Sunday 12 June 2016

Romano-British pottery in the fifth- to sixth-century Lincoln region

The question of whether Romano-British pottery continued to be produced into the fifth century AD continues to be a topic of some considerable interest, as most recently demonstrated by the fact that the latest issue (volume 41, 2016) of the journal Internet Archaeology is entirely devoted to this question. In this light, I thought that I'd offer some draft notes on the potential situation in the Lincoln region, based primarily on the brief discussions of the evidence found in my Britons and Anglo-Saxons and an earlier article, with additions and expansion as required.(1)

Reconstruction of the fifth- to sixth-century apsidal church at St Paul in the Bail, Lincoln, located in the centre of the Roman forum and entered from the western portico (image: extract from Green, Britons and Anglo-Saxons (Lincoln, 2012), fig. 13, by David Vale/SLHA).

Needless to say, the Lincoln region is arguably as good a place as any to look for continued circulation and production of Romano-British pottery into the fifth century AD. Lincoln was, after all, a Late Roman provincial capital—*Lindocolōnia or Lindum Colonia—and appears to have remained prosperous and remarkably vital right into the very late fourth century, with evidence for continued urban activity into the early fifth century too. Similarly, the probable villa-palace of the provincial governor, located around a mile to the east of the city, was occupied right up until the end of the coin sequence in the early fifth century and maintained to a high standard.(2) Perhaps even more significantly, a detailed examination of the available archaeological, linguistic, literary and historical evidence indicates that Lincoln continued to see a degree of activity and be of both local and regional importance even after the early fifth century. Not only does it seem to have lain at the heart of a significant British post-Roman territory named *Lindēs (from British-Latin Lindenses), which probably survived into the sixth century and clearly had some sort of intimate connection with the early seventh-century Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Lindissi (Lindsey), but a reconsideration and Bayesian analysis of the radiocarbon data and other evidence from St Paul in the Bail, Lincoln, indicates that the famous apsidal church excavated there was indeed a British church of the fifth–sixth centuries that was located in the centre of the Roman forum and able to hold up to 100 worshippers, not a later Anglo-Saxon construction as has sometimes been suggested.(3)

Turning to the actual evidence for the continued use and production of Romano-British pottery in the fifth-century Lincoln region, the most obvious place to start is with the Romano-British pottery retrieved from the city itself. As Mark Whyman and others have noted, pottery is generally dated through its association with coins and, as such, the fact that very few fifth-century coins appear to have found their way to Britain may well have caused archaeologists to mistakenly assign a c. AD 400 end-date to Romano-British pottery fabrics and forms when these actually continued in production and/or use for some time after this.(4) An awareness of this possibility has, in recent years, increasingly led to the identification of very Late Roman pottery wares that show some signs of having continued in production after c. AD 400, via finds in 'post-Roman' contexts and in association with fifth-century and later items such as brooches, with notable examples here being Black Burnished ware in Dorset and Somerset, calcite-gritted wares in Yorkshire and the north, and Much Hadham and Verulamium wares in Hertfordshire.(5) In this light, Lincoln's Local Coarse Pebbly ware (LCOA) may also be of some potential interest. With over 1,800 sherds recorded, this relatively popular local wheel-thrown ware—the forms of which show a marked similarity to items produced by the Late Roman Swanpool kilns just to the south of Lincoln—seems to have its origins in the mid- to late fourth century and is most commonly found in both assemblages of the last decades of that century and in 'post-Roman' contexts. Indeed, over 50% of all LCOA sherds come from 'post-Roman' contexts, particularly those at Flaxengate, an area of Lincoln that is thought to have seen continued urban activity into the early fifth century. In consequence, this ware would seem to be a credible candidate for a Lincoln-region analogue to the Late Roman pottery industries recently identified in other parts of Britain as arguably continuing into the largely coin-less fifth century, something perhaps reinforced by the fact that some of the same 'post-Roman' contexts it appears in have produced small quantities of Anglo-Saxon pottery of broadly fifth- to eighth-century date too.(6)

Roman-type wheel-thrown pots used for cremations at the Cleatham Anglo-Saxon cemetery; these are considered to represent products of the mid- to late fifth-century 'post-Roman' British pottery industry by Maggie Darling and Kevin Leahy (image: fig. 23 from Green, Britons and Anglo-Saxons (Lincoln, 2012), drawn by Kevin Leahy and used by kind permission).

