Cottam B: the pottery by Tony Austin

I Introduction

The following is concerned with the identification, quantification and analysis of the pottery assemblages recovered in three interventions at the Cottam B site; fieldwalking in 1993 (COT93F) followed by excavations in 1993 (COT93E) and 1995 (COT95E). It builds on and adds to earlier investigations undertaken by metal detectorists (Haldenby 1990, 1992, 1994) and to an episode of structured fieldwalking in 1989 (Didsbury 1990).

In total 637 sherds were examined, weighing 6308 grams with an average sherd weight of 10 grams. Activity as represented by the pottery was assignable to all the main period descriptors from the Bronze Age onwards. In order to provide a general overview of the assemblage identified fabrics were grouped accordingly (specific sherds are referred to by context followed by small find number, eg 1234.100, or grid reference in the case of fieldwalking, eg A3)

Bronze Age

  1. Bronze Age: A rough, soft, orange-buff, hand-thrown fabric containing very large mineral (dolerite) grits up to 5mm across. The fabric is represented by only one sherd (COT93E 1004.96) which, as noted by Blaise Vyner (1993), comes from the body of a collared urn (Gibson, 1986, 42-3: Gibson & Woods, 1990, 122-6).

Iron Age

  1. Iron Age: A rough, relatively soft, hand-thrown fabric which has buff to grey-buff surfaces with a mid grey core and is tempered with very large mineral grits up to 5mm across, quartzite sand and occasional shell. Relatively thin-walled when compared to Bronze Age material. The assemblage fits within a broad spectrum of recently published Iron Age fabrics in the northeast although the specifics of the inclusions vary geographically (for example, see Buckland et al, 1990: Sumpter, 1990).


  1. Samian: A smooth, hard-fired, oxidized tableware with a distinctive glossy orange-red slip which was mass-produced on the Continent during the Roman period and imported in large quantities (eg Johns, 1971, 24-5: Swan, 1988, 12-3). Specifically the material at Cottam appears to be of Central Gaulish manufacture and datable to the mid to late 2nd century (Darling & Davies, 1993).

  2. grog tempered pottery: A smooth, hard-fired fabric which generally has a dark grey exterior and grey-buff interior with a mid grey core. Crushed pottery has been used as a filler with visible shrinkage lines caused by the wet clay drying away from this inert material (eg Gibson & Woods, 1990, 171-3). The pottery appears Roman in date with the only identified rim sherd (COT93F H8) typically Roman in form.

  3. Crambeck parchment ware: Produced very late within the Roman period and ranges from a smooth, fairly hard-fired, white fabric with few visible inclusions to a white buff fabric tempered with abundant fine sand 0.1-0.2mm across (Evans, 1989, 55). Of the four sherds recovered three were from mortaria with the fourth probably from a dish or platter. Vessels were often painted (eg Corder, 1989, 16) but as it survives none of the Cottam material was so decorated.

  4. ‘other' grey wares: A group of sherds which are clearly in the Roman grey ware tradition but not assignable to the East Yorkshire and Crambeck fabrics (below) which dominate here.

  5. calcite gritted wares: Rough, medium to hard-fired, orange-buff to dark grey fabric with characteristic voids (up to 5mm) where calcite crystals have been leached out. The fabric also contains fine quartzite sand which may have been added or already have been present in the clay. The use of calcite starts as an Iron Age tradition in the east of Yorkshire and continues throughout the Roman period with a greatly expanded distribution from the mid 3rd century in the form of hand-thrown Knapton type cooking pots or jars (also at Norton - Hayes & Whitley, 1950, 30-1 & fig 11) which have a more pronounced out-turned rim. In the later 4th century Huntcliffe type jars come to prominence with their distinctive wheel-turned hooked rims and internal grooved lid-seating (see Gibson & Woods, 1990, 183-4 & figs 68, 142, 150: Swan 1988, 36 & fig 16). The fabric of the latter additionally often contains large quartz fragments. The rim forms at Cottam are mainly Knapton and Huntcliffe type which suggests this assemblage largely represents activity late within the Roman period. A small number of rim sherds appear to come from bowls or dishes (eg COT93E 1027.27; 3053.537) and a parallel may exist in York within the fortress area where 20% of calcite gritted vessels recovered from Blake Street were late Roman dishes (Monaghan, 1993, 719). An unusually decorated sherd was recovered during fieldwalking (COT93F F15) with stamped ‘c' shapes and short vertical incised lines which may date beyond the range of the rest of the calcite gritted material in the assemblage.

