Department of Archaeology

Workshop Two: Research and Training Opportunities

To address the growing shortage of samian specialists, this workshop will be dedicated to formulating a strategy to revitalise samian expertise. It will consider possible sources of funding, such as Knowledge Transfer schemes and collaborative doctoral awards, and highlight possible research projects that might incorporate educational and training opportunities.

Address from the Chair
Dr Roberta Tomber, British Museum

Summary by Christoph Rummel

Roberta Tomber, welcomed all participants to the workshop and thanked Dr Sykes for setting up this useful initiative which brought together the main players in UK Samian studies. She pointed out her own experience with samian, namely that in her early days as a specialist in Roman ceramics her main approach to samian was to identify which pieces were to be sent to Leeds to be worked on by specialists. Only when showed different samian fabrics by Robin Symonds at the Museum of London in the 1990s did she realize that samian could be treated like other Roman fine-wares. Dr Tomber’s conclusions from this anecdote were that there is a definite role for samian specialists, but that it is important to make general ceramicists understand the main features of samian in order to enable them to understand and select what needs to be sent to an expert and what can be dealt with on a more general level. She suggested that a prime issue in samian studies, therefore, was the “de-mystification” of samian. Furthermore, she noted that one of the main points raised at workshop 1 was the increasing age of samian specialists in the UK (though she pointed out that there are exceptions), a problem that needed to be addressed urgently by the creation of training opportunities for younger samian specialists.

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A Contracting Stance? Commissioning and Training Samian Specialists in a Commercial Context
Louise Rayner, Archaeology South-East, UCL

Summary by Christoph Rummel

The first paper of the day was given by Louise Rayner, who had been working on samian with Joanna Bird and Brenda Dickinson at MoLAS, but is now working not just with samian. Through her work with Archaeology South East, however, she could provide the view of current samian research from the point of view of commercial archaeology. She pointed out that there was an English Heritage training programme for Roman Pottery specialists that existed within Archaeology South East (EPPIC placement). In order to identify whether it was feasible to create a similar programme specifically for samian studies, however, she suggested that a number of questions needed to be answered: not only is it important to identify what the current (and perceived) problems with samian research are, but any training programme along the lines of an EPPIC placement would need to identify what exactly samian specialists do and need, and whether it would even be possible to train future specialists within commercial archaeological units.

As such, Ms Rayner had put together a brief survey that she sent out to several units and freelance archaeologists, receiving 10 responses, one of which was from a freelancer:

The survey initially asked whether units recorded samian in-house, or whether they sent it off to experts to be studied. The 9 responses from commercial units stated that they initially recorded their samian in-house, only the freelance archaeologists sent all samian off to be judged by an expert. The second question of the survey asked who in the unit was in charge of dealing with samian. While various different titles were given, the general impression given by responses to this question was that it was always general pottery experts who also dealt with samian, rather than a dedicated samian expert.  The third question tried to identify what exactly was recorded when samian was studied. Seven out of the nine commercial units actually recorded fabrics in abroad sense. Six of these, however, did not go into any workshop-specific level of analysis. Seven responses stated that they did perform plain-form identification, and the majority of responses recorded basic decorated shapes. Analysis of decorated motifs, however, drew mainly no’s and maybe’s as responses, while only one responses stated that they regularly analysed samian stamps (2x no, 5x occasionally).

The basic result of this part of the survey, therefore, was that there is no general model as to how samian is treated in the current context of commercial archaeology. Overall, however, the initial assessment of samian is carried out in-house. External specialists were used by 8 of the 9 responding archaeological units, as well as the freelance archaeologist. The samian specialists were mainly drawn in for publication and detailed analysis of samian once a primary assessment had been carried out.

The survey also identified that the data sent out to samian specialists varied greatly: the responses ranged from all samian to selected groups and even single sherds. All agreed, however, that the main body of data contracted out to samian specialists was mainly decorated and often stamped. A number of factors were identified as influencing the decision of what was sent to a samian expert, ranging from research aims to the size and integrity of a group, as well as site requirements (such as dating) and, interestingly, in one case, the availability of specialists. Remarkably, the issue of time constraints was not raised as a governing factor in the decision to “outsource” samian research to specialists. The responses also stated that commercial archaeologists expected external samian specialists to identify unusual sherds and provide a samian catalogue with dates and text or “full samian report”, although it was not clarified what exactly that entails.

Ms Rayner’s survey further pointed out that a number of commercial archaeologists saw issues with some aspects of samian research, namely that the way samian is quantified frequently differs from approaches used for mainstream pottery, that samian is treated as a separate entity entirely from the remainder of ceramic finds and that frequently reports are down in paper and can therefore not be included in digital reports and/or databases. A further problem was generally seen in the formulaic nature of many samian reports, even where precise research aims/objectives had been provided. Also, some reports failed to link the data from samian to questions regarding site use and or function. These issues frequently result in samian being published as stand-alone reports, as they do not adhere to the remainder of a commercial archaeology report in terms of format. As such, an important issue that has to be resolved is whether the independent report is a format that works for samian, or whether it would be better is samian assessments were integrated in general site reports.

