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


PotWeb is dedicated to broadening the understanding of ceramics by use of innovative methods such as the online catalogue, interactive visitor facilities and various study modules. The latter approach forms the basis for this study.


Study-Notice: This module will take about 15 - 30 minutes to read and will provide additional follow-up ideas and links for further study.


As an online study module, one of the primary objectives for this exercise is to present additional information to compliment the PotWeb database. By addressing selective themes and employing up-to-date recognised archaeological methodologies, it is hoped that the Seacourt Deserted Medieval Settlement (DMS) can be re-examined with the aim of producing fresh and informative knowledge, ultimately showing the value of re-examining such sites.


The following exercise is the result of a four week work placement at the Ashmolean Museum during the summer of 2001. As a result, what is presented here is only a brief glimpse of the kind of thinking employed by archaeologists which will demonstrate the value of re-examining sites such as Seacourt. It also demonstrates the potential of the wealth of excavated material evidence housed in the Ashmolean Museum.


Information sources


Documentary evidence

All documentary evidence concerning the Seacourt excavations is stored in the Ashmolean Museum’s archive room. There are two box-files available for the 1938/39 excavations and four for 1958/59. These contain all relevant correspondence, site note-books, diaries, photographic evidence and newspaper articles.


Material evidence

The excavated material from Seacourt is also housed at the Ashmolean. The material culture of this medieval settlement, in terms of pottery sherds, stone, iron/slag deposits etc., can be reconstructed from these finds (see Tables 1. and 2.)


'What can we learn from looking at pottery and why is it important to archaeology?'


Pottery is one of the most important materials to the archaeologist, providing significant additional information on themes such as the dating, status and fashion/trends of a site, to name but a few. The robust structure of pottery ensures a near-infinite survival rate for ceramic objects compared for example to that of wood, cloth or other organic materials.

However, apart from deliberate burials such as hoard containers or cremation urns, it is rare that complete vessels are found intact; instead remnants of discarded broken pots, jugs or other ceramic objects are unearthed more frequently. As a result, these small fragments of pottery, known as sherds or potsherds, are by far the most common finds on the majority of excavated Roman and Medieval sites.

  Table 1. Seacourt, 1938/39


Material Culture



mineral fragments




Total Boxes:








  Table 2. Seacourt, 1958/59


Material Culture




Total Boxes:







As you can see from tables 1 and 2, the bulk of excavated material consists of ceramics. We can split the ceramic material culture into two general categories of fabric-type:


Coarseware pottery

Mainly used for cooking pots and storage vessels, Coarseware ceramics need to withstand intense heating and burning, with evidence of carbon residue often a distinguishing feature. Coarsewares are porous and are rarely glazed.


Fineware pottery

Most drinking vessels and food consumption items such as jugs, bowls etc. are made of fineware. This is usually thinner than coarseware and often decorated. The highly decorated era of 13th century England featured many interesting and lavish designs, with thick coloured glaze, incised and applied strips as elements of the decoration.

Figure 2. Potsherds taken from Seacourt Area 4, Bag 54. (SF 30/31.5.6)

Fineware sherds Coarseware sherds

... Introduction ... Index ... Background ...
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last updated: 31-Oct-2002