Glastonbury Abbey Symposium 9 June 2011 Abbey Shield

A Window into the Material World of Glastonbury Abbey - the Glastonbury Pottery Collection
by John Allan

Project Manager at Exeter Archaeology and Archaeological Adviser to the Abbey

Abstract

The paper will describe the study of the large quantities of pottery found in the abbey excavations. Three subjects will be considered:

1. Site chronology

Previous studies of the abbey's pottery had identified early Roman, Anglo-Saxon, medieval and later material in the collection. Our new study has shown that Middle Iron Age, Late Iron Age, late Roman and Post-Roman ('Dark Age') wares are also present. The new identifications show that the history of occupation on the site is much more prolonged than had been appreciated, extending back to the third or fourth centuries BC, and with exciting new evidence from the late 4th or 5th centuries - the early Christian period.

2. The changing pattern of marketing pottery to the abbey

Identification of the fabrics of the ceramics allows us to reconstruct for the first time the changing pattern of pottery supply at the abbey over a long period. Surprisingly, it has emerged that most of the ceramics used at the abbey in the late Saxon period were supplied by potters working on the fringes of the Blackdown Hills, far to the south of the abbey, and these remained important suppliers in the 12th and 13th centuries. From the late 12th century, however, the abbey's strong demand for fine tableware was met increasingly by potters in the Bristol area, and they came to dominate the abbey's purchases in the later Middle Ages. After 1500, the market switched again, first to South Somerset, but later to the kilns at Wanstrow.

3. The evidence for the wealth and status of the abbey

A scatter of exotic Saxon, Norman, medieval and later ceramics attests the great wealth of the abbey. Scientific analysis has now established the precise origins of some of these finds; the most distant come from Italy, Spain, Portugal and France. The excavated pottery is also remarkably rich in elaborate jugs from Ham Green and Bristol, making a striking contrast with the finds from other sites in the area, such as those from the recent excavations at Shapwick.

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