Samian ware pottery

Samian ware pottery

Diameter: 10.300 cm
Width: 5.500 cm

Townley Collection

P&EE M 1740

As interest in Roman archaeology in Italy grew in the eighteenth century, antiquaries began to collect and study Roman remains found in Britain. But not all of the Roman objects from Britain were found on dry land. Sometimes fishermen found objects in the sea.

This Roman bowl was found by fishermen in Herne Bay in Kent in the eighteenth century. Fishermen often dragged up Roman bowls, plates and cups in their nets when they fished near Pudding Pan Rock. Sometimes the fishermen’s families cooked and ate from the bowls, but often they sold them to antiquaries. Gustavus Brander (1720-87), a Trustee of the British Museum, once served dessert to fellow antiquaries from dishes found at Pudding Pan Rock.

There was much speculation about this pottery's origins in the 1770s and 1780s. In 1773 John Pownall went with a local fisherman to 'fish' for pottery and other artefacts in what was probably the first marine archaeological investigation to take place in Britain. He found broken pots, three complete vessels and what he thought were bricks and mortar from a Roman potter's workshop. Others thought that the items might have come from a lighthouse or a shipwreck.

There have been several attempts to find where the pottery comes from since 1773, although none has been conclusive. Archaeologists now think that what Pownall thought was Roman brick is the natural stone found on the seabed at Pudding Pan Rock. Local fishermen still regularly find Samian pottery.

On display: Enlightenment: Archaeology