The paper concluded from this survey that there are many discrepancies in how samian is currently treated, which strongly suggests that there is a need for more organized training in how to approach samian, especially for in-house staff of commercial units who do not regularly use samian. As it is these who do most initial assessments of samian, it is also important to think about mechanisms of cross-checking such initial assessments. It seems vital therefore, to find a way to integrate the work of established samian specialist with that of general Roman Pottery staff in commercial archaeology.

Current training of pottery specialists in units is provided mainly by senior staff of units who have some knowledge of samian, or external (visiting) samian specialists. While such training is useful, Ms Rayner suggested that it is important to decide whether unit staff should be trained only on a general level of type and fabric, or whether an basic understanding of décor and stamps should also be included. Any attempt to “standardize” training, however, would have to take into account (perceived) limitations in training budgets. A further important factor would be to decide what size of region a samian expert should cover. A crucial question to be answered, therefore, is to what extend experts that are separate from general Roman pottery specialists are needed at the initial level of commercial archaeology, or whether an initial analysis of fabric type and form, rather than a full and detailed specialist report, may not actually be sufficient for the requirements of commercial archaeology. After all, more and more units seem to want to carry out the majority of samian assessment in house. This would, however, require access to reference material such as the databases at Mainz and Leeds – although one has to consider how useful these tools are to non-samian-specialists.

In conclusion, Ms Rayner gave a summary of EPPIC training schemes and how they worked. She suggested that the rigorous selection process of the scheme ensures that only motivated and keen candidates are placed with existing specialists, and are closely monitored during their time there. As such, the scheme creates well trained and committed practitioners. As the scheme is currently used to train general ceramics staff, it should be possible to adapt it to samian research. EPPIC only provides a salary for the trainee, however, making it necessary to possibly “piggyback” any such training to existing larger project in order to fund the specialist “trainer”. Ms Rayner also suggested that a number of the issues raised in her paper could be addressed by samian training workshops or weekends which used to exist, but have not taken place in the last 10 or so years. Equally, however, she pointed out that work by current samian specialists must remain up-to-date and relevant to the requirements of commercial archaeology. This could, for example, be achieved by regional meetings through the Study Group for Roman Pottery and the establishment of regional contact hubs for experts.


After Roberta Tomber opened the discussion, remarking on the number of issues that had been raised in this highly interesting talk, Brenda Dickinson picked up on the idea of training workshops, asking what exactly should be taught at these. She suggested that there is a significant scope for problems if non-specialist staff assess samian in-house, as they may on occasion fail to identify pieces that could be important for the specialist. This point was supported by Jo Mills, who gave examples from metal-working and the discard of slag to support this argument. She suggested that units should try and create in-house reference collections to combat identification problems. This point was picked up by Geoffrey Dannell, who questioned the use of such collections if they were too small. He did, however, agree that a number of preliminary assessments, such as quantification and EVES analysis, should be done in house, rather than by samian specialists. As such, there seemed general agreement that there are some activities best carried out “in-house” and others that should be left to an expert. Such a division of tasks, according to Mr Dannell, would, however, require some form of standard that everybody adhered to, in order for the specialist to see problems or notice misidentifications. He suggested, therefore that a scheme/code-of-practice on how to deal with samian should be set up.

Roberta Tomber then reiterated the point whether samian recording and reporting should perhaps be stand-alone and separate from the remainder of site reports, to which Geoffrey Dannell replied that this was to be avoided at all costs. He and Louise Rayner then had a brief discussion on whether samian reports should be integrated with the remainder of site publication. Mr Dannell’s point was that samian specialists alone cannot integrate their reports, as they do not have the overall site knowledge. He therefore argued that supervisors ought to have overall knowledge to facilitate such integration, which Dr Tomber pointed out was implausible as so much detail that needs to be understood to enable complete integration of samian reports. Louise Rayner pointed out that the main issue in the integration of site reports was one of putting the information together at the stage of publication, and that the real issue here may be one of communication between specialists and commercial archaeologists. Felicity Wild pointed out that for this to happen, the specialist must be told what to do exactly, rather than units commissioning a general samian report without actually stating their research objectives. This point was supported by Steven Willis, who stated that specialists are frequently not told what exactly was required of a samian report and, crucially, that there is little or no feedback once a report was completed. He furthermore pointed out that specialists are often not informed what happens with their report once it is done, and argued for greater integration and synthesis of samian reporting.

At this point, Roberta Tomber concluded the discussion, stating that there evidently are a number of problems that need to be addressed, but that the discussion had not even reached the issue of training. As such, it was important to hear from somebody who had recently been trained herself, Amy Thorpe. Download a copy of Louise Rayner’s power point presentation.

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Reflections on Creating a Knowledgeable Roman Pottery Specialist
Amy Thorpe, Museum of London

Summary by Christoph Rummel

Amy Thorpe of MoLAS (Museum of London Archaeological Service) provided an overview of her training and introduction to Roman ceramic research. She started training as a specialist in Roman Pottery 18 months before this workshop, and was therefore able to provide the view from the young generation of trainees in the discipline. As such, Ms Thorpe identified three crucial areas that directly influence any training of new pottery experts: expertise/resources, budget and timescale.