  6. Crambeck grey ware: A hard, slightly abrasive, wheel-thrown fabric that has slipped medium grey surfaces and a very light grey core. The clay contains sand which includes quartz (0.1-0.2mm) and grits such as iron ore. Production appears to begin very late within the 3rd century and continues into the 5th (Corder, 1989: Evans, 1989, 55). At Cottam a range of forms were present including jars, beakers, bowls, dishes, flanged bowls or platters and mortaria.

  7. East Yorkshire grey wares: A hard, slightly abrasive, wheel-thrown fabric that generally has a light to medium grey core and surfaces with the latter sometimes decorated with burnished lines. The clay contains sand which includes quartz (0.1-0.2mm) and grits such as iron ore. It has an expanded production from the mid 3rd century with kiln sites including Norton and Holme-on-Spalding Moor (Corder, 1934; 1950, 27: Hayes, 1988: Swan, 1988, 34 & pl xvi). Forms known at Cottam include jars, bowls, flanged bowls, jugs or flagons and a colander or sieve, the latter found by metal detectorists.

Anglian or Early Medieval

  1. Maxey type ware: A medium-hard to hard fabric which has clearly suffered from irregular firing, possibly within a clamp kiln, with the surface and core colouration of recovered sherds ranging from black through grey to red-brown. The clay has been tempered with crushed shell and vessels were hand-thrown with surfaces finished by washing giving a soft soapy feel. The sherds at Cottam suggested by Alan Vince as a possible Maxey type ware (pers com) appear similar to type G within group III of Peter Addyman's classification of the pottery from Maxey (Addyman, 1964, 47-58: Addyman & Whitwell, 1970, 96-101); however, the one rim sherd recovered (COT95E 4157.196) has a rounded top outside of the Maxey flat-topped rim tradition. Group III Maxey type wares are generally dated within the later part of the Middle Anglian period (later 8th to earlier 9th centuries) and have been noted in York (Mainman, 1990, 394-5; 1993, 566-7)

  2. organic tempered: A softish fabric that has been irregularly fired, probably within a clamp kiln, with core and surface variations in colour from brown to dark grey or black. The fabric contains quartzite sand and mica and has voids suggestive of organic tempering (or possibly post-deposition root activity?). It appears to fall within the range of similar Middle Anglian organic tempered material identified in period 3 at Fishergate in York (Mainman, 1990, 398; 1993, 568) and at nearby Wharram Percy (Green, 1992, 27). With one exception the recovery of organic tempered material was restricted to the 1993 excavations and it may be that sherds break up rapidly during surface exposure, certainly post-excavation cleaning affected the material. The shape of some of the sherds suggests they may be fragmented from loom-weights.

  3. Torksey type ware: A characteristic Late Anglian or Viking period sandy grey ware with a ‘pimpled' surface. The hard-fired fabric is generally reduced but with irregular firing often producing a ‘sandwich' effect with surfaces varying from red-brown to near black surrounding a red to light or dark grey core. Tempering includes coarse sand, quartz and calcite which produces the abrasive surface (see McCarthy & Brooks, 1988, 151-3: Mainman, 1990, 426-41). None of the sherds from Cottam bear the rouletting or thumbed decoration often associated with this tradition. The bulk of the rim sherds present are from recognizable Torksey forms of cooking pots, bowls and flanged bowls which represent 10-12th century production; however, at least one sherd (COT93F C12) in a Torksey type fabric has an unusual vessel form. This sherd lies outside an otherwise concentrated distribution of Torksey type ware and may in fact represent a different tradition.

