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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

 

Oxford Fabrics

A variety of fabrics and surface treatments were produced by the large industry at Oxford. For our purposes they have been divided into Fine Reduced, Parchment, Red-slipped, White and White-slipped wares. However, there are underlying similarities in fabric for these different surface treatments, with the Red- and White-slipped and to a lesser degree Fine Reduced wares essentially utilising the same fabric, and the Parchment and White wares also united in fabric.

Source

The various nucleated workshops belonging to the Oxford industry remain one of the most extensively excavated of the Romano-British potteries and include numerous kiln sites of which Churchill Hospital is one of the better known (Young 1977), and Lower Farm Nuneham the most recently excavated (Booth 1993).

Museums

Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, Oxford; Oxford Archaeological Unit; Oxfordshire County Museum, Woodstock

References

Booth, P, 1993 The pottery, in A Romano-British kiln site at Lower Farm Nuneham Courtney, and other sites on the Didcot to Oxford and Wooton to Abingdon water mains, Oxfordshire (P Booth, A Boyle & G D Keevill), Oxoniensia 58, 87–217

Green, S, 1983 The Roman pottery-manufacturing site at Between Towns Road, Cowley, Oxford, Oxoniensia 48, 1–12

Young, C J, 1977 Oxfordshire Roman pottery, BAR 43


Oxford Fine Reduced ware (OXF FR)

Three samples

General appearance

Although this fabric is similar to OXF WS and OXF RS, it is separated due to its reduced state. Young (1977, 202–30) described a range of reduced wares, but only the fine fabric which produced ‘London-type’ wares, some with compass-scribed decoration, is included here (probably Young’s fabric 3). The samples are pale grey to grey (6/0–5/0), sometimes with a brown (5YR 5/4) margin or core and darker (4/0–3/0) surfaces. The three sherds represented here are from the kilns at Nuneham Courtney: all have a smooth fracture and abraded surfaces, and are therefore typically soft and powdery, but harder products are known (P Booth, pers comm)

Hand specimen

This is a fine sparsely micaceous (silver) clay with well-sorted inclusions. Sparse silt-sized quartz is present, as are sparse larger quartz grains, to 1.0mm, which are particularly visible on the surface. Recurring inclusions are normally silt-sized, but may rarely measure to 0.4mm, and comprise sparse black iron-rich inclusions and matrix-coloured clay pellets in some, but not all, samples.

Thin section

Petrologically this is identical to samples described below for OXF RS and OXF WS.

Donor

Oxford Archaeological Unit

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

Plate 144: Fresh sherd break of OXF FR (width of field 24 mm). Click to see a larger version

Plate 144: Fresh sherd break of OXF FR (width of field 24 mm)


Oxford Parchment ware (OXF PA), Oxford White ware (OXF WH)

General appearance

Included under this umbrella is a white fabric with both plain and decorated surfaces. Surfaces are generally cream to yellow (10YR 8/2–8/4), buff (5YR 8/2) or white (7.5YR 8/1) with pale pink, orange (5YR 8/4, 2.5YR 7/6) or slightly blue (8/0) margins or break. The fabric is generally hard, and the fracture varies from smooth to irregular depending on the amount of quartz; equally the surface varies from rough to harsh.

Hand specimen

There is a wide variety in the size and quantity of quartz, but the inclusions are well-sorted and form a continuum from samples with abundant silt to those with clean matrices and variable quantities (absent to abundant) of larger (0.1–0.5mm) quartz.These larger quartz grains are frequently pink or orange, as the trituration grits. Other visible inclusions are sparse, but comprise red, red-brown or occasionally black iron-rich inclusions, red, white or matrix-coloured clay pellets (sometimes visible as streaks), only rarely larger than the quartz. Most samples have sparse silver mica. Trituration grits are abundant and well-sorted, comprising distinctive multicoloured monocrystalline and polycrystalline quartz measuring from c 0.5–3.5mm, but normally 1.0–3.0mm. They are not dissimilar to the trituration grits used at Hadham, although some Hadham vessels contain other material; additionally, the Oxford ones are often better sorted. The fabric is easily distinguished from similar vessels produced in the New Forest by both the size and quantity of matrix quartz and the type of trituration grits.

