4.2 Ceramics

Early Bronze Age pottery

See The earliest Bronze Age (22nd–20th century BC) (Period 2) in Section 2.2 Chalcolithic and Bronze Age Scotland: the Big Picture

Middle to Late Bronze Age pottery in Scotland

Anna Ritchie described coarse wares recovered from palisaded sites as material ‘(that does not appear) ‘susceptible either to typology or chronology’ (1970, 54). The flat rim ware/bucket urn ceramics are also a problem – coarse, plain, long-lived and widespread types – and are seemingly unresponsive to analysis. Strat Halliday suggested that there were features to be teased out (Sherriff 1988) and more recently Catherine McGill embarked on detailed research which seemed to hold out the prospect of regional variations and some broad chronological trends

Contract archaeology is significantly expanding the overall picture of second and first millennium settlement archaeology – including associated material culture, and particularly domestic pottery. While small by Southern English standards, significant assemblages have been recovered from a number of settlement sites especially in the lowland zone, including:

  1. Drumyocher, Aberdeenshire (Johnson and Richardson in prep)
  2. Kintore, Aberdeenshire (Alexander 2000, Cook and Dunbar 2008)
  3. Oldmeldrum, Aberdeenshire (White and Richardson 2 010)
  4. Hatton Farm, Elliot, Angus (Gray and Suddaby 2010)
  5. Alloa, Clackmannanshire (Mitchell et al. 2010)
  6. Upper Forth Crossing, Clackmannanshire (unpub pottery report by Alison Sheridan)
  7. And also further afield e.g. Portree, Skye

Also important and mostly Historic Scotland -funded excavations in N and W Scotland should go far to characterise plain wares e.g. Cladh Hallan, S Uist (Parker Pearson et al. 2005; 2006) – with scope for better definition of surface collections from erosion sites (c.f. Coll sandhills, Lewis and Harris coastal survey etc).


  1. Petrology e.g. pots from several northern Scottish sites (including Lairg, Upper Suisgill, and Delny) with talc inclusions possibly from exposed rock bosses up to 30km distant in case of Lairg; or at Upper Forth Crossing crushed quartz dolerite possibly from dykes up to 10km (Sheridan unpub report)
  2. Potting recipes and forming/building techniques
  3. Build up a picture of local patterns of production (cf Daniel Sahlen PhD)

Form and function

  1. Analysis of vessel shape, size – and very occasional decoration
  2. Residue analysis
  3. Experimental work

Contextual analysis


  1. More good quality C14 dates for datable material associated with the pottery (including cremated bone dates for ‘bucket urns’ – the funerary counterparts)
  2. C14 dating of organic residues (cf Berstan et al. 2008) – date applies to the final use of the vessel in a cooking episode and so the date applies directly to the pot itself
  3. Potential of TL/OSL dating of minerals within the fabric of pottery
  4. Catherine McGill’s doctoral research on pottery from eastern Scottish sites was starting to show that the inventory of ceramic material was if not exactly copious, much more plentiful than often appreciated (and more recent excavations have augmented that inventory)
  5. Tease out variations in this material
  6. Encourage completion or collaborative publication of research to date

Also to note other clay objects:

  1. Unworked clay
  2. Miscellanous clay objects – beads, balls and ‘squidges’
  3. Loom weights? E.g. Traprain Law, E Lothian; Ormiston, Fife
  4. Ceramics associated with metalworking: e.g. clay moulds, crucibles and heating trays; tuyères, furnace and hearth materials
  5. Daub


  1. There is a regionally uneven picture for ceramics: still at the stage in many areas where each new excavation has capacity to change the picture radically (c.f Neolithic pottery in E Scotland in 1993)
  2. Danger of material endlessly being consigned to a Cinderella category
  3. Take advantage of being at data gathering stage to create and maintain a national database – while still manageable – along the lines of the PCRG Later Prehistoric Pottery Gazeteer database
  4. Need for better characterisation of assemblages – is the pottery all as mundane and utilitarian as it seems? Function? > lipid analysis
  5. Dating > especially develop C14 dating on residues

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