The Emperor Nero’s Pottery and Tilery at Little London, Pamber, by Silchester, Hampshire: the excavations of 2017

Review by James Gerrard

This is a handsomely produced and richly illustrated volume detailing the results of the University of Reading’s research excavations at Little London, just to the south-west of the Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester; see CA 393). The main focus of the volume is the exceptionally well-preserved kilns and other features associated with tile- and pottery-production during the early Roman period.

The importance of ceramic building material (CBM: brick, tile, and so on) in the Roman world cannot be overestimated. At Little London, the production site for an important early group of tiles, known there and elsewhere from unusual imperial stamps bearing Nero’s name, has been identified. Remarkably, an eye-watering 4.5 tonnes of CBM was recovered and quantified. The specialist responsible for this task, Sarah Machin, has done a tremendous job and deserves to be commended. The exemplary analysis of the CBM, which includes unusual pieces like lamp chimneys and skylights, is supported by detailed and diligent thin-section analysis of the fabrics and also the fuel used to fire the kilns.

Just as important – and pottery specialists take note – the kilns were manufacturing vessels in a close approximation to the so-called ‘Verulamium Region Whiteware’ fabric. The products include mortaria stamped ‘A RICALI O’. Verulamium Region Whiteware production is known from London and St Albans as well as points between. Production of a close analogue near Silchester is a reminder that there is still much to learn about Romano-British pottery production.

Overall, this is an exceptional and detailed report on an extremely important production centre. The incorporation of scientific analysis is to be commended. Stratigraphy, typology, radiocarbon dating, thin-section analysis, analysis of charcoal, and even the animal footprints on the drying tiles are woven together to produce a compelling description of early Roman tilers and potters and their technological and ecological situation. This is how kiln sites should be published.

The Emperor Nero’s Pottery and Tilery at Little London, Pamber, by Silchester, Hampshire: the excavations of 2017
Michael Fulford
Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, £30
ISBN 978-0907764502