With regard to the first of these, she argued that it was essential for any Roman Pottery trainee to have a mentor to pass on expertise, suggesting that initially, trainees should not have to work under commercial rates but be given the chance to familiarize themselves with the ceramics and fabrics. During this phase she argued that it is important to have a mentor to discuss and problems and issues in order to build confidence and one’s own understanding of the problems involved in ceramic research. She also pointed out the importance of a substantial reference collection such as that held at the LAARC which contains all main fabrics found at London for use as visual reference material.

In terms of budget/timescale, it was suggested that the training of a ceramic specialist required a significant budget, which could be gained by using a lower than commercial rate guide budget that could be supplemented by a dedicated training budget. To illustrate this point, she gave the example of her own training in spot-dating, which progressed in three stages: first working alongside a mentor who explained what was done, then sorting contexts alone, but having all results checked by a mentor and finally sorting out key fabrics alone, but having the opportunity to discuss all problem areas with a mentor. During this time, the trainee could work at a slower than normal commercial rate as initially suggested. Aside from the directly relevant training in the recording and analysis of ceramics, however, Ms Thorpe pointed out that any trainee would also have to be taught how to write and publish ceramics assessments. An important point is that any such training regime cannot be set as a rigid framework, but must be flexible to allow for different rates of progression at different stages according to the individual trainee.

The paper highlighted that the most important part of training any future ceramic specialists is the background of the trainee. Ms Thorpe herself knew what such training would entail due to her MA in ceramic analysis and her previous handling of Roman pottery. As such, her training only reinforced existing knowledge, whereas the training of somebody without such a basis would evidently take significantly longer. The resources and time involved in the training of Roman pottery specialists therefore necessitate that any prospective trainee be enthusiastic and keen to work in the field. As such, she reiterated that the number of specialists would always be low, making it important that a basic judgement of samian could be made at the commercial level before material was sent off to specialists, as discussed in the earlier paper.


Following the above paper, Roberta Tomber remarked on the usefulness of such an overview of training, but asked to what extent a specific grounding in samian would differ and be more difficult than training as a general specialist in Roman pottery. Amy Thorpe replied that she could see a problem there, but that to some extent this was a site specific issue – as she had been trained in London and dealt with sites that contained a large number of samian, she had received a thorough grounding in the matter. Roy Stephenson pointed out that a number of issues are linked into the training of a specialist, highlighting that Amy Thorpe’s training had only been possible because the right person had arrived at the right time and worked on the right sites. He further suggested that training as described above required a number of factors (a mentor, a reference collection, the right data to work on) that could be provided by a unit the size of MoLAS, but would be difficult to achieve by some smaller units.

Geoffrey Dannell then reiterated the importance of finding the right individual as a Roman ceramic specialist trainee, suggesting that a samian expert could not be created if the right mind-set did not exist. Equally, however, he suggested that true expertise could not be taught, but needed to come from the individual him/herself and a desire/willingness to obtain such expertise. As such, he suggested that it was important to identify the line between what is teachable and what isn’t to identify what could be done by a general pottery specialist and a samian expert. As such there appear to be different levels of specialism, one at unit level, and one for expertise in samian along. This, as pointed out by Naomi Sykes, exists not only in Roman pottery, and samian, but in all specialisms.

With this point established, Roberta Tomber than asked to what extend one could look at a training strategy, to which Roy Stephenson replied that any such strategy would have to take account of the resources required to teach a Roman ceramic, and especially samian, specialist. Gwladys Monteil then pointed out that she could not have achieved her current level of knowledge without the MoLAS resources, and that it took her at least 7 year to achieve the expertise she now has. At this, Roberta Tomber posed the question whether London was therefore the only centre suitable to train samian specialists, or whether a similar centre could by found somewhere else, particularly further north, to satisfy regional requirements and access. Naomi Sykes asked whether this could be achieved by online fabric resources or whether “hands-on” experience was necessary. The group felt that hands-on experience was better but that on-line series could be exceptionally useful. Roberta Tomber mentioned that the National Fabric Reference Collection should go online on April 1st and contain high quality photos, thin sections and, eventually typologies. Download a copy of Amy Thorpe’s power point presentation.

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Who Made it, Where and When? Learning to Identify Samian
Joanna Bird, Freelance Samian Specialist

Summary by Christoph Rummel


Edward Biddulph (Oxford Archaeology) pointed out that the training experience described by Joanna Bird differed from the training outlined in the earlier papers: rather than having been part of a set training format, Ms Bird wanted to be a samian specialist. As such, he questioned whether any formal training was actually required for specialists, suggesting what was really necessary was a desire to learn and become a samian expert. As such, he suggested that the important factors in samian training were access to reference material, data and the right people/mentors, and that it was possible to acquire samian expertise without any formal training programme. Roberta Tomber asked whether even such an individual would not require a constant mentor. Naomi Sykes pointed out that if the enthusiasm is great enough, a potential trainee could surely overcome such problems, but that the heart of the matter might lie in access to reference material.

