Prehistoric Pottery Identification

21st February 2020 | Inverness Museum

This one-day workshop was aimed at individuals who would like to learn basic prehistoric pottery identification skills. The workshop was delivered by Beverley Ballin Smith (Guard Archaeology). A diverse audience including museum staff and volunteers, heritage professionals, archaeologists, local archaeology society members, and students contributed to discussions. Read on for a summary of this incredibly engaging, informative, and useful day!

Participants were shown images of different types of prehistoric pottery and the production process was discussed in detail from clay exploitation to vessel manufacture ©ScARF

During the morning session, a well-illustrated and engaging presentation guided participants through over 4000 years of prehistoric pottery typology. Examples shown included Scottish handmade coarseware pottery: Early Neolithic, Middle Neolithic, Late Neolithic; Late Bronze Age; Iron Age; and Late Iron Age/Pictish. Changes in pottery form, material, decoration, and manufacture were just some of the aspects discussed throughout the session. Following local and regional patterns and form was important for prehistoric communities and evidence of regionality was explored along with ideas of identity and status that may be linked to the highly skilled process of pottery production.

A geological map was shown to illustrate the sources of clay in Scotland and examples of pottery fabric were shown in detail. Pottery is made of clay, inorganic temper (i.e. crushed stone), and organic temper (i.e. chaff), and the inclusions within pottery can be extremely variable. The visibility of these inclusions within the pottery fabric was shown clearly on images of pottery sherds. The process of firing was discussed and participants were able to handle sample bags containing different types of temper extracted during post-excavation analysis. Scientific analysis was briefly touched upon (i.e. pottery residues) and participants received advice for the care and cleaning of pottery from archaeological contexts.   


The afternoon session allowed participants to try out their new identification skills by looking at examples of prehistoric pottery ©ScARF

Following the morning session, the newly acquired prehistoric pottery identification skills were put to the test! Participants were able to view many examples of the types of pottery discussed throughout the morning session and were extremely lucky to be able to view some of the impressive samples Beverley is currently working on, as well as various interesting examples from the Inverness Museum collection. Some of the pottery types available to view included Early Neolithic carinated bowl fragments, Early to Middle Neolithic impressed wares, Late Neolithic grooved ware, and examples of later decorated Bronze Age beakers and Iron Age pottery.

Watch the short video below!

This event was supported by ARCH and Inverness Museum