Friday, 3 April 2015

Glimpses of Saxon Society

Not the most impressive-looking #FridayFinds this week, but one that has got our Finds Archaeologists very excited! The pictures below show a small piece of pottery, part of the rim of a storage jar with a 'diamond' pattern. It's a 'residual' find, meaning that it is a piece from earlier layers that has been brought close to the surface by disturbance of the ground, possibly during the construction of cellars along Lich Street. In colour and texture, it looks a bit like a burnt dog biscuit, yet this small piece is a window into a privileged part of a turbulent and uncertain world, over a thousand years ago.
Stafford-type ware: inside of the rim of a rouletted jar
This sort of pottery is called 'Stafford-type ware'; it was produced in Stafford, where more than 100,000 pieces have been found. Production started in the Anglo-Saxon period, at about 800 A.D., and continued to around the time of the Norman Conquest. This was a time in which the diverse and squabbling Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were frequently in conflict. Mercia's earlier dominance was eclipsed by Wessex, as the growing threat of Viking armies was eventually and narrowly quashed by King Alfred, before a unified England finally began to emerge in the 10th century.
Central to Alfred's winning strategy was the construction of 'burhs', fortified towns to which the local population could retreat, and from which a defence against the Vikings could be mounted. Worcester was one of these 'burhs', which also became important trading and production centres.
Outside of the rim and diamond pattern on shoulder
Stafford ware is usually found within these urban centres, often associated with high-status buildings or ecclesiastical centres, and seems to have been distributed mostly to places of elite or even royal interest. We know that a priory stood on the site of the Cathedral during this period, and the pottery may have come from there.

An example from Stafford
It isn't as finely-made as local Roman pottery, or as beautifully decorated as the medieval Worcester pottery that followed, but whatever it contained, the contents were highly-prized, and this little piece of pot tells us that Worcester was once at the heart of a struggle that went on to shape the country we know today.

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