Thin section

Three samples were viewed in thin section and all contain well-sorted common to abundant silt-sized and slightly larger quartz (<0.1mm) set in a clean clay matrix with muscovite mica. The size and quantity of larger inclusions varies between samples, reaching up to c 0.4mm. Trituration grits comprise well-sorted rounded monocrystalline and polycrystalline quartz, sometimes rimmed with iron, measuring between c 1.5–3.0mm.


Oxford Parchment ware (OXF PA)

Two samples

General appearance

These wares are described by Young (1977, 80–92) who considered the fabric distinct from other Oxford white wares by being softer, finer and pinker. It may be that recent work at Nuneham Courtney Farm has complicated this picture, but it is only considered possible to separate them with confidence when they are decorated with red-brown (10R 5/6, 2.5YR 5/6) paint and belong to a diagnostic form, within a series of flagons, beakers and especially bowls (ibid). The illustrated sherd (Plate 145) contains common fine quartz.

Donors

Department of Prehistoric & Romano-British Antiquities, The British Museum; Oxford Archaeological Unit

Plate 145: Fresh sherd break of OXF PA (width of field 24 mm). Click to see a larger version

Plate 145: Fresh sherd break of OXF PA (width of field 24 mm)

Plate 145.1: Photomicrograph of OXF PA (XPL) (width of field 1.74 mm). Click to see a larger version

Plate 145.1: Photomicrograph of OXF PA (XPL) (width of field 1.74 mm)

Plate 145.2: Photomicrograph of OXF PA (XPL) (width of field 1.74 mm). Click to see a larger version

Plate 145.2: Photomicrograph of OXF PA (XPL) (width of field 1.74 mm)

Plate 145.3: Photomicrograph of trituration grits on OXF PA (PPL) (width of field 1.74 mm). Click to see a larger version

Plate 145.3: Photomicrograph of trituration grits on OXF PA (PPL) (width of field 1.74 mm)


Oxford White ware (OXF WH)

Two samples

Mortaria are the most widely distributed form type in this fabric (Young 1977, 56–79) and only they are included here.

Hand specimen

The illustrated sherd (Plate 146a) contains sparse coarse quartz. Coarser examples can be reminiscent of the fabrics produced in the Verulamium region, apart from the trituration grits which are distinct.

Donors

Department of Prehistoric & Romano-British Antiquities, The British Museum

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

Plate 146a: Fresh sherd break of OXF WH (width of field 24 mm). Click to see a larger version

Plate 146a: Fresh sherd break of OXF WH (width of field 24 mm)

Plate 146b: Trituration grits on OXF WH (width of field 24 mm). Click to see a larger version

Plate 146b: Trituration grits on OXF WH (width of field 24 mm)

Plate 146.1: Photomicrograph of OXF WH (XPL) (width of field 1.74 mm). Click to see a larger version

Plate 146.1: Photomicrograph of OXF WH (XPL) (width of field 1.74 mm)


Oxford Red-slipped ware (OXF RS), Oxford White-slipped ware (OXF WS)

General appearance

These wares are oxidised, normally red or orange, with either red/brown or white slip, and frequently have a reduced core and pink margins. The fracture is usually smooth, but other features are best described with the separate surface treatments.

Hand specimen

The fabric is fine with well-sorted inclusions, and is characterised by common fine silver mica (sparse gold in some samples) and common to abundant silt-sized quartz. Black iron-rich fragments are the only other common inclusion, usually in the same size range as the quartz although occasionally as large as 0.5mm; red-iron rich inclusions are sparse, and are more likely to be in the larger size range than the black ones. The combination of these iron-rich inclusions and the quartz can be similar to Hadham, although, as a general rule, Oxford tends to be slightly finer in texture, have fewer black iron-rich inclusions than Hadham and therefore less of a ‘salt and pepper’ appearance. Other inclusions are normally sparse and comprise ill-sorted red-brown, white and matrix-coloured clay pellets (to 2.0mm), and unidentified white inclusions (<0.5mm) not reacting to dilute hydrochloric acid. Young (1977) describes large inclusions of chalk in these fabrics, but only our white-slipped samples display this characteristic. Trituration grits are normally the same as those described above, but two samples (one each with red and white slip) from the kiln at Nuneham Courtney Lower Farm are unusual in having trituration grits restricted to opaque white quartz.