Jo Mills argued that even self-directed training required money. She suggested that one possibility is for young up-and-coming specialists to (as she does) cost training into their budgets, allowing time consult and learn from established experts. She pointed out that even a “samian specialist” never stops learning and that what is really required was access to resources and the opportunity to work on the right sort of assemblages. Roberta Tomber picked up on the idea of including expert consultations in the costing of specialist reports, asking whether all contractors had been happy to pay for this. Jo Mills points out that she only works with two contractors, but there have been no problems to date. Naomi Sykes therefore suggested that perhaps one needed to train commercial units as much as the samian experts when it came to the best way to study samian, picking up on points raised in the first discussion.

Jo Mills went on to reiterate that there were different levels of expertise, and that while she was happy to produce samian reports of a site, she did not have the general overview of production and samian economics that some of the samian ‘experts’ possessed. The idea of different levels of expertise was supported by Felicity Wild, who pointed out that even an established samian specialist still needed others to discuss finer problems with – even after 45 years of studying samian. Sarah Jennings pointed out that this was an issue not just for samian research, and that this was the reason why specialist groups existed in order to get specialists to meet and discuss ideas. Roberta Tomber pointed out that this should not just be done in a conference setting however, but could also be achieved by day training courses.

Allard Mees then posed the question why any such training happened outside the academic sphere, suggesting that universities that focussed on material studies could and should become directly involved in teaching at least a basic level of knowledge of Roman pottery and samian. He suggested that the Netherlands suffered from similar problems as the UK in this respect, but that a solution could be sought by providing the money for training specialists to the universities to facilitate the training of motivated students. Geoffrey Dannell replied that main problem here is that current university culture in the UK does not allow for the time and resources required to train pottery expertise because of target/point based research assessments. Steven Willis then pointed out that the University of Durham had a ceramics course in the 1980s and 80s that provided training, but very few of the students taking actually remained involved with ceramic research. He stated that a similar artefacts module was taught at Kent, but that the level of knowledge to make a “specialist” could only be gained through involvement in a research project – and in this respect students chose GIS or other, more “modern” approaches of ceramic research, perhaps because of future employment prospects. Clare Pickergill also identified that some universities do teach artefact studies, but argued that to achieve any in-depth knowledge one needed to carry on in this field beyond university. In an academic environment beyond student days, however, she suggested that there is only limited time for research – as such there is a problem for people wanting to become specialists as there are no options past university other than setting up on your own and becoming self-employed. At this point Roberta Tomber remarked that all discussions of the day seem to come back to the fact that to make a samian specialist one of the main factors was dedication of the individual. Geoffrey Dannell took this opportunity to reiterate his point of two levels of specialism – one “mechanical” that is easy to teach at university level or in units, and one at an “expertise” level which would only be reached by a select dedicated handful of people who made it their aim to achieve this.

Joanna Bird was unable to attend, so her paper was read out by Geoffrey Dannell. Download a transcript of this paper.

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Why Become a Samian Specialist in the Late 1990's?
Gwladys Monteil, University of Nottingham

Summary by Christoph Rummel

Gwladys Monteil, who is in charge of reassessing the Oswald samian collection at the University of Nottingham and has worked with samian for 10 years, set out to describe her training as a samian expert and “to de-mystify samian”. She argued that samian is no different from other archaeological specialisations in general, but that it demands more energy and input due to the complexity of the subject. At the same time, she suggested that now was a very good time to approach the specialism, as there were 40 to 50 years of British samian expertise to build on.

Dr Monteil pointed out that she never received any formal training per se, but that her career had been a combination of lucky coincidences and timing (meeting the right people), and hard work. As there is no formal samian training in France, she researched samian as part of a general pottery project from an assemblage near Lezoux for the equivalent of an MPhil. During the course of this work she met Philipe Bet and Richard Delage, who fostered an interest in samian. During an MA in post excavation techniques at Leicester she worked on more Roman pottery, and met Robin Symonds who suggested she work on samian waterfront groups from London. For this she spent 2 months studying the material at LAARC, which gave her an opportunity to check her data constantly and become confident with samian in the course of studying c. 6000 sherds. A particular important feature for her was the existence of complete vessels in the reference collection.

Dr Monteil pointed out that the most important points in her becoming a samian specialist were the access to data provided through the cooperation between MoLAS and Birkbeck, which enabled her use the LAARC, and the actual handling of vessels. All her work to this point, however, had been based solely on fabric and form. Any understanding of decoration came from books and publications, but did not extend beyond the basics. It is at this point, Dr Monteil suggested, that a mentor becomes invaluable – in her case Geoffrey Dannell.

The most important tools for developing samian expertise, according to Dr Monteil, are time with primary data and the prolonged handling of actual samian, as well as a hands-on reference collection. She suggested that it is not complicated to comprehend the basics of samian, but that an understanding of decoration and stamps is much more complicated to gain, reflecting the different levels of expertise that had been brought up repeatedly in earlier discussions. She suggested that it is important to get universities to cooperate with units and institutions to enable academic (and especially graduate) research on samian collections/groups, something that could be achieved particularly easily by the creation PhDs based on samian finds groups. Even within this, however, she argued that it was important that current specialists, such as Mr Dannell, act as mentors, particular with regard to the more complicated issues.

