ceramic identification (2023)

Pottery identification is a valuable aid in dating archaeological sites. Pottery is usually the most common find, and sherds are sturdier than organic materials and metals. As ceramic techniques and fashions have evolved, it is often possible to be very precise as to the date and source. This jigsaw introduction to pottery identification is designed to get you started with the basic guidelines and timeline.

Manufacturing: raw materials

  • Clay: obtained mainly from sedimentary deposits blown by rivers, glaciers, wind, etc.
  • Inclusions: Often naturally incorporated into the clay (e.g. sand, shells, rocks), but also deliberately added (e.g. sand, shellfish, grit). Unlike clay, such fillers do not retain water and therefore reduce the amount of water in the pot and the shrinkage of the pot during firing.
  • Water is mixed with clay to make it a usable medium. A higher ratio of water mixed with clay results in a liquid solution that can be applied to container surfaces to form a slip.
  • The fuel is used to dry pottery before it is placed in a kiln, as well as for firing in the kiln.

firing conditions and color

  • Oxidizing Environment: There is excess oxygen in the kiln, causing organic matter in the clay to be released in the form of carbon dioxide, resulting in red or brown pits.
  • After the charcoal burns, the iron compounds in the clay turn to iron oxide, and the pot will turn red or gray if there is less iron.
  • Clay with a high chalk content turns white.
  • Reducing Environment: Because there is no excess oxygen, the charcoal does not burn, resulting in gray or black colors.
  • In an oxidizing kiln, a gray ceramic will result if the vessels are removed before the charcoal has had time to burn.
  • Green wood thrown onto the fire near the end of firing creates a carbon-rich, smoky environment that also results in black and gray pottery.

prehistoric pottery

Early Neolithic pottery (ca. 4000 - 3000 BC)

  • e.g. Mildenhall ceramics
  • Shells predominantly 'S' profile with rolled edges and curved shoulders.
  • Round bases and square shoulders.
  • Decoration on some bowls, later in time.
  • Hardened flint.
  • Rolled or thickened rims.
  • The edges can be decorated with oblique or transparallel incisions or indentations.
  • Decoration on the neck with parallel vertical incisions. Flint-hardened Mildenhall ceramic

ceramic identification (1)

Flint-hardened Mildenhall ceramic

Pottery from the Middle to Late Neolithic (ca. 3000 - 2000 BC)

  • e.g. Omitted article / Peterborough article
  • Round bottom bowls with a thick rim.
  • Pottery richly decorated with numerous impressions of twisted and beaten ropes, pipes, sticks and bones of small birds and mammals.
  • The characteristic carination developed from the carinated shell forms of the preceding third millennium.
  • Peel vegetables, grog, temper.
  • food container.

ceramic identification (2)


Late Neolithic - Early Bronze Age (c. 2200 - 1500 BC)

  • e.g. ballot boxes with collars/strings
  • Two-part or three-part vessels.
  • Frequently recovered from burial contexts and containing formerly cremated bones.
  • Developed from Peterborough Pottery.
  • Strong, upright or slightly reversed brim or collar.
  • Decor scratched or printed incl. Spike or Cheurón.
  • Body straight-sided or slightly convex, tapering to a small flat base.

ceramic identification (3)

Urn with a collar

Keramikvase (ca. 2200 - 1800 BC)

    • A highly decorated fine tableware featuring a soft orange fabric. Two main types of decoration: all-over decor or combed zones.
  • Integral decoration: consists of enveloping lines of twisted ribs or impressions of combed teeth that cover the whole
    outer surface.
  • Zoned decoration in the crest: bands with printed decoration in the crest, geometric motifs divided by undecorated bands.

ceramic identification (4)

Beaker glass

Middle Bronze Age (ca. 1500 - 1000 BC)