  4. York ware: Like the Torksey type ware (12) a Late Anglian or Viking period sandy ware with a ‘pimpled' surface. Generally hard and wheel-thrown with irregular firing producing a wide colour range from buff through red to grey in both core and surfaces including ‘sandwich' effects. Visible tempering consists of a coarse quartzite sand, feldspar, sandstone fragments (up to 2.5mm) and may include muscovite, oxides, calcite and rock fragments containing these (see McCarthy & Brooks, 1988, 141-2: Mainman, 1990, 406-7). York ware forms are dominated by cooking pots as are recognizable sherds at Cottam which are probably 10th century.

  5. ‘fabric c': A hard fired wheel-thrown grey ware. Originally classed as Roman but it easily falls within the range of Late Anglian or Viking period sandy grey wares such as Thetford or Torksey. Sherds have medium grey surfaces and a light grey to buff pink (unevenly fired?) core and are tempered with coarse grits (avg 0.5 but up to 5mm) and quartz (up to 0.1mm) which give surfaces a pimpled texture. A number of ‘fresh' looking and conjoining sherds of fabric c were recovered from a context which also contained York ware (COT95E 4279).


  1. Medieval: Here grouped and mostly consisting of a few small abraded sherds recovered during fieldwalking. Broadly reflects a larger assemblage from nearby Wharram (eg Le Patourel, 1979) and ranges from regional fine orange wares (see Hayfield, 1985: Jennings, 1992), some suspension glazed, to local coarse wares possibly from nearby Staxton (see Brewster, 1958).


  1. Post-Medieval: A loose grouping of Post-Medieval and modern fabrics ranging from 17th century coarse earthenware such as black ware and salt glazed mottled stoneware to later pattern glazed pottery (eg. Crossley, 1990, 243-67). Emphasis within this assemblage is towards the 17-19th centuries.

The Medieval and Post Medieval assemblages have not been broken down into specific fabric types here. The former is represented by a very small group of sherds and the latter largely beyond the interest of the current project. Fuller details are available through referencing the project archive. Also a small number of sherds could not be assigned to specific fabrics and have been grouped together (0) for the purpose of analysis.

Quantification and analysis has been conducted in terms of sherd counts and by weight. A full breakdown of the assemblages from each intervention is given in appendix A - tables 3-5. Modern pottery studies usually see estimated vessel equivalents (eve's) as the most reliable means of quantification (eg Orton et al, 1993, 168-73); however, the dispersed and limited nature of the Cottam B assemblage precludes such an approach. When fabrics are grouped by period (fig 2) it is clear that late Roman pottery dominates accounting for over 70% of the assemblage by weight with the Anglian and Post-Medieval periods at a little over 10% each whilst other periods and unidentified sherds account for around 5%; however, it should be remembered that the scale of pottery production and hence usage has varied greatly in the past, for example, an apparent decline in the post-Roman period.

II Fieldwalking in 1993 (COT93F)

During January of 1993 fieldwalking was undertaken at the Cottam B site by students within the Department of Archaeology of the University of York under experienced supervision (Vyner, 1993). Divided into 30 metre squares just under 12 hectares (29 acres) were walked in the large arable field to the west of Burrow House Farm. Recovery levels seem to have been good judging from the size of some of the sherds in the assemblage with a number weighing under one gram. One difficult area may relate to Crambeck parchment ware (5) in that only rims were recovered. Presumably this reflects the difficulty of differentiating essentially white parchment ware body sherds from material in the topsoil brought up by ploughing from the underlying natural chalk of the Wolds; however, this is a relatively minor problem in that this ware is a minimal part of the major assemblage by period (see fig 1). Distributions in the fieldwalked area are intriguing (see also Appendix B)

Iron Age

Consists of a thin scattering of small abraded sherds, eight in total with an average weight of 4.0 grams. It is difficult to suggest that such an assemblage even represents manuring. The Iron Age material was concentrated to towards the west and north of the fieldwalked area broadly reflecting the later distribution of Roman sherds and it may be that the former became incorporated into midden in the latter period. In other words the Iron Age and Roman settlement foci correspond