Dr Monteil closed by stating that online database tools such as that developed in Mainz are invaluable tools for any samian researcher, and that one of the main problems in her opinion is access to reference volumes and collections. A further problem is that of languages, particular when discussing decorations and in more advanced samian research. This, she suggested, could be overcome with the creation of a “samian lexicon” to highlight the main terms used to describe/discuss decorations etc.


Peter Webster picked up on Dr Monteil’s idea of a samian lexicon, pointing out that the pottery group had decided to produce a document with a translation of the main pottery terms a while ago, but that he wasn’t sure what had come of that particular project.

The discussion was then moved to a different area by Clare Pickersgill, who pointed out the importance of Dr Monteil’s work with both Birkbeck and MoLAS. Ms Pickersgill is also doing a PhD with Birkbeck, working on Roman fine-wares from excavations in Greece. She pointed out that it was important for universities to send students out to access collections and work with commercial archaeologists, rather than keeping them in a purely academic environment. Dr Monteil replied that the way her PhD was structures meant she ended up with the luxury of practically having two supervisors, one at Birkbeck and one at MoLAS.

Allard Mees used Dr Monteil’s paper and description of her PhD to show that current samian experts are also adapting and no longer merely collate decorations and stamp, but create economic groups and try and pose more relevant research questions, a point with which Dr Monteil agreed, saying that this situation had improved in the last 7 years. Download a copy of Gwladys Monteil’s power point presentation.

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Finding the Next Generation of Specialists: A View from the Principality
Peter Webster, Cardiff University

Summary by Christoph Rummel

Peter Webster set out to provide a view from outside England, stating that the situation in Wales differed somewhat to that found in England, as the Welsh archaeology a very different, much smaller and personal, entity than its English counterpart.

He described how a series of samian workshops to train specialists had been run since the 1970s, but that these, by default, had to run into a loss. In order to achieve tangible results, Dr Webster argued that such workshops had to provide one tutor for every 6 attendants – a staff-student ratio no longer viable. Furthermore he suggested that any subsidies that such workshops would require would have to be even more substantial today.

The weekend courses Dr Webster was involved in, however, could not produce fully fledged “samian specialists”. They did, however, create archaeologists with some knowledge of samian and its important aspects, creating staff in units that understood what experts can and cannot do, and what they are looking for. At the same time, the workshops created a network of people based in and around Cardiff who meet and “do” samian on a regular basis. This group is still active and continues to run as a samian “self-help-group”. Equally, it enables the very communication between samian experts and commercial archaeologists that had been identified as lacking in England in previous papers.

Dr Webster also referred to the division between a “specialist” and an “expert” level of samian research – stating that research weekends, centring on large sites such as Verulamium, Richborough, London or La Graufesenque gave archaeologists/excavators the chance to better understand what they are excavating when excavating samian. Individual archaeologists might then “catch the samian bug” and develop into the “experts” that had been discussed earlier. There do, however, appear to be several restrictions that could keep even keen individuals from reaching this “expert” level of samian understanding. The first and foremost of these is restricted access to specialist publications, but a further problem is in the nature of current commercial archaeology: unit staff simply have neither time nor incentive to “immerse themselves in samian”. As such, becoming a samian expert in Britain at the moment seems possible only if it is out of private interest. As such, Dr Webster suggested that what was really needed was a change in the mindset of commercial archaeology, if any of the initiatives discussed at these workshops were to take fruit. As such, one unit was needed to work as a commercial partner – MoLAS could here be the obvious choice.

Responding to earlier references that universities were to blame for the current problems in samian research as they stopped teaching artefact studies, Dr Webster argued that this was simply not true – instead he reiterated that the real problem is that there is no real future in artefact studies outside of university, and as such no incentive to carry on in this field. He pointed out that any artefact studies at undergraduate level, of which there are many, could not teach anything in the level required to develop a specialisation. This would have to be done in postgraduate courses – but many universities lack the skilled staff to do so. This, according to Dr Webster, has created a vicious circle.

Dr Webster was clear, however, that a certain proportion of the blame for the current state of samian research in the UK was also to be put on current samian specialists and their methodology. He argued particularly strongly that the lack of samian syntheses in English is a strong disincentive to postgraduate students: if an MA student has about one month to prepare for a dissertation topic, this is simply not possible to achieve with samian in view of the current, highly specialist publications in the subject. As such, very few students at this level could be motivated to look into topics related to samian at Masters’ level. As such, there was a distinct need for synthetic works on samian and the understanding of samian in order to interest new postgraduate students in the subject, who could then become a new generation samian specialists.

Returning to the topic of training workshops, Dr Webster pointed out how useful a tool they are, but that they take time and space to organise and require a large number of reference books – ideally one between three or four participants. As such, training workshops require a lot of input and energy, with no guaranteed result.

As a strategy for the future, Dr Webster therefore suggested that it was necessary that interest in samian was fostered at the point where it changed from being a general interest in Roman pottery to being a fascination with samian itself. This, however, would require time, energy, resources and dedication. If samian research is to continue as a full time employment for dedicated specialists, Dr Webster suggested that both commercial archaeologists and current samian specialists needed to urgently adapt their mindsets and change their approach to the problematic situation faced at the moment.

