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The University of Southampton
Archaeology Part of Humanities

Research Group: Southampton Ceramics Research Group

Currently Active:

Southampton has a long and diverse history of research into archaeological ceramics. Pioneered by David Peacock from the 1960s onwards, the field is now thriving at the University, and includes a combination of social and scientific approaches, with specific projects focusing on areas widely distributed through time and space.

Our research centres on the integration of scientific/empirical data and rigorous methodological and theoretical critique. Many of the initiatives that have come from Southampton ceramics research have made significant impact upon the wider field, with many of our innovations being widely adopted.

Ceramic studies at Southampton cover a timescale from the Neolithic to the contemporary and ethnographic, and focus on areas of the world as widespread as the Caribbean, Central and Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean, Egypt and the Sudan, India, Afghanistan, the Pacific and of course many areas of the UK. We focus in particular on pottery as indicator of diet and subsistence; innovation and the transmission of skill in ceramic technology; cultural change as reflected in ceramic production and consumption; industrial ceramics; and contact, supply, trade and economic networks.

Intrinsically linked to our ceramics research is the work of colleagues on stone artefacts, which crosses over with pottery studies at the borders of geology, petrology and other scientific techniques, and often makes use of the same facilities. Cross-fertilisation between these groups is regular and fruitful, both in theoretical and methodological terms.

Seminar series: Mad about Pots

Originally the brainchild of Sandy Budden, the highly successful ‘Mad about Pots’ seminar series has now become a regular fixture within Archaeology at Southampton, and provides an opportunity for informal lunchtime papers by scholars including internationally renowned academics, PhD students, and everyone in between. The series regularly attracts a sizable and enthusiastic audience, and places an emphasis on artefact handling; its organisers welcome innovative, adventurous and off-the-wall approaches to ceramic and related subjects, past and present. Anyone who would like to contribute to the series please contact Sandy ( ).

Laboratory facilities and teaching activities

Ceramics research at Southampton is supported by a suite of dedicated labs and stores. These include a microscope room, a lab for the preparation of thin sections, and another with a fume cupboard (used for consolidation, heavy mineral extraction, etc). There is also the lithics room, used for the storage of the extensive collection of geological samples from Britain and abroad, as well as for practical sessions, spreading out and working on assemblages. Finally, the ceramics store contains archaeological pottery and artefacts of varying provenance and date. Our labs are ably kept in order by our part-time ceramics and lithics technician, Jill Phillips, in conjunction with Archaeology’s technician Dom Barker.

We also have good relationships with the staff of English Heritage Archaeological Science facilities at Fort Cumberland, who kindly facilitate access to their equipment for more specialist analyses. Our keenest undergraduates are also able to benefit from placements at English Heritage’s stores and archives facility at Fort Brockhurst .

Artefact collections

Southampton has an extensive collection of archaeological and ethnographic pottery, collected by staff, stored or on loan to the department. These collections are both teaching- and research-active. For any research queries about these collections, please contact Alison Gascoigne ( ). We would be delighted to facilitate access to this material by outside scholars if approached.

Among our collections we have the following significant assemblages:

  • Ethnographic pottery collection, mainly from the Mediterranean area. This collection of vessels includes contemporary pieces from North Africa, Spain, Italy, and Greece, most of which have been acquired by David Peacock during his travels. Numerous technological traditions are present among the vessels, which are a wonderful teaching resource.
  • Ceramic type series from Qasr Ibrim, Egypt. This collection is on loan from the Egypt Exploration Society (another type series from the site is lodged with the British Museum, along with the archive). Qasr Ibrim is one of the most important sites in Egyptian Nubia, and the only one of any size to remain largely out of the waters of Lake Nasser following the construction of the Aswan High Dam. Evidence from excavations at the site indicates that it was occupied from at least c 1000 BC, through to the 19th century AD. The ceramic material from the site held at Southampton covers this full timespan, and includes traditions and productions both from Egypt and from the Sudan to the south, as well as imports from further afield. The collection is of great importance to our understanding of cultural interactions over three millennia in this key zone of overlapping spheres of influence.
  • Roman North Africa collection. Among the pottery in store at Southampton is material from Kathleen Kenyon’s post-war excavations at Sabratha and Lepcis Magna, rescued from her home at Rosehill after her death (on loan from the Society for Libyan Studies ). We also have some material from Carthage, and material from other projects associated with Kathleen Kenyon, in particular from the Middle East.
  • English pottery from Neolithic to post-medieval. This comprises a wide variety of assemblages of varying size and character from many different sites. Prominent among these are Hengistbury Head, Portway, Colliton Park, Tallton, Crock Hill, Linwood, Sloden, and many more.
  • International collections. Other countries and regions represented among our collections include Austria, Bolivia, Corsica, Crete, Croatia, France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Malta, Marocco, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sardinia, Sicily, Spain, Sudan, Switzerland, Tunisia and Turkey.
  • Thin-section collections. In addition to vessels and sherds, we also have a large collection of thin-section slides of pottery and stone, prepared during sundry research projects since the 1960s. A medium-term goal is the creation of an online-resource with the aim of making this material more widely available to international scholarship.
  • Rock collection. This material comprises archaeologically relevant rocks, used in the past in human activities (as opposed to geological rocks, which we also have in considerable quantities). These are building materials, and artefacts such as querns, millstones, and whetstones. The collection is particularly good from England, with fewer pieces from Wales, Scotland and Ireland; it also includes many key rocks such as decorative marbles from overseas, in particular Egypt , Greece, Italy and France.
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