There appears to be an ubiquitous spread of Roman material across the fieldwalked area which is mostly late in date. Subsequent excavations (see below) recovered a few sherds of later nd century Samian (3) and the forms of some of the non-specific grey wares (6) suggest they may date to this period or the earlier 3rd century but the assemblage is overwhelmingly later 3rd century through to the 5th consisting mainly of East Yorkshire grey wares (9), late forms of calcite gritted pottery (7) and Crambeck wares (5 & 8). Thus the pottery suggests a massive increase of interest in the area of the Cottam B site late within the Roman period. Peter Didsbury notes of the 1989 fieldwalking that the low average sherd weight (under 12 grams - see appendix A for COT93F) is unlikely to represent more than the process of manuring using midden (1990, 66). A few sherds appeared fairly fresh but densities within the fieldwalked area (an average of 27.5 sherds per hectare without significant clustering) do not suggest anything other than general background agricultural activity. Any settlement focus must lie outside the fieldwalked area. A close study of the distribution of Roman sherds reveals a tapering off towards the west and east of the fieldwalked area which possibly suggests boundaries or changes in land use in these directions.

Anglian or Early Medieval

In terms of the pottery assemblage there is very little evidence for activity within the earlier parts of this period. A sherd of organic tempered ware (11) was identified (H8) which was similar to a small number of sherds subsequently recovered during the 1993 excavations. It may be, as noted above, that this softish fabric breaks up fairly rapidly upon having its equilibrium disturbed through transition into a plough soil which could explain an albeit limited excavation presence against a fieldwalking paucity in an area where other data (metal detector finds) clearly demonstrate Middle Saxon activity. Apart from this and a occasional outlier the 1993 fieldwalking identified a discrete and exciting distribution of Late Saxon pottery in the extreme east of the fieldwalked area (Appendix B). Concentrated in an area approximately 200 by 100 metres the Late Saxon sherds fade towards the south but activity as represented by these sherds may well continue to the north and east outside of the area investigated. Consisting mainly of Torksey type ware (12) and some York Ware (13) this assemblage (see appendix A) corresponds with the distribution of a small group of 10th century metalwork recovered by metal detectorists and was subsequently related to settlement activity (see 1995 excavations below).


The Medieval component of the fieldwalking assemblage at the Cottam B site could be seen as insignificant; however, it does appear to support arguments for major landscape reorganization during the transition to Medieval England. The assemblage consists of 14 small abraded sherds widely spread within an area approximately 150 metres square to the west and south of the distribution of Late Saxon material (above) and interestingly corresponding with a major concentration of Middle Saxon metalwork finds, the area of the 1993 excavations. Whilst this appears to demonstrate a clear shift of focus it is likely that the Medieval sherds represent an occasional, perhaps seasonal, focus of activity. Alternatively there may have been an increase in the amount of land under pasture with the distribution of sherds representing a small arable area. Whichever the sparseness of material may suggest a remote source possibly reflecting the establishment of a new settlement foci as represented by the nearby Deserted Medieval Villages (DMV's) of Cottam and Cowlam.


There was a light spread of post-Medieval material over much of the fieldwalked area totalling 84 sherds with an average of seven per hectare although there was a distinct decrease in density of sherds to the west and south. The sherds presumably represent manuring and the observed patterning may reflect no-longer extant boundaries and changing land use. As noted above there was a relatively small amount of modern material in the assemblage which may perhaps reflects changing agricultural practice with domestic waste no longer being used for large-scale manuring.

III Excavation in 1993 (COT93E)

Three 10 * 20 metre trenches were opened within the main crop-mark area at Cottam B and within area of the main concentration of Middle Saxon metalwork finds. In the event resources only allowed the detailed examination of two of these trenches. The third produced a solitary sherd of Crambeck grey ware (8) during clearance. Sampling within the combined 400 square metres of the other two trenches produced a limited but possibly illuminating assemblage.