  • p.ej Deverell Rimbury-Keramik
  • Cubic urns and heavy barrel.
  • Smaller and finer ball urns.
  • Straight sides, occasionally erect.
  • Decorated with vertical and horizontal spikes.
  • Printed nail and fingertip decorations on edges and shoulders or on shoelaces.
  • Mostly case tempered, other tempers include flint and grog.

ceramic identification (5)

Deverel Rimbury

(Video) Price & Identify Valuable Ceramics & Pottery Antiques by Dr. Lori

Late Bronze to Early Iron Age (EIA) (ca. 1100 - 400 BC)

  • Flint hardened.
  • Big, rough storage jars.
  • Finest bowls and cups.
  • Little decoration, simple forms.

ceramic identification (6)
HIER pots

  • Increasing the variety of forms.
  • Also hardened flint.
  • Some highly decorated and blued.

Middle Iron Age (c. 400 - 50 BC)

  • Marked, scratched or erased utensils.
  • It continued in the III. - I Century and continued into Roman times.
  • Great storage jars and bowl shaped vases.
  • Roughly scored/hatched, incised at random, vertically, diagonally, or curved. It is believed to serve a practical purpose, to facilitate handling, and not just as a decoration.
  • Shell hardened and some flint.
  • Ruffles on some hoops.

ceramic identification (7)

achieved goods

Late Iron Age (c. 50 BC – 50 AD)

Belgian ceramics

  • A general term used to describe corded jugs, goblets and pedestal jugs, beakers and first wheel-turned pottery.
  • Originally from the 1st century B.C. Imported to Britain. C., continued into Roman times
  • Vessels were mostly made in grog-hardened fabrics.
  • While the pottery has been recovered from domestic collections, it is also known from cremations in south-east England.

ceramic identification (8)


Gallo-Belgian pottery (ca. 20 BC - 70 AD)

Gallo-Belgian pottery was imported into Britain and made in Verulamium and Colchester before AD 43.

  • Terra nigra, grey-black vessels, remained fashionable until the early 1970s AD.
  • Terra Rubra, an orange-colored glass polishing cream, barely survived until the 1950s AD.
  • Manufactured in a standardized range of cups, plates and platters with foot rings and often stamped with the potter's name.
  • A related series of barrel-shaped stopper cups and straight-walled girth cups decorated with fine roulettes and horizontal grooves at intervals were made in a similar manner.

ceramic identification (9)

belgian rooster

Roman pottery (AD 43 – ca. 410)

Samian (aka Terra Sigillata)

  • Red fine ceramics with bright red coating. Tissues are rich in iron and usually rich in calcium.
  • The slip consists of very fine clay mixed with water. It contains higher levels of potassium and sodium, which allows it to fuse with the vitreous humor.
  • The ceramic is fired in an oxidation kiln and turns red.
  • The samian is heated twice in double-chamber furnaces; in the first stage, the ceramic is fired in a reducing atmosphere and turns black; Oxygen is admitted during the second stage and stains the ceramic red.

ceramic identification (10)

(Video) Identifying Ancient Pottery (Tests You Can Do At Home)


Why study Samian?

  • Dating: Forms and name stamps are well dated.
  • Supply Patterns: Tracking name stamps gives us trade routes and the role of intermediaries; Shipwreck sites are also helpful.
  • Organization of the pottery industry: many related tasks; Slip making, mold making, stamp making, etc. The stamps give the names of the workshop's "foremen", laborers and slaves, and show the movement of the potters and sometimes family connections.
  • Status: The proportion of decorated Samians increases with the status of the site.
  • Aspects of ceramic use: Wear patterns can be recorded; the designations of the vessel types provide information about their function (e.g. acitabli - for vinegar and oil; salaria - salting; boletari - mushroom dishes).
  • Decoration: The use of certain motifs was obviously significant. Gladiator-themed bowls have been found in storerooms associated with the Guildhall Amphitheater in London; Drag 35/36 cymbals appear to have been chosen for graves due to their slip leaf motifs.

