Ornament on pottery and other materials
Though there are distinctive pottery styles in Wessex and southern England throughout the pre-Roman Iron Age, it must be recognized that much of Britain (and Ireland) north of the Trent, with the notable exception of Atlantic Scotland, is virtually aceramic, with only minimal quantities of hand-made and poorly fired domestic ware recovered from settlement contexts. Even in Southern Britain, wheel-thrown pottery appears only in the first century bc, and though there is some evidence of regional craft specialization, perhaps as early as the fifth century, in general, pottery appears to have been of domestic or local production. The range of size and shapes of vessels is basic, not remotely as varied as those of the Mediterranean Iron Age, nor even of north-alpine Europe, and the techniques of ornamentation deployed are likewise limited. Painting is virtually unknown, though a haematite slip is common in the earliest Iron Age in Wessex, and the surface may be burnished to a smooth sheen. Among styles transitional from the latest Bronze Age, like those from All Cannings Cross or Longbridge Deverill Cow Down, white infilling of deep-scored geometric patterns provided a striking contrast to the deep red burnished haematite background. Applied and plastic ornament is generally restricted to cordons, sometimes cabled, around the girth or neck of the vessel, or rows of finger-impressions around its shoulder. Body decoration is normally incised or tooled into the surface of the green-hard clay before firing. By the middle Iron Age there are various regional styles using a combination of simple rectilinear and curvilinear motifs, but seldom reflecting the subtlety of metal-work ornament in the way that Continental ceramic art, as we have seen, aspires to do. This apparent poverty of insular pottery making may be not unrelated to the absence of a regular funerary rite, which elsewhere may have been the occasion for the production, or at least the preservation, of special funerary ceramics.
Just occasionally there are local products that suggest a higher level of artistic aspiration. In the south Midlands, at Hunsbury hillfort in Northamptonshire and at Frilford in Oxfordshire, a form of globular bowl, current perhaps from the third to first centuries bc, bears more complex curvilinear designs that echo metal-working styles (Figure 7.5, 5-8). The Hunsbury bowls in particular use a variant of the interlocking yin-yang, highlighted by rosettes, in a running S-scroll design. The Frilford ornament is more mechanical, using a series of pendant swags or interlocking swags, often apparently spaced around the girth on the basis of a geometric sub-division of cardinal points on the base of the upturned vessel. Another distinctive regional group is that
centred on the 'lake-villages' of Glastonbury and Meare, with relationships on the one hand to the 'saucepan pot continuum' (Figure 7.5, 1-4) and on the other to southwestern decorated wares (Cunliffe, 2005). Characteristic forms include the so-called saucepan pot, a type dated at Danebury and Hengistbury Head from the later fourth century to around 100 bc, but with antecedents in the early-middle La Tene in the Champagne, and necked bowls that may be somewhat later within that span. A distinctive feature of this series is the use of background hatching, not in itself the same as the various kinds of hatching in metal-work but serving essentially the same purpose of creating an interaction between foreground and background that was one of the characteristics of earlier La Tene metal-working styles. Similar hatching is deployed with curvilinear motifs not unrelated to those of the bronze-worker on lathe-turned wooden vessels from Glastonbury, suggesting that a more specialist set of craft skills may have been practised here than elsewhere.