Review – The Roman Pottery Manufacturing Site in Highgate Wood: excavations 1966-78

2 mins read
A E Brown and H L Sheldon
Archaeopress, £60
ISBN 978-1784919788
Review Edward Biddulph

This highly anticipated volume brings together the results of excavations of Roman kilns and associated features by volunteers in a public park in the London borough of Haringey, and detailed analysis of some 1,200kg of recovered pottery. As if making up for lost time, the authors treat readers to information in several forms. There is the traditional monograph, a free digital version, and an online typology.

The industry began in the first half of the 1st century AD and continued to the end of the 2nd century. Its earliest products were grog-tempered ware jars and bowls, but by the later 1st century AD potters were producing fine sand-tempered grey wares, which were available in a wide range of forms – among them poppyhead beakers with barbotine-dot decoration (one of the industry’s most recognisable products) and plates and cups that copied Samian prototypes, even down to the red slip. Then there were the oddities. A curious flanged dish-like vessel has been tentatively identified as a clibanus, a Mediterranean-style cooking vessel made perhaps for the legionary market.

Recovered material was not restricted to pottery, though. Other finds include a quantity of fired clay. Among the artefacts are fragments of perforated triangular bricks, which offer further evidence that these objects are not loomweights, as traditionally thought, but late Iron Age/ early Roman kiln furniture.

While something of the organisation of the industry is suggested by the sequence of kilns, waster dumps, clay-preparation pits, and so on, there are other aspects of the industry – the transmission of skills, the origins and development of forms, and the distribution of the industry’s products, for example – whose discussion appears to be somewhat neglected. This is a minor criticism, however. Publication of this pottery industry is a tremendous achievement and provides a very important building block for further research. Both the book and the online component will undoubtedly become essential references for pottery specialists and anyone excavating Roman sites in London and the south-east.

This review appeared in CA 346.

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