In conclusion, Dr Webster pointed out that traditionally, none of the great British samian “experts” actually earned their living from samian research, but from other professions. As such, he argued that it was important to train and create a new generation of specialists at a “first level” – but that the samian experts of the future would have to develop on their own accord and naturally, rather than be created in an artificial training programme, as it takes a high level of personal dedication to reach such a level of expertise.


Roberta Tomber responded to Dr Webster’s talk by pointing out that throughout all papers and discussions so far there had been general agreement that the urgent requirement was to develop the basic level of samian specialisation rather than the expert level, and that this would be significantly easier task than to train new experts. Dr Webster replied that in this, it would be crucial to train ceramic specialists not just in the identification of plain forms, but to create a body of people who comprehended samian, how samian reports are written and what questions can be asked from samian. This, however, was very different from actually being able to do that oneself. Dr Tomber then wondered whether a “synthesis” of samian research would have to be written by a specialist. Dr Webster was of the opinion that this depended on a number of factors, the most important one being access to up-to-date literature on the subject.

Steven Willis took up the idea of creating syntheses of samian studies and suggested that Oswald and Pryce would be an ideal starting point, as it was easy to use and included discussions of the manufacture of samian as well as references to metal vessels and other materials. As such, updating of this approach could be a useful and timely tool and project and could include a substantial section of fabric identifications. Download a copy of Peter Webster’s paper.

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Recent Work on Durham University's Oswald-Plicque Collection
Robin Skeates, University of Durham

Summary by Christoph Rummel

Robin Skeates offered a perspective on how he used the Oswald-Plicque collection, stored at the Fulling Mill Museum, Durham, in teaching undergraduate artefact studies.

The Durham collection consists of more than 5000 sherds and vessels, 10% of which are South Gaulish material found at London. The remaining 90% are made up from Plicque’s samian collection which consists mainly of vessels from Lezoux. In addition to this, the collection entails a significant archive of rubbings on a card index, labelled and sorted by codes. There are also a number of casts and moulds as well as drawings, notes and letters by Oswald. A very small part of the collection is exhibited in the main museum, the remainder being stored in the museum stores and the department of archaeology.

Recently, there had been a funded project to facilitate access to this important collection, which had long lain dormant due to its daunting size and the physical restrictions in accessing the material. As such it was only known to a small circle of experts. The funding covered a 3 year project in “archive archaeology” during which the collection was used as a learning and teaching resource. This involved the students and brought them into contact with the main trends and issues of samian research, as well as providing them with a hands-on experience the pottery itself.

The collection was included in a variety of teaching modules and assignments of different courses, both at undergraduate and postgraduate level. One of these was a ‘Museum Archaeology’ module in which students set up their own exhibition, using the collection to focus on different themes such as the history of collecting, samian studies, samian ware etc. The majority of students taking part in this module responded positively, stating that they enjoyed working with samian and learning about it. One student even went on to focus their dissertation on ‘Samian and Museums’. Aside from this module, the Oswald-Plicque material at Durham has also been used in a module on archaeological illustration. In the course of a module on ‘Artefact Studies’, material from the collection is also used regularly to write 3000 word artefact reports. The entire collection has furthermore been re-sorted by masters students acting as volunteers. This fostered further interest in samian studies, leading one student to consider using the data as the basis for a PhD.

Aside from this integration in regular teaching, a recent MA module on exhibitions used the collection, counteracting the traditional preconception that pottery is ‘dull’. Students engaged with local schools and libraries to publicise the exhibition and through various media, including a webpage, online catalogue and info pack, did generate significant visitor interest in samian. At the same time, the students themselves responded very positively to the module and stated that they enjoyed working with and learning about samian.

Following this description of the inclusion of the samian collection at Durham, Dr Skeates recommended that for the future of samian studies it would be highly valuable if universities cooperated with museums and relevant collections, letting students work with such archives and allowing them access to handle actual samian. This would be an easy and quick way to generate the initial interest in samian that had been discussed throughout the day.


Naomi Sykes pointed out that it was impressive and encouraging how a samian collection could be made to work and integrated in teaching, and that Nottingham might be another department where the resources could allow for a similar approach. Download a copy of Robin Skeates’ power point presentation.

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Presentations by the English Heritage and IFA

Sarah Jennings (English Heritage) and Tim Howard (IFA) gave a brief presentation on the opportunities for further training and support that their institutions had to offer.

Sarah Jennings began by supplementing earlier discussions with the fact that English Heritage was directly involved in training ceramics specialists, following 3 main training routes:

1) Two day courses on various types of pottery, aimed at different levels of expertise. These should be repeated every 5years or so. A two day course on samian should be a possibility, despite the fact that none have taken place to date. There is, however, a direct interest on the part of English Heritage to stage such workshops. Such two-day workshops could concentrate on training the first stage of samian specialists discussed, who could then make informed decisions on what to send on to specialists, and what not. At the same time, such initial assessors might actually enjoy working with samian more, once they had acquired an increased level of specialist knowledge through such a workshops.

2) Capacity Building. This is still in its infancy but offers somebody working in an archaeological unit the chance to have a paid six-month placement working alongside a specialist. This could also be adapted to samian research.

