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


Did size matter?


The calculation of the capacity of those vessels with a complete profile is shown in Table 4. The volume of each vessel is arrived at by dividing it into a series of one centimetre thick conic frusta and summing their volumes.   Such calculations on medieval pots with their variable shapes is certainly not without problems and a discussion of these  can be found in "Methods of calculating the Capacity of Pottery Vessels" together with the details of the calculations Table 5 and Table 6 (Thomas 2004).

Those vessels with a complete profile represent 20% of the EVE.  Whilst this is a very small sample, they do give some indication of the size of the vessels being used within each well assemblage.   Well 2, dating to the late 12th/early 13th century, produced jugs of a vastly different capacity. The tripod pitcher is the largest vessel at 9.5L, as against  the baluster jug at 1.8L.  The size of the tripod pitcher implied a different use (Fig.10). When full it would surely have been too heavy to lift and may have been used more as a floor standing storage vessel, where the handle served simply to tip the vessel forward to pour out its contents the single foot being positioned carefully below the handle and the other two placed either side of the spout to ensure the vessel rocked forward easily to decant the liquid.

Fig.10. A tripod pitcher (1937, Fig.22B, Well 2)( AN1937.452X, OXY).

The chronologically later jugs have smaller capacities. However, there is a return to a larger vessel size in the biconical jug of Well 10 which dates to the late 13th/early 14th century (Fig. 11). It is probable that wine or ale would have been decanted into the smaller jugs for use at the table.  Interestingly, both storage and decanting vessels were glazed and decorated, which implies the storage vessels for liquid were on public show, not hidden away in the kitchen.

Fig. 11. Biconical jug (Well 10, Fig.25A, 106)(AN1938.1259).

The rounded jug appears the most versatile and is in common use throughout the period, with capacities ranging from 2.0L to 4.5L (Fig.12). The baluster jug too appears to provide a range of volumes.  The smallest appearing in the Nuneaton Ware (OXAH) fabric (4L), and the largest in the transitional OXAMAW fabric (18L) -- a transition between the earlier and later Brill/Boarstall tradition, in a vessel which Bruce-Mitford suggested by its rather distorted shape was an early prototype baluster form.  It is possible the baluster shape was a response to the increasing demand for tablewares -- its basic shape being potentially good to store in the restricted space of the tenement and designed to stack economically in the kiln at the production centre (Fig.13).

Fig.12: The rounded jug (1937,Fig23,100)

Fig.13: The baluster jug (1937, Fig24H,102)

Only one vessel has a capacity below 2L, the most popular size falling between 2-3L.  Where the volume of two or more vessels are known within the same well groups -- Wells 2 and 11 show vessels with a varied capacity, but Well 4 shows little variation in its three vessels and all derive from the same local Brill/Boarstall  tradition and share the same mottle green glaze.  Well 4, dated to late 13th/early 14th century,  is sited behind what was originally Well Hall  which transferred into the ownership of Osney Abbey c.1220 AD.  It is possible that the communal dining table created a need for a more uniform jug size, although stronger evidence than this is needed to support such conjecture.


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