ceramic identification (11)

Stamps made from Sami goods

grenade launcher

  • Mortaria are bowls with a rim or hooked rim, spout and grits on the inner surface. These features suggest that they were used to mix or grind food ingredients, paints, makeup, and ointments.
  • Mortaria was imported and manufactured in Britain during Roman times and was made under the auspices of most major pottery industries.
  • Mortaria was often stamped on the flange, adding to its potential as a dating tool.
  • Mortars were primarily made from wood, but could also be made from amphora stems.

ceramic identification (12)

grenade launcher

Speak there Nene Mortaria(110 - 410 dC)

  • Source: The Nene Valley in East England
  • Manufactured from the early 2nd century but not common in Britain until the second half of that century.
  • Fabric: Hard white, sand with red and black inclusions, can be dyed.
  • Shaped, flanged and flanged or with a spring edge.
  • Concentrated in the East Midlands near manufacturing centers. Also present in the South East (London) and on Hadrian's Wall. Few are found in western Britain.


  • A type of narrow-mouthed spherical cup introduced to Britain in AD 43. The first examples were imported or manufactured locally for the military.
  • They were used to hold liquids transferred from amphorae.
  • Specimens from the 1st and 2nd centuries have a characteristic light weave.
  • If the clays were fired too dark, the makers would line the jars with a pale slip because they were supposed to be a light color!
  • In general, the jars became smaller in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD.

ceramic identification (13)

roman flag

Hofheim Flagons: imported or made in Britain for the military around AD 43-70. This type of jug had a nearly cylindrical neck, outwardly curved lips and could have one or two handles.

Ring Neck Jars: A common type, they have a spout made up of several overlapping rings; in the middle of the first century AD C., the upper part of the neck was more or less vertical. In the II century AD C., the lip of the upper ring thickened and protruded, while the lower rings were reduced or degenerated into grooves.

ceramic identification (14)

Ring neck mug

Beaded Neck Jars: These were made from a variety of fabrics, mostly coated with paint by the 3rd and 4th centuries AD.

Raw material, p. gray products

(Video) Valuable Japanese Antique Ceramics! Can you identify them?! Satsuma Imari Kutani Asian antiques

  • Small production sites in rural areas and larger settlements.
  • Furnace location only in operation for a few years.
  • Main source of gray consumer goods.
  • Regionally uniform ceramic traditions.

ceramic identification (15)

gray goods

Romano-British fine ware

  • Colour-coated earthenware from Colchester (AD 120 - late 3rd century AD).
  • New Forest colored Loza (260 - 370 AD).
  • Nene Valley color coating(200 AD - late 4th century AD).
  • Red Oxford Lining (AD 240 - early 5th century AD).
  • Hadham oxidized pottery (AD 200 - late 4th century AD).

ceramic identification (16)

Amphora (Singular: Amphora)

  • The amphorae are chronologically important. Their presence in high-ranking late Iron Age graves provides chronological control over a variety of late Iron Age and early Roman material cultures.
  • They tell us about trade and the nature of long-distance relationships, but also because they are closely related to certain imported products.
  • When found in burial contexts, they show the importance of alcohol to the LIA and Roman burial practice.

Dressel 20 (10 - 260 dC)

  • Manufactured in southern Spain (Bética) between Córdoba and Seville.
  • Fabric: Yellow/Off-white Sand, Quartz, Limestone, Mica.
  • Shape: spherical, small point, rounded or square edge.
  • Content: mainly olive oil.
  • Probably the most widespread type of amphora in Great Britain. This is partly due to its longevity and partly due to the importance of olive oil. Distributed to all major locations, it is also widespread in rural areas.

Saxon pottery

Early Saxon pottery (ca. 425 - 650 AD)

  • People are buried with grave goods in cemeteries. Ornate containers are typically found at cremation sites. The decoration of grave vessels is very variable.
  • 5th-century pottery has linear designs: straight or curvilinear lines.
  • Late fifth-century heads have straight or curvilinear designs.
  • Linear patterns and embossing in the sixth century, later embossing and matrices.
  • For the most part, in the seventh century, stamping is the only decoration.

