From the Vaults: July 2017

Neolithic Grooved Ware Vessel from Foxhall (FXL 013)

This astonishingly complete vessel was recovered from a Neolithic pit on a site to the East of Foxhall Hall. The site was excavated in 1991 as part of a water purification project associated with the nearby landfill site. Unrelated Iron Age and Anglo-Saxon settlements were also discovered on the site. The vessel belongs to a widespread ceramic tradition called Grooved Ware that spanned the Britain and Ireland during the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age.

Above: Photograph of the reconstructed Grooved Ware vessel from Foxhall. Image copyright of Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service.

The surface of the vessel has been decorated with geometric patterns using lozenges, chevrons and horizontal lines. The inner areas of the geometric shapes have been filled with impressions made with the end of a tool, and relief decoration was applied to the inside of the pot just below the rim.

The rim of the vessel is an amazing 33cm in diameter. Although there are parts of the vessel missing, we know from the remaining sections that it would have been flowerpot like in shape, with straight sides which tailor down towards the base. Although the base of our vessel is missing it probably measured 20-22cm in diameter. The height of the pot would have exceeded 31cm.

The shape and decoration style of this vessel is typical of the Clacton regional style of the Grooved Ware tradition.

Above: Illustration showing a Grooved Ware vessel of Clacton Style from Clacton, Essex. Image from Gibson 1997. Publication copyright applies.

Grooved Ware, although used for domestic purposes is thought to have ritual or symbolic meaning. The pottery tradition is associated with chambered tombs and domestic houses in Scotland and henges in Southern Britain. In East Anglia, it is commonly found deposited in Neolithic pits and our vessel is no exception, it was the only find excavated from a pit measuring 4m in diameter and 1m deep.

Above: Photographs of the same Grooved Ware vessel at different stages of its excavation from a Neolithic Pit. Images copyright of Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service.

Given the associations of Grooved Ware and the circumstances of its discovery it would be fair to interpret our vessel as being a part of a ritual offering. The lack of other archaeological finds in the pit suggests that organic items such as food, textile or flowers could have buried alongside this pot. Although we know this vessel was likely deposited as part of a ritual; there is little evidence of what type of ceremony took place, why it was taking place and who took part.

For more information

Gibson, A. 2002. Prehistoric Pottery in Britain and Ireland. Tempus Publishing Ltd.

Gibson, A, and Woods, A. 1997. Prehistoric Pottery for the Archaeologist. Leicester University Press. London. Second Edition.

Percival, S. 2016. Jigsaw Cambridgeshire Best Practice Users' Guide: An Introduction to Neolithic to Mid Bronze Age Prehistoric Pottery of Cambridgeshire. Available from

Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service Archives

Article compiled by Julie Kennard (Archaeological Officer: Archives)
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