Face to face with medieval pottery: Some observations on medieval anthropomorphic pottery in north-east England
By Chris Cumberpatch
Assemblage: The Sheffield graduate journal of archaeology, Issue 9 (2006)
Abstract: In this paper I want to consider some aspects of English medieval anthropomorphic pottery, that is to say pots which bear partial or complete depictions of human bodies. I want to do this as a way of focussing attention on the non-functional aspects of medieval pottery which we tend to overlook in favour of other aspects of fabric, form and decoration. This is intended to be a speculative paper which will raise more questions than it answers – there are a number of issues that I have not been able to resolve and others which require a considerable amount of further work.
I shall be drawing on data from Yorkshire , Derbyshire and the counties of north-east of England between the later 11 th century and approximately 1450. How far the suggestions made here are applicable to areas to the south and west and in Scotland are for others to answer.
In 1997 I published a paper in which in which I drew attention to the distinctions between sandy wares and gritty wares in Yorkshire and suggested that these distinctions had greater significance than that of simple functionality. In particular I noted that glaze is used primarily as a decorative device for most of the medieval period rather than as a means of rendering pots less porous and, to our eyes, increasing their functionality. Glaze appears preferentially on sandy ware vessels such as jugs, pipkins and dripping trays and it is these vessels, and specifically jugs, that I shall be dealing with in this paper, which is, in some ways, a development of the earlier one.