Middle Saxon period (early/mid 7th century - mid 9th century AD)

This period is particularly marked by the arrival of Christianity.

Ipswich Pottery (late 7th century – c. AD 875)

  • Produced with a slow wheel that appears to act as a turntable.
  • Pitchers are found in areas well beyond East Anglia on the coast of central Saxon England. Cooking pots and other ships lie near Ipswich, and seldom move more than twenty miles from Ipswich.

ceramic identification (17)

Ipswich Pot - Drawing Room Hinxton

Granodiorite hardened ceramic

  • There are two types of temper that are particularly significant: rather opaque greyish lumps of rock and bronze-colored plate-like inclusions composed of mica. The rock is igneous and the only source is Mountsorrel in Leicestershire. Up to 70% of the household pottery in the villages of south Cambridgeshire can be hardened with this igneous rock.

What are you doing?

  • Handcrafted bowl made of hardened ceramic. It does not use any of the new technological or cultural advances found in Ipswich pottery. It has some types of classic containers, like pots with tabs on the side,
    usually perforated to allow the jar to be hung.
  • Uncommon in most of Cambridgeshire except near Peterborough where it is common when Maxey is in Old Peterborough Soke.

Late Saxon (c. mid-9th century – mid-11th century AD)

Article by Thetford
Manufactured in Thetford on a large scale using appropriate temperature controlled ovens to produce a high quality uniform gray fabric. Only the large storage containers are made by hand. It is also manufactured outside of Thetford at various sites including Ipswich and Norwich.

ceramic identification (18)

Article by Thetford

(Video) How to identify collectable British pottery and ceramic factory marks

Articles from St Neots
Shell-tempered and wheel-made, but still fired in pit or clamp kilns. It appears in a variety of colors ranging from black to pink to brown to red.
The cloth feels soapy and the peel is finely ground. Pottery was probably made in various centers around St Neots.

ceramic identification (19)

Articles from St Neots

A cream-colored, very fine, highly combustible fabric that is manufactured and fired in kilns. It is also the first appearance of glazed native pottery in this country since Roman times. Glazed since 875 AD, no other major glazed ware appears in this country until the 12th century, save for a brief period at Winchester in the later 9th century

ceramic identification (20)


medieval pottery

Early Middle Ages (ca. 1066 – late 12th century AD)

  • The main types of pottery from St Neots, Thetford and Stamford endure beyond the Norman invasion. In addition, some new substances are created.
  • In the middle of the 12th century the pottery of St Neots declined. Shelly-Ware pottery from around 1150 is known locally as Northamptonshire Shelly-Ware or simply SHW. He
    The vessels are larger but less finished and the shell inclusions are coarser than in St Neots pottery.
  • Shelly items are also manufactured in the Peterborough area but are difficult to distinguish from Rockingham Forest Industries, Northamptonshire Shelly items or
    Artikel Lincolnshire Shelly.
  • Essex Micaceous Sandy items from the 11th/12th centuries Century can be found throughout South Cambridgeshire. Essex potters use mica clay which gives browns and greyish browns.
    Fabrics of varying quality, some made on a wheel and not all baked.

Early Middle Ages (late 12th century - mid 14th century)
The High Middle Ages in terms of pottery is a heavily decorated period, particularly vessel forms where applied stripes, pads and sigils are common. Some industries create polychromy
Decoration with clay and slips of different colors to create an extravagant decoration on the glasses. However, there is very little decoration in the forms of use of the cookware.