If Local Coarse Pebbly ware is at the very least most suggestive, it does not stand alone as the only evidence for a degree of continued Romano-British pottery production and/or use in the fifth-century Lincoln region. Of particular interest in this context are a number of individual pots that are thought to be potentially of Romano-British manufacture but which are either found in early Anglo-Saxon contexts and/or show signs of early Anglo-Saxon influence in their form or design. Perhaps the most convincing candidates here are four pots excavated in the 1980s from the exceptionally large fifth- to sixth-century Anglo-Saxon cremation cemetery at Cleatham, Lincolnshire, located around 30 km to the north of Lincoln. These cremation urns were all made using Romano-British wheel-throwing techniques but, as both Maggie Darling and Kevin Leahy have observed, they cannot be seen as re-used Roman-era pots due to their body-shapes and fabrics, and are instead considered to represent products of the mid- to late fifth-century 'post-Roman' British pottery industry, given their phasing in the cemetery.(7) Interestingly, another urn of the same type and manufacture was found in the fifth- to sixth-century Anglo-Saxon cremation cemetery at Millgate, Newark, 25 km to the south-west of Lincoln, and further fragments have been found in the south of the county at the Roman 'small town' of Great Casterton—in a destruction layer coin-dated to some point after AD 375—and close to the Roman 'small town' of Littleborough (Segelocum), on the Trent north-west of Lincoln, with the first of these Roman sites possessing a well-known Late Roman to early Anglo-Saxon cemetery that is considered to offer 'a convincing case of Roman–Saxon burial continuity' and the second appearing to have still been a key site in the Lincoln region into the early seventh century.(8) Needless to say, the above evidence would thus seem to indicate that the local Late Roman pottery industry not only continued to function into at least the mid-fifth century in this area, given the nature and contexts of these wheel-thrown vessels, but that its products also circulated relatively widely in the region around the former provincial capital at that time, being found to both the north and the south of Lincoln.

Other material that may well also be indicative of a degree of continued Romano-British pottery production into the fifth century and potentially beyond includes a wheel-thrown bottle sherd from Hibaldstow, the site of a Romano-British 'small town' that has evidence for activity into at least the late fourth/early fifth century and is located just a little to the north-east of the Cleatham cemetery. This item was found in a ditch along with Romano-British greyware and some ‘normal’ early-mid Saxon sherds, and, intriguingly, is in an attested local very late fourth-century Romano-British fabric despite having the form of a 'Germanic' sixth-century or later bottle.(9) Similarly worthy of note is a sixth-century 'Anglo-Saxon' domestic pot that is believed to show signs of Romano-British manufacture in terms of both its fabric and technique and was found in the former provincial governor's villa-palace at Lincoln, an intriguing findspot given that the villa-palace was not only maintained to a very high standard right into the early fifth century on the basis of the coin record, but its estate also apparently survived largely intact right through into the medieval period.(10) Potentially most interesting of all, however, is a final sixth-century Anglo-Saxon vessel that was recovered from the flue ashes of one of the Late Roman Swanpool kilns at Rookery Lane, Lincoln. This highly unusual findspot is, of course, most suggestive, and Ken Dark has argued that the pot both dates and represent the last firing of this 'Late Roman' kiln, which is a point of considerable interest in the present context.(11) Moreover, it is noteworthy in this light that the pot itself actually features a distinctive rosette stamp motif that also occurs on some Late Roman pottery from Flaxengate, Lincoln, a fact that has been considered to be potential evidence in its own right for some sort of continuity in pottery production in the Lincoln region!(12)

Sherd from a greyware vessel of the same type as the Roman-type pots recovered from Cleatham; dated to the mid-fifth century by Kevin Leahy and found near to Littleborough on the Trent (image: PAS).

The distribution of early 'Anglian' cremation-predominant cemeteries, represented by filled squares, plotted against 'Saxon' artefacts of the second half of the fifth century, represented by stars, and the Late Roman provincial boundaries as reconstructed by J. C. Mann in Britannia, 1998 (image: fig. 21a from Green, Britons and Anglo-Saxons (Lincoln, 2012)).

All told, then, we would appear to have a potentially interesting situation in the 'post-Roman' Lincoln region. Taken together, the contexts and nature of the finds of Local Coarse Pebbly ware and Cleatham-style wheel-thrown vessels from Lincoln and its surrounding region would seem to offer a credible case for the likely continuance of the Romano-British pottery industry here at least partway into the fifth century and potentially some considerable distance into it too, given the phased dating of the Cleatham vessels to the mid–late fifth century. Furthermore, the finds from Hibaldstow, the Lincoln villa-palace, and the Rookery Lane/Swanpool kiln all hint at the possibility that this could even have continued as late as the early sixth century. Of course, as was noted above, we should perhaps not be terribly surprised by this: not only is fifth-century continuity in the Romano-British pottery industry suspected from other parts of Britain too, but there is also good evidence for a significant degree of 'post-Roman' British activity in Lincoln and the wider Lincoln region during the fifth and sixth centuries, including the construction of a large fifth- to sixth-century church in the centre of the Roman forum. Indeed, it has been argued that Lincoln may well have retained control of its whole province at least partway through the fifth century and that at least some of the known villas and major residences within its province likewise saw a degree of continued activity and maintenance into the fifth century.(13) Finally, it is worth observing that the locally-produced vessels discussed here were not the only Roman-style pottery apparently present in 'post-Roman' Lincolnshire, as very small quantities of imported post-Roman wares have also been identified from Lincoln, including a body sherd from a potentially fifth- or sixth-century Biv eastern Mediterranean amphora found in a post-Roman deposit at Flaxengate; a rim sherd from a fifth-century Keay's form LII central/eastern Mediterranean amphora found in Saltergate; and a possible sixth-century Gaulish 'D ware' bowl found in or near Lincoln in the nineteenth century.(14)