3) EPPIC placements. These create one-year full-time training blocks that could be used to teach people to how to work with and understand samian. It is important however, that these cannot cease after the initial year, but that trainees going through an EPPIC placement have to be monitored and mentored even beyond their initial training year. It is also important that they be offered access to projects, as it would be impossible to go from being a trainee straight into being an established samian expert. As money for this scheme is limited, candidates have to be chosen carefully to ensure that the EPPIC placement is not merely a stepping stone on a CV, but actually used as a route into a samian specialisation.

An important point in this presentation was that, while there evidently are training opportunities through English Heritage, all of these require direct input from the current crop of samian experts – as these are the only people able to identify who should be trained, how, and for what. At the same time, Ms Jennings identified that environmental archaeology did not have the sort of problems that samian studies encountered, and put this down to an increased dialogue with the people commissioning archaeological reports. As such, she suggested samian experts need to inform commercial archaeologists what their subject can provide and how that supplements the needs of commercial archaeology. This could easily be achieved through a day meeting on samian research. The basis to attract any sort of funding, according to Ms Jennings, was to demonstrate and articulate that there was a need for integrated, specialist samian reports, as well as to identify where the problems in samian research are, and how they can be filled. She concluded that this could only be done by current specialists, as they were the only ones aware of the whole situation who could identify these issues.

Tim Howard of the IFA opened his part of the presentation by summarizing what the IFA is and what it does, highlighting that, amongst other tasks, one of its declared aims is to facilitate the training and further development of archaeologists. As such, the IFA facilitates a number of training bursaries funded by the Heritage Lottery fund that enable 8-10 training placements per year. One of these is currently held at Southampton and focuses on medieval pottery. As such, there might well be scope to have a similar placement focussing on samian. This would be particularly interesting as feedback from existing placements had been unanimously positive, and the majority of placement holders had remained in the specialisation they had been trained in. In addition to this, the IFA placement scheme adheres to National Training standards. Mr Howard did, however, point out that such funding was limited and not secure in future.

A second initiative that Mr Howard suggested could be utilized was an NVQ in archaeological practice. He pointed out the NVQs do reach all the way up to graduate level, but do not compete with the education sector, focussing on skills gaps in that sector instead. As an NVQ is open to all, it could be particularly useful as a training medium in a workplace environment. He therefore raised the question whether this might not be a medium to train the initial level of specialist discussed in the course of the day.

A third suggestion was that of recording of training in the context of Continuing Professional Development (CPD). This would be available to everybody and could be included in an IFA CPD scheme which would include seminars, mentoring, structured reading etc. Mr Howard further presented the idea of registered organizations, a scheme for all organizations including educational establishments that offers them the chance to standardize research approaches as well as improve those standards. Both of these schemes would enable a degree of coordination between commercial and academic archaeologists as well as curators that could establish unanimous standards of practice for samian recording and research.

A final approach to resolve some of the issues discussed during the day would be the creation of an IFA special interest group for samian (a finds group, for example, does already exist). Such a group could provide regular training courses as well as a register of specialists and could be used as a hub for specialist contacts. It would also enable the running of short courses, not so much to create specialist researchers, but to generate interest in samian. These could also inform generalist archaeologists about what it is that samian experts do, and how they could benefit from samian expertise.

In conclusion, Mr Howard suggested that while no one approach would fit for every individual/organization, the IFA was aware of the issue and could help to work out where samian research should go in future by helping to inform on and facilitate ways to train a new generation of samian experts.

Following this presentation, Sarah Jennings, reiterated that in any attempt to train new samian specialists it was vital to ensure that people stay in samian research once they have been trained and do not go into a different career once money has been spent on their understanding of samian.

Closing Discussion

Roberta Tomber opened the closing discussion by pointing out a further training initiative that had so far not been mentioned, begun by Ian Haynes in the form of a grant at Birkbeck to set up pottery training courses. Initially, these were designed as three workshops focussing on three types of pottery, one of which could easily be used to focus on samian. Indeed, Dr Tomber suggested that a samian course could be established at Birkbeck as an ongoing course to provide the “specialist” training for initial assessment skills pertinent to samian. She then invited all participants to discuss the days papers and try to provide possible solutions to some of the issues raised.

Naomi Sykes referred back to the idea of scanning main samian resources as voiced in Joanna Bird’s paper and asked to what extent this would be possible in view of current copyright laws. Peter Webster was of the opinion that while copyright was a problem, a number of key reference volumes are so old that their copyright must have run out. Geoffrey Dannell, however, was certain that on a number of them the copyright had been renewed, making any such approach difficult or impossible.

Geoffrey Dannell then asked Sarah Jennings to what extent she believed that the training possibilities offered by English Heritage could accommodate the two different levels of expertise that are evidently required – one at the “expert” level seeing samian as a research subject, and one purely utilitarian for the excavation process, making commercial archaeologist see the potential and importance of samian. Ms Jennings replied that this first level would have to be done by current ceramics experts, as they were the only ones who could provide that sort of knowledge in the current climate where samian expertise is no longer taught at universities. Mr Dannell replied that evidently, therefore, a main point would be for current samian experts to communicate to commercial archaeologists a basic and agreed standard of samian recording – something that could only be achieved at a meeting of specialists and commercial units. Ms Jennings then pointed out that, rather than starting such a process from scratch, it would be easier to add a samian section to the Roman Pottery Study Group basic guidelines for pottery publication, with which Mr Dannell agreed. This would, however, require somebody to actually produce such guidelines and then ensure that they are implemented, meaning that all experts present would have to adhere to such standards as well. It was agreed that it would be important to not just agree among experts what such guidelines should be, but to liaise with commercial archaeologists to accommodate their needs and requirements.

