This week’s Finds Friday is a near complete medieval ceramic cistern recovered during excavations in 2002 near Masham, North Yorkshire. The pot measures 375mm in height and has a rim diameter of 105mm. It dates from the medieval period and given its contorted form, is likely to be a waster from a nearby kiln. Wasters were objects that became misshapen or damaged during the firing process, and as they were unfit for use, were disposed of. Although several other kiln wasters were found during the excavation, this artefact was the only near-complete vessel to be recovered. As well as a distorted shape, the pot also has blistering and spalling, as well as a very dark glaze colour. These characteristics likely resulted from an over-firing of the kiln, which would have probably affected the other vessels fired at the same time.
Although a waster, this cistern can inform us of the types of vessels that were being produced within North Yorkshire between the late 14th to 16th centuries, and the decoration that was applied to them. Most cisterns function like a cask, with a bunghole close to their bases that would enable the vessel to be emptied.
During the medieval period vessels often had an olive-green glaze, which is perhaps what was attempted here, although through over firing, the cistern appears to have a dark brown colour. The neck of the vessel bears an encircling thumbed strip application. This was a pattern that is often seen on cisterns during the medieval period. Due to the shape and angle of decoration, we can deduce that it was applied by a right-handed potter.
Although discarded during the medieval period, this vessel has helped to paint a picture of the medieval pottery production site that was located near Masham, and the types of vessels that were created, as well as the right-handed potter that was working there. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure!