biotite) clay with common silt-sized quartz and opaques. Rare but regular grains of quartz, including polycrystalline, and redeposited carbonate measure up to 0.25mm or even 0.4mm, as seen in the hand specimen.

Museums

Colchester Museums; Department of Archaeology, Univeristy of Durham

References

Rodwell, W J, 1982 (1983) The production and distribution of pottery and tiles in the territory of the Trinovantes, Essex Archaeol Hist 14, 15–76

Simpson, G, 1982 A revised dating for the Colchester samian kiln, Essex Archaeol Hist 14, 149–53

Storey, J M V, Symonds, R P, Hart, F A, Smith, D M, & Walsh, J N, 1989 A chemical investigation of ‘Colchester’ samian by means of inductively-coupled plasma emission spectrometry, J Roman Pottery Stud 2, 33–43

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

Plate 107: Fresh sherd break of COL SA (width of field 24 mm). Click to see a larger version

Plate 107: Fresh sherd break of COL SA (width of field 24 mm)

Plate 107.1: Photomicrograph of COL SA (XPL) (width of field 1.74 mm). Click to see a larger version

Plate 107.1: Photomicrograph of COL SA (XPL) (width of field 1.74 mm)


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.

References

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)


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