Thin section

Inclusions are well sorted, having a groundmass of abundant silt-sized quartz (although in some samples measuring to 0.05–0.1mm) set in a matrix containing common muscovite mica, sometimes up to <0.2mm. Opaques (some quartz-rich) are common and again measure up to c <0.2mm. Other inclusions vary in size from sample to sample, occasionally up to 1.0mm, but are always rare and consist of siltstones, clay pellets and feldspar. Trituration grits conform to those already described.


Oxford Red-slipped ware (OXF RS)

Eight samples

General appearance

Sherds normally have a pink (10R 5/8), orange (2.5YR 6/8–5/8) or brown (5YR 5/6) break, with grey (5/0, 5Y 7/2), pink (10R 5/6) or red (10R 4/6) core, sometimes with margins in the same colours as those already described. The slip is consistently red to red-brown (10R 5/8–4/8, 10R 4/6, 2.5YR 5/6) or occasionally brown (5YR 3/2–3/3), sometimes with white (10YR 8/1) painted decoration. Generally the fabric is hard with smooth surfaces, unless heavily abraded. A range of flagons, beakers, bowls and mortaria with stamped, rouletted and painted decoration are illustrated by Young (1977, 123–84).

This fabric can be difficult to distinguish from Hadham Oxidised ware, particularly when abraded. Where the surface is maintained it is easier to distinguish between fine ware products, for in contrast to Oxford, Hadham are heavily burnished. Furthermore, white painted decoration appears to be restricted to the Oxford industry.

Hand specimen

When abraded the fabric is soft and obviously micaceous; however, there are also hard examples with well preserved surface slip where the mica is not obvious.

Donors

Department of Prehistoric & Romano-British Antiquities, The British Museum; Museum of London; Oxford Archaeological Unit

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

Plate 147: Fresh sherd break of OXF RS (width of field 24 mm). Click to see a larger version

Plate 147: Fresh sherd break of OXF RS (width of field 24 mm)

Plate 147.1: Photomicrograph of OXF RS (XPL) (width of field 1.74 mm). Click to see a larger version

Plate 147.1: Photomicrograph of OXF RS (XPL) (width of field 1.74 mm)

Plate 147.2: Photomicrograph of trituration grits on OXF RS (PPL) (width of field 3.5 mm). Click to see a larger version

Plate 147.2: Photomicrograph of trituration grits on OXF RS (PPL) (width of field 3.5 mm)


Oxford White-slipped ware (OXF WS)

Three samples

This group, comprising a restricted range of forms, primarily mortaria, is described by Young (1977, 117–21).

General appearance

Colours for this fabric are similar to those described for the red-slipped ware, but sherds are more likely to have orange surfaces. Examples recorded here are orange (2.5YR 6/8) to orange-brown (5YR 6/6–5/6) with a grey or grey-green (2.5YR 5/0, 5Y 6/1) core. Some samples have either orange as above or pink (10R 5/6) margins; their slip is cream coloured (7.5YR 8/2, 10YR 8/2). Like those with red slip, these sherds have a smooth fracture; however, the slip and surface seem to have a greater tendency towards abrasion and therefore a softer, powdery feel.

Hand specimen

This is essentially the same base fabric as described for the group as a whole, but one sample from the kiln site has large (c 7.0mm) limestone eruptions on the surface.

Donors

Museum of London; Oxford Archaeological Unit

Plate 148: Fresh sherd break of OXF WS (width of field 24 mm). Click to see a larger version

Plate 148: Fresh sherd break of OXF WS (width of field 24 mm)

Plate 148.1: Photomicrograph of trituration grits on OXF WS (XPL) (width of field 3.5 mm). Click to see a larger version

Plate 148.1: Photomicrograph of trituration grits on OXF WS (XPL) (width of field 3.5 mm)


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