Gwladys Monteil s power point presentation

Why become a samian specialist
in the late 1990s?
Gwladys Monteil
University of Nottingham
• Some aspects of samian ware analysis are not as hard
as they might look, at least no more so than any other
specialisms. Some aspects of it, decorated and stamps
identification do however require time and commitment.
• This is an exiting time in samian studies.
• My samian ‘training’ mostly happened within an
academic setting. It has so far been a mixture of key
opportunities, meeting very patient specialists,
dedication, time and hard work.
It all started in France
MPhil on a late 2nd-early 3rd c. pottery assemblage. The group included Central
Gaulish samian ware.
I was based at the Base archéologique de Lezoux, one of the production sites where
I first familiarised myself with Central Gaulish samian ware thanks to
• Philippe Bet
• Richard Delage
They both introduced me to the different fabrics groups defined on the production
site, the different forms and potters (Bet et al 1989, 2000).
• And Georges Rogers
I wasn’t particularly interested in samian per se then, more in Roman pottery. Samian
ware just happened to be part of it.
Then came Britain
• MA in Post-Excavation Skills, University of Leicester
• Module on Roman pottery with Nick Cooper as a tutor
• No placement or topic available in Leicester
• Placement and dissertation topic organised with Robin Symonds working
then for a commercial unit MoLAS (Museum of London Archaeological
My first opportunity to get to grips with samian forms and fabrics happened during my
MA- first during a placement then for my dissertation both organised with MoLAS and
the LAARC.
The LAARC provided a former pageant group - St Magnus House, a waterfront
assemblage from London first analysed and published by Joanna Bird in the 1980s-,
a space to work and a copy of the original report by Joanna. The project was centred
on producing a catalogue of samian from the site quantified in a manner compatible
with other types of Roman pottery.
Robin Symonds along with several other Roman pottery specialists from MoLAS
provided supervision, experience and guidance, a microscope, a fabrics reference
collection and all of the necessary basic books.
I spent a total of 2.5 months in 1999 in the LAARC re-assessing the group from St
Magnus House. By the end of my MA I had looked at 5652 sherds of samian ware
under a microscope and re-quantified the whole group with EVEs. The group was key
to building my confidence-a warehouse group, it contained many complete or near
complete Central and East Gaulish examples.
I also took the opportunity to closely study the published report on the decorated
vessels from St Magnus by Joanna. I matched and studied the originals to the report.
I did the same with the stamps report by Brenda Dickinson.
My next big opportunity was again provided by Robin Symonds from MoLAS/ MoLSS.
By early 2000, I was hoping to start a PhD and following extensive discussions Robin
suggested working on the distribution of samian ware in Roman London.
Designed as a collaborative venture between Birkbeck College and Museum of
London Specialist Services (MoLSS), the project aimed to primarily use evidence
produced by professional archaeological units involved in the area of London in the
last thirty years, in particular MoLAS and its predecessors DUA/DGLA (Department of
Urban Archaeology/Department of Greater London Archaeology). AHRC funded.
Robin Symonds was a co-supervisor and was to provide extensive supervision during
the data gathering and re-analysis stage of the project.
I was given unprecedented access to both unpublished and newly excavated data, inhouse expertise, a space to work in bay 7 of the LAARC and essential references.
Some samian groups were selected for further analysis in particular the groups from
Three-Quays House, London. Another waterfront group. 4308 sherds, 95% of which from Central Gaul.
76-80 Newgate Street, London. This site allowed me to handle very large quantities of South Gaulish samian, a category I
had until then little experience in. 3840 sherds of samian, 77% of which from South Gaul.
By the end of the PhD I had built up experience in samian fabrics and forms
identification, samian dating, a good awareness of samian literature. I also
accumulated exiting data about vessels sizes, produced a set of distribution maps of
samian forms and fabrics across Roman London.
That left the rather more complicated area of decorated samian. I did handle some
decorated samian while re-analysing material for my research, particularly Central
Gaulish decorated samian. I acquired several essential books (with some difficulty
and at some cost)-Oswald’s figured-types, Stanfield and Simpson, Rogers 1974 and
1999 and tried to train myself. I think I got to grips with some basics but I didn’t have
enough time to really gain confidence. This wasn’t the main objective of the PhD and
my experience remained fairly limited.
For me once again, meeting the right person proved to be the key. I first met Geoffrey
Dannell in 2000 during a seminar Robin and I organised in London.
I was lucky enough to get help and tuition from Geoffrey. I think his help can be
summarised as followed
By inviting me to several scanning fests and working days in Wood Newton, Geoff provided me with an
opportunity to meet most of the samian specialists working in Britain.
Geoff also invited me to follow his team to the South of France for recording large South Gaulish
decorated samian assemblages. I was unfortunately unable to go.
By generously donating several books and articles, some of them almost impossible to get
By patiently taking me through the initial steps in South Gaulish decorated material identification and
opening up his library
By giving me his time
Identifying decorated samian ware is still a daunting and lengthy task but possible.
Reflections on training
I believe there are ways of making samian training less daunting and this might be
approached in stages.
• The first stage-forms and fabrics, the keys to building confidence in
samian ware identification. This is what worked for me.
• Some Roman pottery specialists across Britain routinely identify differences
in pottery fabrics including samian fabrics. This should be promoted.
• Institutions with a strong emphasis and tradition in Roman pottery fabrics
analysis such as MoLAS can clearly play a key role in training young
specialists in this area. They already do.
• The National Roman Fabric Reference Collection will soon be available online with upgraded photos
• Photographs of selected samples from the Oswald’s collection in
Nottingham will also be available on-line
• Specialists can provide guidance in building hands-on reference collections.
• Fabrics and forms cannot be separated.
Essential ‘kit’
– Webster 1996, Oswald and Pryce 1920, Bet et al 2000 and getting to grips with
– A microscope and a pair of pliers
– Systematically looking at a fresh break under a microscope (x 20 is enough)
building a mental reference collection
– Comparing fabrics
– Using stamped examples if possible building a physical reference collection
The next stage-decoration and stamps
As someone who is beginning to understand quite how varied and complicated this area of
samian expertise is, training a new generation in this field will be quite a lengthy process.
– Some ideas:
• Apprenticeship styled training and research with cooperation between universities,
commercial units, specialists and institutions with large samian collections.
Museum of London
Durham Museum
Nottingham Museum
• Promoting placements, volunteering and work-experience in these institutions and
others. IFA Workplace Learning Bursaries scheme
• MAs and PhDs where students are given an opportunity to handle large quantities of
material while doing research are becoming quite rare but the AHRC offers
Collaborative training and doctoral awards.
• One to one mentoring
- More generally
• Creating a basic guide to decorated samian identification based on
examples from digitised rubbings. The decoration could be broken down into
basic components -non-figured and figured types.
• Online databases such as and the Index of Potters stamps to
enable improved access to collections and comparative material are
• Digitising out of print and/or difficult to access references
• Creating an on-line dictionary/lexicon for essential termsEnglish/French/German
• Promoting exiting research based on decorated ware
» ‘image consumption’ Joanna Bird has researched this area, particularly
gladiatorial scenes found on samian from the amphitheatre in London. GIS
distribution of iconographic themes on samian in the different contexts of
Roman Britain could take this a step further.