Fit for purpose? Organic residue analysis and vessel specialisation: the perfectly utilitarian medieval pottery assemblage from West Cotton, Raunds.

Julie B Dunne, A Chapman, P Blinkhorn, Richard P Evershed*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
159 Downloads (Pure)


The understanding of pottery form and function can provide valuable insights into determining aspects of daily life, including the relationship between food, society and culture, in ancient societies. On a broader scale, it offers longer-term perspectives on craft specialisation, knowledge-exchange, technological innovation and economic development. Organic residue analysis has long contributed to a wide range of archaeological questions but is most notably known for its contribution to elucidating diet and animal management strategies worldwide. Here, we both discuss, and provide an overview on, the potential in examining relationships between form and function using organic residue analysis of pottery assemblages, as vessel attributes such as fabrication, capacity, style and shape are often related to the commodities processed within them. Our subsequent investigation of a medieval pottery assemblage, from West Cotton, Raunds, provides valuable insights into vessel use and specialisation. The two main pottery forms found at the site were highly specialised, with bowls (or cantels) likely being used as measures in grain processing while jars were mainly employed for cooking stews and potages consisting of sheep or cattle carcass meats and, occasionally, leafy vegetables such as cabbages and leeks. The jugs and pitchers did not contain any lipid suggesting they were used solely for holding water or some other aqueous liquid and less commonly used vessels also appear to have had specialised uses, including spouted bowls, likely employed to render fat or clarify butter and an inturned-rim bowl, used for the mixing of tallow and beeswax, possibly for use as an illuminant, sealant or lubricant. Lipid residue results demonstrate that each vessel type had a defined function and was perfectly specialised to its use, well-adapted for the processing, cooking, storage, serving and transportation of food and liquids, as required by the West Cotton peasant for day-to-day dining.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105178
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Early online date16 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2020


  • Medieval
  • Saxon
  • West Cotton
  • Organic residue analysis
  • Vessel use
  • Specialisation
  • Isotopes
  • Diet


Dive into the research topics of 'Fit for purpose? Organic residue analysis and vessel specialisation: the perfectly utilitarian medieval pottery assemblage from West Cotton, Raunds.'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this