A selection of ceramics through the ages (5 second delay) Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology The Collections:
PotWeb: Ceramics online
@ the Ashmolean Museum
· Early Europe & Near East
· Classical to Medieval
· Europe from 1500
· Oriental & Islamic
CONSPICUOUS LIQUID CONSUMPTION
A RE-EVALUATION EXERCISE OF
THE NEW BODLEIAN EXTENSION SITE, BROAD STREET, OXFORD 1937

What has this re-assessment told us about the Oxford society of these extra-mural tenements?

Overall, the vessels which predominate in these assemblages are the jugs.  The coarsewares, represented almost exclusively by jars, seem to diminish rapidly by the late 13th century, when presumably they are replaced by metal kitchen vessels.  (However, one should also remember retrieval of the polychrome jugs may have taken preference over the more mundane coarsewares).  How far can we infer from the tablewares just who did reside in these tenements in the 13th and 14th centuries? The wealth of jugs in all the wells clearly shows that conspicuous consumption and the colour and decoration of tableware was important -- with potters of the 13th century responding with brightly coloured, gaily decorated wares to meet this demand.   Documentary evidence depicts Brill as a hunting lodge during the period 1230-1270AD and 89 tons of wine are recorded, arriving in wooden barrels -- 13 were from the king's cellars in Oxford.  Being under the king's patronage may well have provided the impetus for the Brill/Boarstall industry to make a variety of elaborately decorated and sized jugs (Mellor 1994, 132), from which other more lowly Oxford residents benefited.  All this creates a picture of a 13th century urban society where sociable dining and drinking played an important role. 
Fig.13.  Drawing vinegar from a keg. Italian c.1385AD

The variety of jugs may imply different uses -- a desire for jugs of different volumes is indicated to accommodate both serving and decanting of liquids, and future research may, for instance, show how different sized jugs may have been needed to hold different liquids e.g. ale, wine, vinegar or milk (Fig.13).  It is possible these relate to standard medieval measurements -- as Blinkhorn (in Woodward & Blinkhorn 1997, 154) has demonstrated with dry measures in dishes.  The uniformity in size of jugs from Well 4 raises questions on how local wares might rise to meet a communal need. Mugs and cups for drinking did not arrive until the later 14th century, but the lack of individual drinking vessels, such as small jugs, in the later assemblages is surprising and argues the use of other types of materials which do not survive well in the archaeological record --for instance wooden bowls or even glass.               

Some of the earlier assemblages give some indications of personal choice and this may well be linked to a desire for social differentiation.  Whilst it cannot confirm or deny occupation by tradesmen in the 13th century,  there is a hint in these well assemblages of those who sought to be 'different' and to identify themselves separately from their neighbours.

 


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