In total 88 sherds were recovered (fig 3) 42 of which were associated with clearance or modern activity such as deep ploughing. The remaining material mostly dated late within the Roman period. The vast majority of these sherds were abraded and small with an average weight of 5.5 grams. Despite being the major component of the assemblage their number and condition suggest they are most likely to be redeposited from the general background scatter of Roman material noted during fieldwalking (see above - similarly for the three Iron Age sherds identified in this assemblage). Certainly residuality is confirmed for a number of contexts through the presence of artefacts datable to later periods including a very small group of organic tempered material (11) including fragments from loomweights which have been assigned a Middle Saxon date as discussed in the fabric descriptions above. As already noted this softish fabric may disintegrate easily and consequently only material that quickly reached a buried equilibrium survives.

Activity, as represented by excavated contexts, appears to cease in the Anglian period. The one later sherd identified, the base of a Medieval jug (3002.19), was in the destruction layer associated with a corn-drying oven. Other finds are suggestive of an Anglian date for this feature and it is not inconceivable that Medieval material became incorporated into the final destruction deposit. It is worth noting that the 1993 excavations were within the area of a limited distribution of Medieval pottery identified during fieldwalking and suggested as representing intermittent or seasonal activity (see above). At the other extreme the earliest activity is represented by part of a Bronze Age collared urn (1004.96) which was recorded as being within the upper fill of a major north-south ditch which is datable to the Anglian period; however, the sherd is more specifically noted as a surface find during clearance and should more correctly be included with the latter. Peter Didsbury notes a small Bronze Age component within the 1989 fieldwalking assemblage (1990, fig. 9) with this and the excavated sherd probably representing the destruction of Bronze Age features by ploughing. Certainly, barrows known and referenced in the SMR as within the vicinity of the Cottam B site have become all but invisible today.

The excavation assemblage is summarised in table 1 which show fabric types by context grouped by phase. Although limited it can be seen that the pottery assemblage supports this phasing. The bulk of the material is late Roman in date; calcite gritted (7), Crambeck grey (8) and, to a lesser degree, East Yorkshire grey wares (9); however, as noted, this mostly consisted of small abraded sherds that should be seen as residual. At best re-deposition could have occurred very late within the Roman period but is perhaps more likely to be post-Roman which is confirmed in two cases; 1003, the backfill of a large circular straight-sided pit, and 1004, upper fill of a recut of a major north-south ditch, both of which contained material in an tempered fabric (11) assigned to the Middle Saxon period. With the primary fill of the initial cut of the same ditch containing several sherds of abraded late Roman pottery it suggests a use-span for this feature restricted to the earlier parts of the Anglian period. Similarly in the other contexts containing pottery the evidence that supports an Anglian date is essentially negative in that the latest fabrics present (with one exception as already noted) are sherds of abraded late Roman pottery although some can be dated more precisely by the presence of other Anglian material or stratigraphically (ibid). It is of interest that organic tempered material was only found in the later of the two Anglian phases, IIB.

IV Excavation in 1995 (COT95E)

An area 20 * 50 metres was opened in 1995 to the north of the 1993 excavations on the edge of a concentration of metal detected 10th century finds and within an area of Late Saxon pottery identified during fieldwalking (above). Geophysics had also confirmed a complex series of features in this area that were not visible in aerial photographs (Garner-Lahire, this vol.). A total of 65 sherds were recovered although 15 were associated with clearance or modern activity such as deep ploughing.

When examined by period (fig. 4) the assemblage is immediately striking in comparison to the overall assemblage from Cottam B (fig. 2) or to that from the 1993 excavations (fig. 3) in that the total dominance of Roman fabrics is clearly challenged and even physically surpassed in terms of weight by a group of mostly late Anglian material. The Roman sherds, as elsewhere at the Cottam B site, are mostly small and abraded and similarly representative of manuring spreads redeposited in to later features. The average weight of these late Roman sherds is 9.5 grams which, while still low, is far in excess of the average 5.5 from 1993; however one example from 1995 weighed just under 100 grams and when removed from any calculation gives an average weight of under 6 grams. The unusually heavy sherd was a pedestal base from a Crambeck grey ware beaker (4092.58) which showed evidence of burning and appeared to have been cut down for possible re-use as a lamp. It was recovered from one of a series of east-west ditches which have been assigned a Middle Saxon date, phase IIB.