1     Green, Britons and Anglo-Saxons: Lincolnshire AD 400–650 (Lincoln, 2012), pp. 111–12, and Green, 'The British kingdom of Lindsey', Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies, 56 (2008), 1–43 at pp. 23–4.
2     See Green, Britons and Anglo-Saxons, pp. 25–7, fig. 2, and the references cited therein; M. J. Jones, ‘The Colonia era: archaeological account’ in D. Stocker (ed.), The City by the Pool: Assessing the Archaeology of the City of Lincoln (Oxford, 2003), pp. 56–138, at pp. 97–8, 124–38.
3     Green, Britons and Anglo-Saxons, especially chapters 2–4, fully develops the case for a British territory based at Lincoln and named *Lindēs that was taken over to become the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Lindissi; see also Green, 'British kingdom of Lindsey', passim. The apsidal church at St Paul in the Bail, Lincoln, and its dating is discussed at length in Britons and Anglo-Saxons, pp. 65–9, 82–3, which partially supersedes the discussion in 'British kingdom of Lindsey', pp. 18–22.
4     See, for example, M. Whyman, ‘Invisible people? Material culture in ‘Dark Age’ Yorkshire’, in M. Carver (ed.), In Search of Cult (Woodbridge, 1992), pp. 61–8; K. R. Dark, ‘Pottery and local production at the end of Roman Britain’, in K. R. Dark (ed.), External Contacts and the Economy of Late Roman and Post-Roman Britain (Woodbridge, 1996), pp. 53–65 at p. 59; P. Rahtz, ‘Anglo-Saxon Yorkshire: current research problems’, in H. Geake & J. Kenny (eds.), Early Deira: Archaeological Studies of the East Riding in the Fourth to Ninth Centuries AD (Oxford, 2000), p. 1; J. Gerrard, 'How late is late? Pottery and the fifth century in southwest Britain', in R. Collins & J. Gerrard (eds.), Debating Late Antiquity in Britain AD 300–700 (Oxford, 2004), pp. 65–75 at p. 66; H. Cool, Eating and Drinking in Roman Britain (Cambridge, 2006), pp. 222–38; J. Gerrard, 'Finding the fifth century: a late fourth- and early fifth-century pottery fabric from south-east Dorset', Britannia 41 (2010), 293–312; K. J. Fitzpatrick-Matthews, 'Defining fifth-century ceramics in north Hertfordshire', Internet Archaeology, 41 (2016), online at
5     For the wares mentioned, see Gerrard, 'Pottery and the fifth century in southwest Britain' and J. Gerrard, 'The Black Burnished type 18 bowl and the fifth century', Internet Archaeology, 41 (2016), online at; M. Whyman, Late Roman Britain in Transition, A.D. 300–500: A Ceramic Perspective from East Yorkshire (University of York PhD Thesis, 2001); and Fitzpatrick-Matthews, 'Defining fifth-century ceramics in north Hertfordshire'.
6     See M. Darling and B. Precious, A Corpus of Roman Pottery from Lincoln (Oxford, 2014), pp. vi, 109, 114, who support the possibility of this local ware continuing in production into the fifth century. With regard to urban activity into the early fifth century at Flaxengate, see for example Jones, ‘The Colonia era: archaeological account’, p. 133; Darling and Precious, Corpus of Roman Pottery from Lincoln, p. 215.
7     K. Leahy, The Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Lindsey (Stroud, 2007), pp. 52–3, 86; K. Leahy, ‘Interrupting the Pots’: The Excavation of Cleatham Anglo-Saxon Cemetery (York, 2007), pp. 122, 126–7.
8     Leahy, ‘Interrupting the Pots’: The Excavation of Cleatham Anglo-Saxon Cemetery, pp. 125, 126–7; Leahy, Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Lindsey, pp. 52–3; K. Leahy, 'Vessel', Portable Antiquities Scheme FAKL-895042, 5 September 2013, online at For the quote on Great Casterton and Roman–Saxon burial continuity, see S. Lucy, The Anglo-Saxon Way of Death (Stroud, 2000), p. 150; on Littleborough/Segelocum in the time of Edwin of Deira, see B. Yorke, ‘Lindsey: the lost kingdom found?’, in A. Vince (ed.), Pre-Viking Lindsey (Lincoln, 1993), pp. 141–50 at pp. 141–2.
9     C. F. Lingard and L. Bonner, Blyborough-Brigg 300mm Gas Pipeline, 1993, Archaeological Report (1994), pp. 21–6, 79, fig. 7.
