Friday, 12 May 2017

Skara Brae Neolithic Pottery Demonstrations

At Easter 2017 you'd have found me absolutely in my element, working for Historic Environment Scotland, at Skara Brae, the amazingly well preserved Neolithic Village on the Bay of Skaill, Orkney Mainland not far from the Ness of Brodgar, the Ring of Brodgar, The Stones of Stenness and Maeshow. Built about 5000 years ago, that's before the stones were erected at Stonehenge and before the first Egyptian pyramids were constructed, Skara Brae is a truly remarkable survival. Occupied for about 500 years it was abandoned around 4500 years ago and as relatively quickly covered with sand, preserving not only the structure of the buildings and some wonderful artefacts, but the flagstone furniture as well; beds, storage tanks and display shelving know as "the dresser".  Several of these houses are preserved almost to level of the roof, the exact structure of which is not known.  For conservation reasons it's not possible to enter the original houses, so Historic Environment Scotland have created a replica of house seven and it was here that I was stationed, inhabiting the space, making replicas and filling up the dresser with my pots.

During the five days that I was there, using tools that were based on finds from the site, I made several large Grooved Ware vessels and a few Unstan Ware Bowls. This was a great experience for me and it seemed to be much appreciated by the visitors, many of whom stayed for some considerable time, talking to me about the houses, life in Neolithic Orkney, but mostly the pottery. Two guides who brought several groups round the site during my time there, were most emphatic that I must stay permanently and that the dresser should remain filled with my pots. Unfortunately that's not going to be possible at present but i am hoping that Historic Environment Scotland will invite me back again.

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Thursday, 11 May 2017

Roman Pottery Kiln and Workshops at Vindolanda

I'm really excited about this new collaboration with Vindolanda Roman Fort near to Hadrians Wall, the first stage has been to create a reconstruction of a Roman pottery kiln as a permanent feature of the site. Built with the help of a very enthusiastic team of Vindolanda volunteers, the kiln is sited in the valley, beside the burn, near to the museum and visitor centre, so look out for it next time you're there.

This fully functional replica of a Roman up-draft pottery kiln, is based on information gained from the excavation of such kilns at archaeological sites across the North of England. The body of the kiln itself (1) is constructed entirely from a mixture of materials found on site, Clay, Earth and plant matter such as straw. The internal floor and central support, (2) also known as Kiln Furniture are made from specially selected clay which will survive repeated exposure to high temperatures.

While the kiln is cold, dry, raw pots are packed into the Ware Chamber (3) the top of the kiln is closed off with a temporary dome of clay and straw (4), leaving small holes as exit flues. A small fire is then lit in the Fire Box (5) allowing hot gasses and flames to pass through into the combustion chamber (6) then up through the ware chamber. Starting slowly and steadily building up the fire the the pots are brought up to a temperature of between 8000 and 10000 Centigrade.

The first firing took many hours of constant stoking as we not only needed to fire the pots, but to dry out the structure of the kiln itself. Nevertheless we achieved a temperature of between 700 & 800 degrees Centigrade, hot enough to fire the kiln load which included two amphorae.

This type of kiln would have been used by potters working in this region, to manufacture coarse wares such as Black Burnished Ware and Gray Ware cooking pots, indented bakers, plates, bowls, flagons and the like. While fine wares such as Samian Ware, Terra Sigillata and the Aphorae that carried produce around the empire would have been imported from production sites in Gaul and elsewhere in the Roman World.

The latest firing of this kiln is recorded here Firing the Vindolanda Kiln

From now on I will be running regular Roman pottery workshops at Vindolanda where you will be able to learn the techniques and skills that went into making the ceramics of the Roman Empire. Workshops and courses will include: Kiln Building & Firing; Samian Ware; Barbotine Ware; Black Burnished Ware; Lamps & Goddesses; The Potters' Wheel, Roman Head Pots. For more information on these workshops, follow me on Twitter @PottedHistory, visit the Vindolanda website or email me

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