Colne Ware (1200 - 1350 dC)
This was a pottery production center at Fen Edge in central Cambridgeshire, which produced medieval pottery similar to that of Ely, although the material was softer and harder. As Colne develops later in the period, it increases
differs from Ely pottery.

ceramic identification (21)

Article by colne

Ely-Keramik (1150 - 1350 n. Chr.)
One of the best-known types of local heavy fabrics is Ely pottery, used for jugs, bowls and cooking pots, and enamelled jugs. Some of this is wheel-made, some is hand-made, and the cloth usually has polished surfaces (but not always) and a grey-black core with some limestone temper (white flecks). Ely Ware is on the Cambridgeshire moors up and down the rivers and as far north as Wisbech and Kings Lynn.

ceramic identification (22)


Other reading

Roman Pottery Study Group:www.romanpotterystudy.org
Research Group Medieval Ceramics:www.medievalpottery.org.uk
Research group Prehistoric Ceramics:www.pcrg.org.uk

This step-by-step guide to archaeological techniques is part of a series produced by Jigsaw, a network of Cambridgeshire groups working with Oxford Archeology East. The guides are available for downloadPuzzle-Website. These instructions are copyright Jigsaw and the authors, including Paul Booth (OA South).


How do you identify ceramics? ›

Ceramic objects are often identified by their marks. Marks like the Chelsea anchor or the crossed-swords of Meissen are well known (and were often pirated), while the significance of others is uncertain. One such mysterious mark is the capital A found on a rare group of 18th-century British porcelains.

How do I identify a signature on pottery? ›

How do you distinguish a signature from a mark? Signatures are carved by hand, sometimes painted on the ceramic. Marks are usually stamped, so they look much more perfect. If the artist has a good hand guidance, or presses strokes with tools, one cannot distinguish sometimes well whether it is a mark or a signature.

How do I find out if my pottery is valuable? ›

One of the best ways to determine the current value of your art pottery today is to simply put it up for auction and let the competitive bidding determine the price. Assuming the auction is well attended and advertised, this is a good way to determine the current market price a willing buyer will pay for your item.

What are the 3 types of ceramics? ›

There are three main types of pottery/ceramic. These are earthenware, stoneware and porcelain.

How do you identify vintage ceramics? ›

After establishing the material and technique used to create the piece, the three best ways to identify an antique are by establishing its shape, decoration, glaze and most importantly of all, its markings. These will usually give a rough indication as to the time period and place of production.

How can you tell if ceramic is vintage? ›

Carbon dating is one of the most common ways to tell how old pottery is and has an accuracy level of 8000 years. Other methods include relative dating, thermoluminescence dating, and the use of markings.

How do you identify a pottery artist? ›

Some common marks include the studio where the piece was made, the potter who crafted the piece, and the signature of the artist who decorated it. A form number and identification of the clay type may also be included. Reference books can help you identify unfamiliar marks.

How do I identify an artist's signature? ›

Signatures or monograms can be found at the bottom margin of the painting or on the back of the canvas. In the case of a monogram, you can use an artist monogram database to match the monogram to the artist.

Is there an app to identify signatures? ›

signNow is a handy mobile app that can help customers to identify signature by photo and helps to keep document workflows working efficiently.

What vintage pottery is worth money? ›

Certain makers are always desirable. Look for names like Grueby, Marblehead, Newcomb College, SEG, TECO and Rookwood. Other names can be valuable but do not always bring top dollar. These are makers such as Fulper, Hampshire, Roseville, Van Briggle and Weller.

What is the most sought after pottery? ›

Pottery that is in mint condition is extremely valuable. Old pieces that are still in mint condition tend to attract high prices in the market and during auctions. These pieces have an original finish and have not undergone repair or restoration, hence the high value.

How do I identify old stoneware? ›

Antique stoneware crocks generally feature a gray or brown salt glaze with cobalt blue decorations. Antique crocks have a distinctive appearance. Each stoneware crock displays a shiny-looking surface that results from the salt glazing process.

