This is a short overview of the work carried out for the Town and Country in Roman Essex: Settlement Hierarchies in Roman Essex project which produced the book: Perring, D. and Pitts, M Alien Cities: Town and Country in Roman Essex
as well as this digital archive at ADS http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archives/view/romanessex_eh_2011/index.cfm
I have not read ‘alien cities’ ( its beyond my usual realm of work, and I haven’t had time!) and haven’t had a chance to look at the digital archive so this is more a blog about my first impressions.
This is quite a useful overview of some of the problems involved in interrogating archives and trying to bring together data from lots of different sources, A problem I have dealt with on a number of occasions…
This project covered a number of finds types, not just pottery, although ceramic building materials weren’t looked at (sigh). The amalgamation of ways of analyzing coin methodologies was interesting, and expanding it to cover IA coins as well may be useful. It’s not really my area, and I don’t get much in the way of IA coins in my patch, but it may be useful to keep that in mind when next I have to deal with coin data. What was worrying about the data was the point about the differences in what was published and what was retrievable in the archive – a point that is made repeatedly throughout the document about all finds - but I was assuming that there was a standard way of presenting coin data, even if there are diverging ideas on how to analyze it.
Some of the problems with animal bone data I was familiar with. Generally where I am trying to analyze integrated finds data sets I have used counts to compare different ratios between find types and how they change. The next step is comparing minimum numbers of individuals between groups, although how that is calculated from animal bones has been a matter of discussion for some time to say the least (!). In my ideal world we would also be looking at ‘animal equivalents’ (cf Moreno-Garcia M., Orton C. and Rackham J. 1996 A new statistical tool for comparing animal bone assemblages”, JAS 23 437–53) .as analogous to EVEs/ RE s (Orton C. 1989 An introduction to the quantification of assemblages of pottery, Journal of Roman Pottery Studies 2 94–97).and indeed PIES (Orton C. and Tyers P. 1991 Slicing the pie—a framework for comparing ceramic assemblages, Journal of Roman Pottery Studies 4 (1991) 79–81.)
Similarly with vessel glass there are problems with what is recorded. Personally I think that what is recorded for vessel glass should be broadly in line with the same metrics for ceramic vessels – which is not something that was apparently recommended here.
Registered finds covered object and material types, but not simple namesa Also a point is made about the inconsistency of how some objects are recorded as registered or otherwise: fired clay objects, loom weights , querns and I would include nails, which actually often have useful positional data attached to them, but are often treated as ‘bulk’..
Pottery is of course covered in great depth, and many familiar problems are encountered. It is at times had to work out whether a fabric or form typology is being referred to. It also occurs that we made need a formal definition/ standard of what constitutes a type series. Certainly the lack of standard referral to existing typologies is a problem, as well as the lack of standard metrics and what actually is being recorded. I personally have basic metrics of count, weight and minimum number of rims and will do rim equivalents and base equivalents at analysis stage as well (and if you want to be pedantic, can calculate EVE as [RE+BE] / 2 if you want to strictly adhere to the original definition. The lack of MNR in the metrics covered in the assessment her could certainly well result in the ignoring of otherwise usable data sets.
An aspect of the project design was to look at key groups. Working mainly on rural sites in the north I very rarely come across a site assemblage large or complex enough to break down into key groups – often its hard enough to get the details of the phase groups out of project directors!
One interesting aspect of this project design was the concentration on pit ‘consumption’ groups because of assumed date ranges. – In the Midlands we are now getting patterns of deposition from the LIA strongly implying regions of pit deposition Vs ditch deposition, over and beyond the status implications in whether or not pottery is deposited in horizontal or vertical strat by site type. I also wondered whether ditch terminals would count – given how many structured deposits seem to be coming out of them these days.
The publication ends with some key recommendations, relating to existing and creating type series, (although missing out setting into place procedures for updating typologies, a particular bug bear of mine)
Overall a useful document, if a rather depressing one.