10     J. N. L. Myres, ‘Lincoln in the fifth century A.D.’, The Archaeological Journal, 103 (1946), 85–88 at pp. 87–88; C. R. Green, 'An early Anglo-Saxon pot from the Greetwell villa-palace', blog post, 8 April 2015, online at; D. Stocker et al, 'The Greetwell villa', LARA RAZ 7.23, Heritage Connect Lincoln, online at; D. Stocker & P. Everson, 'The straight and narrow way: Fenland causeways and the conversion of the landscape in the Witham valley, Lincolnshire', in M. O. H. Carver (ed.), The Cross Goes North: Processes of Conversion in Northern Europe, A.D. 300–1300 (Woodbridge, 2002), pp. 271–88 at p. 279.
11     K. R. Dark, ‘Pottery and local production at the end of Roman Britain’, in K. R. Dark (ed.), External Contacts and the Economy of Late Roman and Post-Roman Britain, edited by K. R. Dark (Woodbridge, 1996), pp. 53–65 at pp. 58–9; see also Jones, ‘The Colonia era: archaeological account’, p. 138. It should be noted that whilst Dark's argument has been approached with some caution in the past due to an apparent lack of other evidence for the continuence of the Romano-British pottery industry beyond c. AD 400 in the Lincoln region, this is clearly no longer a credible objection in light of the other evidence noted above. See also Green, 'British kingdom of Lindsey', pp. 23 and fn. 97, for another Romano-British kiln in the Lincoln region, at Lea near Gainsborough, which has some curious magnetic dating results that appear to indicate that its last firing could have taken place in the mid–late fifth century—Dr D. Tarling and Mrs N. H. Yassi's note that ‘[i]f the kiln was not last fired at this time, then the reason for the observed deviation is not known and urgently requires further study’: N. Field, ‘Romano-British pottery kilns in the Trent Valley’, Lincolnshire History and Archaeology, 19 (1984), 100–02 at pp. 101–02.
12     D. C. Briscoe, 'Two important stamp motifs in Roman Britain and thereafter', Internet Archaeology, 41 (2016), online at
13     See Green, Britons and Anglo-Saxons (Lincoln, 2012), pp. 93–5, 113, 152 and fig. 21a on possible provincial continuity. On major Late Roman residences in the region that may have seen continued maintenance and use into the fifth century, see, for example, the Roman palace at Castor, located 10 miles to the south-east of Great Casterton—the walls here still stood up to 11 feet high in the nineteenth century and it has been suggested that both they and the roof of this structure were maintained and remained sound at least partway into the 'post-Roman' era. Likewise, the Late Roman villa at Denton, near Grantham, had at least one additional phase of building work after the very late fourth century and appears to have still had a sound roof as late as the early sixth century, which is clearly intriguing. Finally, the previously mentioned sixth-century domestic vessel found in the villa-palace at Lincoln has been considered indicative of continued occupation there into the sixth century, and the recovery of an exceptionally high status British silver proto-hand-pin of potentially fifth-century date from the villa at Welton le Wold, near Louth, is clearly similarly suggestive. See further on these examples S. G. Upex, 'The Praetorium of Edmund Artis: a summary of excavations and surveys of the palatial Roman structure at Castor, Cambridgeshire 1828–2010', Britannia, 42 (2011), 23–112 at pp. 97–8; J. T. Smith, 'The Roman villa at Denton', Lincolnshire Architectural and Archaeological Society Reports and Papers, 10.2 (1964), 75–104 and C. R, Green, 'Roman mosaics from the Greetwell villa-palace and other sites in Lincolnshire', blog post, 11 February 2015, online at; J. N. L. Myres, ‘Lincoln in the fifth century A.D.’, The Archaeological Journal, 103 (1946), 85–88 at pp. 87–88, and J. N. L. Myres, The English Settlements (Oxford, 1986), p. 182; and S. M. Youngs, 'Welton le Wold, Lincolnshire', in DCMS, Treasure Annual Report 2001, pp. 43–4, and C. R. Green, 'Villas and ranches on the late Roman Lincolnshire Wolds: the Welton le Wold villa and its landscape context', blog post, 5 December 2014, online at
14     M. Darling and B. Precious, A Corpus of Roman Pottery from Lincoln (Oxford, 2014), pp. 228, 241; L. A. Gilmour, Early Medieval Pottery from Flaxengate, Lincoln (London, 1988), p. 167; C. Thomas, 'Imported pottery in Dark-Age western Britain', Medieval Archaeology, 3 (1959), 89–111 at p. 95.

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