Accepted Paper:

Making do or making the world? Tempering choices in Anglo-Saxon pottery manufacture  


Ben Jervis (University of Southampton)

Paper short abstract:

I aim to collapse the dichotomy between material and social explanations in the interpretation of ceramic technology. This approach will demonstrate that what we may see as an inferior product was both a product of, and active in the construction of, a particular formulation of 'the social',

Paper long abstract:

As a pottery specialist I am often asked why the earliest Anglo-Saxon pottery is so crude, in particular why it has organic temper. Often this pottery is friable and it is difficult to understand why this method of manufacture was adopted. Typically I could give one of two responses. Firstly, I could argue that the use of organic temper (typically chaff or dung) made the clay more workable and increased the thermal shock properties of the pottery, by producing voids in the fabric. Secondly, I could cite social reasons, arguing that it fitted with the 'habitus' of Anglo-Saxon potters.

Neither explanation is satisfactory, instead I propose we address the question by collapsing the social and material worlds into each other, to attempt to compose what is termed a 'symmetrical' view of the world. Following Actor-Network Theory I will demonstrate how the pottery is situated within a network through which meaning and action is distributed between human and material actors. By taking this approach we can examine how the pottery played a part in building context, how its relations with humans distributed agency and thus created a meaning, or logic, to what seems to us to be a illogical choice of material culture.

Panel S12
Make-do and mend: the archaeologies of compromise?