Thursday, 10 November 2011

Potty about pots

14th century storage jars

I would like to be indulgent for this post and show you a couple of pots that I personally dug up from a cess pit in the City of London. It was on the Plantation House site and a cess pit is the 'go to' feature if you want to find the best stuff. After all, if you drop something in a cess pit you are not likely to go in and get it back. Consequently whole pots are going to survive and not the usual fragments that are the 'bread and butter' of most finds experts. 

The cess pit was chalked lined and about 3m x 2m x 1.5m, if I remember correctly. It took me several days to dig. Almost at once whole pots were turning up and I would climb out of the pit and head for the finds hut, with fellow diggers hailing each find with shouts of congratulation, or something. They generally started with "you lucky b....." and then I lost the sense due to noisy machines. The finds experts would then bounce off the walls for a few seconds before telling me that this pottery was imported from various places, including Spain, northern Africa and the Med area generally during the middle of the 14th century. Fenchurch Street was then lined with shops and merchant businesses, as now. The back of the buildings would have had their own toilet waste disposal pits and chucked, or lost, a lot of stuff in them. Being a soft and warm environment the pots remained whole. I gave some of the material I was digging to a ground worker and asked him to guess what it was. He jumped when I told him, but it was all nicely composted and very clean smelling. Lovely stuff to trowel.  

One day I was working with the metal detectorist (we do get on you know) and he asked me if I had found any coins yet? I said no. "You have now" he said and held up a very nice gold coin of around 1350. This was not the only gold to turn up on this site, for this was also the home of the Roman gold coin hoard so lauded by the media at the time. I was talking to some ground workers, telling them that we wanted knowledge not treasure, when a shout went up, GOLD! Of course we all downed tools and ran over. The digger, Sev, was troweling a gully and the coins fell out like a 'one armed bandit' when you hit the jackpot (which in a way it was). c.70 coins were found.   

I always visit my pots when in London. I had to take this speedily so as to avoid museum staff. Hence my ghostly image.

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