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Pottery fragments from Glastonbury Abbey cast new light on Dark Ages

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Author Topic: Pottery fragments from Glastonbury Abbey cast new light on Dark Ages  (Read 257 times)
Christa Jenneman
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« on: May 14, 2011, 06:07:20 pm »

John Allan, Consultant Archaeologist to Glastonbury Abbey, and one of the speakers at the Symposium, said: ‘We now realise that the Abbey site had a much longer history than previously known, reaching right back into prehistory and including the mysterious Dark Ages.  We hadn’t realised these periods were represented in the excavated pottery, until this project.

‘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.’

    High level scientific research carried out on the fabric of the pottery has revealed very unusual trading and marketing patterns at the Abbey

Janet Bell, Glastonbury Abbey Curator, said: ‘High level scientific symposium, research carried out on the fabric of the pottery has revealed very unusual trading and marketing patterns at the Abbey, and connections with exotic places such as Tuscany, Valencia and Seville in the late medieval period.

‘The Abbey was using high quality tableware such as the Saintonge polychrome jug, from Western France (on display in the museum).  This probably came to the abbey through the Bordeaux wine trade in the 1300s, and would have most probably been used to serve wine at the the monks’ table. Other exotic finds include a tin glazed tile from Seville, that probably decorated the Abbot’s lodging around the time of Henry VIII’s reign.’

How did the research come about? In 1981, Ralegh Radford (Glastonbury Abbey Director of Excavations 1951 – 1964) published an interim report suggesting a series of churches, a Saxon enclosure ditch, potentially the earliest cloister in Britain, and craft-working activities including unique glass furnaces. Several attempts at full publication were never completed. Following Radford’s death in 1999, his excavation archive was retrieved and deposited with the National Monuments Record at Swindon, making the publication of a full report a feasible proposition.

The research has been conducted by the Archaeology Department at the University of Reading, funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council.

Katherine Gorbing, Director of Glastonbury Abbey, said: ‘Abbey volunteers have also made an invaluable contribution to the project: Peter Poyntz-Wright, a member of the excavation team in the 1950s and 60s, has been transcribing his own original site notebooks, Doug Forbes is scanning photos and drawings, Lindsay Beach has audited and sorted finds ready for specialist study and our volunteer Collections Care Team have gallantly marked thousands of tile fragments and pottery shards.’

The cost of the Symposium is £30 (students with card £25) to include morning coffee, buffet lunch and afternoon tea. Glastonbury Abbey season ticket holders and the local Glastonbury residents can book places at a special reduced price of £15. Places are limited so early booking is advised. Details of how to book, plus the full programme and list of speakers, are available online at

The Symposium is generously supported by the Somerset Archaeological & Natural History Society.
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