What are 3 distinguishing characteristics of ceramic materials? ›

Nevertheless, despite such exceptions, ceramics generally display the properties of hardness, refractoriness (high melting point), low conductivity, and brittleness. These properties are intimately related to certain types of chemical bonding and crystal structures found in the material.

What is the oldest known ceramic material? ›

In the Xianrendong cave in China, fragments of pots dated to 18,000-17,000 BCE have been found. It is believed that from China the use of pottery successively spread to Japan and the Russian Far East region where archeologists have found shards of ceramic artifacts dating to 14,000 BCE.

What is the most common type of ceramic? ›

The most common types of ceramics are:

Porcelain: The most modern in the West, it is made with white clay, with a high content of the mineral kaolin. It is fired at a higher temperature than stoneware.

What do numbers on ceramics mean? ›

There are marks that indicate a specific mold called a mold number. These numbers often look like dates such as 1953 or 1789. It is rare that a piece of pottery will have a date stamped or embossed into its base. If a number looks like a date or a year, it is most likely a mold number.

What is the majolica mark? ›

Majolica-makers' marks are sure way to identify a manufacturer. Some marks will also date an item. Marks may be impressed, embossed or printed. Or written in script over the glaze, or 'in reserve'. Marked majolica is generally indicative of quality.

How can you tell if something is antique or vintage? ›

As a rule of thumb, Antiques have to be at least 100 years in age. That is what makes a true antique according to respectable dealers. Vintage can be anything from 20-99 years old and generally capture a sense of nostalgia that's relevant to the culture in some way.

What are the numbers on pottery marks? ›

The Registered Number, usually written as Rd on the piece of pottery, gives the date when that design was registered to prevent copying, but it could have been made at any time later than that date.

What is this porcelain mark? ›

Porcelain marks are the fingerprints of antique china. Serving as both evidence of its origin, age, and often times, quality, the makers mark on a porcelain item is the first place many collectors look before making a purchase.

What is the mark on the bottom of pottery called? ›

potter's mark, also called factory mark, device for the purpose of identifying commercial pottery wares. Except for those of Wedgwood, stonewares before the 20th century were not often marked. On some earthenware, potters' marks are frequently seen, but signatures are rare.

How can you tell if ceramic is hand made? ›

It must be rough. If it is white and smooth then it's not an original Italian ceramic, made with traditional materials and techniques. Sometimes it is still possible to detect the marks of the long tongs the artisans use to glaze their pottery: it's two tiny dots usually positioned near the rim of the pieces.

What are the characteristics of ceramics? ›

  • High hardness.
  • High elastic modulus.
  • Low ductility.
  • High dimensional stability.
  • Good wear resistance.
  • High resistance to corrosion and chemical attack.
  • High weather resistance.
  • High melting point.

How can you tell if something is ceramic or porcelain? ›

Pottery is opaque; light does shine through a piece of porcelain. Pottery breaks in a line. Porcelain is thinner, lighter and more stain-resistant. If you hold a pottery plate in one hand and a porcelain plate in the other, you will find the porcelain is colder and the pottery is heavier.

How do you tell if it's ceramic or porcelain? ›

How to Tell the Difference Between Ceramic and Porcelain Tile
  1. Porcelain tile has the same color throughout the material. ...
  2. The finish of porcelain is smoother than that of ceramic. ...
  3. Ceramic tiles aren't as dense as porcelain and therefore are slightly lighter by comparison.

What are the 7 properties of ceramics? ›

Ceramic Properties
  • hard,
  • wear-resistant,
  • brittle,
  • refractory,
  • thermal insulators,
  • electrical insulators,
  • nonmagnetic,
  • oxidation resistant,

What are the 2 classifications of ceramics? ›

Each type has different characteristics and functions.
  • Structural ceramics are ceramic materials with strong chemical bonding that can endure stress, heat, and corrosion. ...
  • Refractory ceramics are ceramic materials that can withstand high temperatures, oxidation, and corrosion.
May 27, 2022


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