Rare items among four-tonne haul of pottery found during A14 excavations

Samian ware decorated with lion fight scene (c) Highways England courtesy of MOLA Headland Infrastru

Samian ware decorated with lion fight scene (c) Highways England courtesy of MOLA Headland Infrastructure - Credit: Archant

Almost four tonnes of pottery has been discovered by archaeologists during excavations on the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon improvement scheme.

Iron Age coil-built fineware pot from near Fenstanton (c) Highways England courtesy of MOLA Headland

Iron Age coil-built fineware pot from near Fenstanton (c) Highways England courtesy of MOLA Headland Infrastructure - Credit: Archant

Mola Headland Infrastructure, working on behalf of Highways England, has found nearly four tonnes of pottery since work started in 2016 on the new A14 route.

Pottery specialist Adam Sutton and a team of nine have been sorting through the findings and are now looking into what the pottery can tell experts about Cambridgeshire 6,000 years ago.

Amongst the finding are a Bronze Age collared urn, which could be up to 4,000-years-old, an iron age fine ware pot, up to 3,000-years-old and a Roman Samian ware bowl believed to be up to 2,000-years-old.

Mr Sutton said: “Collared urns are generally found in burial contexts rather than as part of domestic assemblages, as those which remained in everyday use were more likely to end up broken. This example is no exception: it was used as the urn for a cremation burial.”

Iron Age coil-built bowl from near Fenstanton (c) Highways England courtesy of MOLA Headland Infrast

Iron Age coil-built bowl from near Fenstanton (c) Highways England courtesy of MOLA Headland Infrastructure - Credit: Archant


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During the earlier part of the Iron Age there is a clear distinction between ‘fine’ and ‘coarse’ vessel types. The second of the items found dates back to around 600-350 BC and falls into the ‘fine’ category. It is thought to be a tripartite bowl, because of the tree angels in its profile.

Mr Sutton said: “Whoever made this pot did so with a considerable amount of skill: the clay used to make it has been very finely prepared, the surfaces have been neatly burnished so as to give them a nice shine, and the firing was evidently sufficiently well controlled that the vessel has been evenly blackened all over.”

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The last of the pottery that has been found in the dig is a roman Samian ware bowl.

Samain ware was made mostly in Germany and France between the first and third centuries.,

Mr Sutton said: “This particular design shows a human figure fighting a lion, a motif which is repeated four times around the body of the bowl. Mythological and combat scenes are common on decorated Samian wares.

“The individual figures will have been made by impressing a separate stamp into a mould. Each stamp could be used in different combinations and arrangements to make a range of designs. This is very handy for us as archaeologists, as the stamps can be associated with different production centres, and sometimes even individual potters, giving us a fantastic insight into the ways that crafts and artistry were conducted in the past.”

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