Naomi Sykes picked up on this point, stating that such a standard and a group of specialists liaising with commercial archaeologists exists in archaeozoology and is very successful, including the training of new specialists and publishing the results of meetings that identify what both academic researchers and commercial archaeologists need. Roberta Tomber and Sarah Jennings responded that to some extent this is what the Roman Pottery Study Group does, but that it would have to talk more to archaeological units to include their requirements of samian research. This could easily be achieved by a quick survey similar to that carried out by Louise Rayner to form the background of her paper. Steven Willis pointed out that in this communication with those commissioning samian reports would be an essential element, and that this could be achieved by a an IFA magazine article on what samian can do for site archaeology, as well as one stating what a commercial archaeologist required of samian reports. A further approach, according to Dr Willis, might be to invite field archaeologist to the final plenary session of the Nottingham Samian Workshops, or a TRAC session on samian at one of the future conferences. This last idea was seen by Sarah Jennings as problematic. She pointed out that it would be important to not have separate “finds” sessions, as only the people already interested would attend these. Instead, it might be more beneficial to include papers on samian research and what it can do in more general sessions. Dr Willis suggested that it might be beneficial to actually state what an extended samian report can do beyond merely dating a site, an idea that was applauded by Roberta Tomber.

Naomi Sykes further suggested that as there are “English Heritage Days” in other disciplines, it might be possible to stage such a day on samian to address some of the above problems, to which Sarah Jennings replied that while this could be attempted, the problems discussed were on so many different levels that such a day would have to be confined to the research level attainable by archaeological field staff, as there appears to be a current climate amongst field units that spot dating is all that is required of samian. Dr Sykes then asked more directly whether English Heritage or the IFA would be prepared to host such days, to which Ms Jennings replied that, while resources at English Heritage are stretched, such a day would receive serious consideration if proposed.

Roberta Tomber then suggested that, having discussed general problems and approaches, the session try and move to concrete proposals for what should be done. Geoffrey Dannell responded to this by pointing out that it was a very positive outcome that there had been a general consensus that samian research needs to take place on different levels, and that a basic standard of samian recording was required to enable the level of initial assessment to function properly – and that such a standard would now have to be agreed on. Asked by Dr Sykes what would be needed for that he replied that workshops such as the present one were a good way forward, as well as the reassessment of Museum Collections – but perhaps not solely with the help of volunteers as had been done to date, but including finds specialists from a commercial context. Sarah Jennings pointed out that this could be achieved by the “capacity building” approach she outlined in her presentation. Jo Mills suggested further that such an initial recording standard would have to leave room for “specialists” to consult mentors rather than meet other people at workshops only, particularly so in bigger units. Louise Rayner pointed out that this would let commercial archaeologists stay involved with samian for longer, enabling “samian specialists” to be based in units and work on other material, but concentrate on samian as and when required. This would be important, as not everybody who would like to work with samian has the right mindset to be a freelance archaeologist. Dr Sykes then pointed out that such an approach would also help create a dialogue between units and “samian experts”.

Dr Sykes moved on to state that, if a capacity building route were to be followed, it would have to be hosted somewhere, and would need somebody to act as host and mentor. She posed the general question how the assembled experts would visualize such a method, and who would be prepared to act as a mentor. Geoffrey Dannell pointed out that this was the problematic part, as none of the current samian experts are actually attached to any institutions and can as such only offer informal mentoring or consulting. Jo Mills suggested that this could be achieved by providing money for specialists within units to go and be attached to a monitor outside a unit. Dr Sykes then wondered if the capacity building could be achieved by bringing in a series of different specialists for a week at a time. The general consensus was that there would be several ways of going about a capacity building approach, but that the experts would have to get together and decide which way would work best for them in terms of logistics. Steven Willis pointed out that the attachment of people in established posts to experts would have the added benefit that they would already have some experience, and therefore perhaps need less one-one contact than somebody starting from scratch.

The concluding remarks in the discussion confirmed that there was general agreement that while any training of future samian specialists would require a lot of input from specialists at first, this would gradually decrease with time, as the trainee specialist becomes more confident. At this point Roberta Tomber closed the discussion, and workshop, by outlining a future methodology, namely that the current experts get together to draw up a basic guideline for primary samian recording and mentoring which could be used in any future attempt to standardise training of new samian specialists. Steven Willis suggested that this could easily be facilitated by a survey similar to that of Louise Rayner to identify what was needed in order to then produce concrete training proposals for the attention of English Heritage and the IFA. The keyword in all future developments would have to be communication, not only amongst current samian experts, but also between samian experts and commercial archaeologists and units, as well as with public bodies such as English Heritage and the IFA.

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Department of Archaeology

University of Nottingham
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Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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