Welcome Guest [Log In] [Register]

From Aug 2006 - Nov 2013 WeDig provided a live forum for diggers & fans of Vindolanda. It has now been mothballed and will be maintained as a live archive.

Here you will find preserved 7 years of conversation, photos, & knowledge about a site many people love. Vindolanda gets under the skin. (Figuratively and literally as a volunteer excavator!) It's a place you remember, filled with people you remember!

Thanks for 7 great years!

A Guide to Samian Pottery Common at Vindolanda

If you’ve watched any TV archaeologists digging a Roman site, you’ve heard of and seen samian ware pottery. Glossy, deep red, elegant, it’s synonymous with fine dining & fine living. It’s also extremely useful stuff for archaeologists! A pro can look at a sherd and tell you what it looked like whole, the town in Gaul (modern France) where it was made, and possibly within 5-10 years of when it was made. This is a boon for a site like Vindolanda, with all its various phases and centuries of occupation.

Samian arrived in Britain soon after the Roman legions in 43 AD. It was viewed as classy tableware and came in dozens of forms -- bowls, plates, mugs, pitchers, cups, mortaria. Some are plain, some decorated with lines, geometric forms, or even stamped images of high artistry. It gained its beautiful finish by being dipped in red “slip” (liquified clay) before being fired in a kiln. Makers often stamped their names in the pottery, and some are dateable to within 1-2 years -- a modern archaeologist's dream. One of the many joys of a dig at Vindolanda is the chance of finding a “maker’s mark” on a piece you uncover.

Owners of samian ware seem to have valued their pieces highly. Many scratched their names into their wares, and repaired damaged plates with bits of lead. You might get lucky and find such a piece!

About 230 AD the industry collapsed. It seems the industry executives picked the losing side in one of Rome’s many civil wars. Roman culture survived in Britain for two more centuries. But the industry never recovered, and no viable successor ever took up the mantle.

Here is a small MS Word file with the most common types of samian pottery found at Vindolanda. This information comes from the Potsherd Web site, a -fantastic- resource for anyone with interest in Roman pottery in Britain. For more information on samian specifically, click this link here.

Happy digging!