The earliest identifiable Anglian material is represented by three sherds in a Maxey type fabric (10). That this fabric was not identified within the 1993 assemblage and that the latest material from the this area was in an organic tempered fabric (11) which has been assigned a Middle Saxon date it suggests that the Maxey type ware is later in date, probably later within the Middle Saxon period, especially in consideration of its association with mostly Late Saxon material (see seriation - tables 1-2). As discussed above the fabric of the Maxey type sherds is closest to Peter Addyman's group III, type G which has been assigned a date range within the later 8th - 9th centuries, Thus a shift in activity foci is suggested late within the Middle Saxon period. The Maxey type sherds were identified within a quarry pit (4091) also containing Late Saxon Torksey type ware and within one of a number of associated enclosure ditches and gullies some of which contained Late Saxon material; however, the bulk of the Saxon material from the 1995 excavations is late suggesting activity was concentrated within the 10-11th centuries including pottery recovered from features representing structural activity (ie 4279). The Late Saxon material, representing nearly 50% of the excavation assemblage, was mostly in a Torksey type fabric (12) but also included a small number of sherds in a fabric similar to York ware (13) and a number of sherds, fabric C (14), which are almost certainly Late Saxon as they fall within the tradition of Late Saxon sandy wares and were recovered from a post-hole (4279) containing York Ware. In short, the pottery assemblage supports other data (this volume) in assigning a generally Late Saxon date, but probably starting late within the Middle Saxon period, to settlement activity identified during the 1995 excavation.

Settlement activity also appears to cease within the Late Saxon period. The latest material within layers interpreted as representing general silting and in part sealing excavated features is Late Saxon apart from one (intrusive?) post-Medieval sherd (Table 2 - 4002, 4004, 4116 and 4178) which suggests another shift in settlement focus at this time. Thus the pottery assemblage helps to categorise a discrete settlement episode starting late within the Middle Saxon period and appearing to end within the Late Saxon period. The latest recognizable forms with in the Late Saxon assemblage were consistently 10th century as represented by Torksey type rims.

V Summary

Fieldwalking was on a large enough scale to allow the identification of distinct patterning in the distribution of the assemblage by period particularly in relation to the overall research aims of the investigations being undertaken at Cottam. Generally this appears to represent changing land use but discrete spreads of both Late Saxon and Medieval pottery where noted. The former, in the extreme east of the fieldwalked area, correlated with 10th century metalwork finds and is suggestive of an activity focus as subsequently confirmed by excavation (see below - COT95E). The latter, to the south and west of the earlier Late Saxon material, is suggestive of a restricted area of occasional activity with any significant Medieval foci elsewhere.

Despite its smallness the pottery assemblage recovered during the 1993 excavations from within an area of cropmarks and and within the area of a concentation of 8th and 9th century metal detected finds is supportive that excavated features largely relate to activity in this period. The evidence is largely negative in that the bulk of the assemblage consisted of small abraded sherds of late Roman date. These are interpreted as having been re-deposited into later features from late Roman manuring spreads identified during fieldwalking; however, (with one exception noted above) the latest material in the assemblage is in an organic tempered fabric assigned a Middle Saxon date. Thus activity appears bracketted between post-Roman and the latter period with a lack of early Anglian material emphasising the latter.

The 1995 excavations confirmed that material recovered during fieldwalking in 1993 represented underlying settlement activity which, from the excavated assemblage, can be reasonably suggested as starting at some time within the 9th and lasting at least into the 10th century but probably ceasing therein or soon after as indicated by the lack of sherds representing later fabrics and forms. Whilst the excavated and fieldwalked assemblages are small (67 sherds in total) they are not only significant in helping to identify a Late Saxon or Viking period focus of rural settlement activity but also in providing an important rural comparative for assemblages from this period in urban contexts such as York and more generally in consideration of town - hinterland relationships at this time.

Appendix A

Table 3 - 1993 fieldwalking assemblage

Table 4 - 1993 excavation assemblage

Table 5 - 1995 excavation assemblage

Appendix B


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