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  • Figure 1
    Figure 1

    Side view of a small terra sigillata bowl, probably made in Estremoz, Portugal, in the early seventeenth century. D. 5". (All illustrations courtesy Department of Biology, Memorial University of Newfoundland; photos by Roy Ficken.)

  • Figure 2
    Figure 2

    Interior of the vessel shown in fig. 1 illustrating geometric decoration

  • Figure 3
    Figure 3

    Computer reconstruction of a terra sigillata globe probably made in Estremoz, Portugal, in the early seventeenth century. H. 9 1/2". A second handle may have been present opposite the one shown.

  • Figure 4
    Figure 4

    Fragments of large terra sigillata “handled pots,” most likely made in Estremoz, Portugal, in the early seventeenth century. Measurements of the complete vessels are unknown. Note the complex incised decoration and the molded human face.

James A. Tuck and Barry Gaulton
Terra Sigillata from a Seventeenth-Century Settlement in Newfoundland

Excavations at Ferryland, Newfoundland, over the past decade have revealed the remains of the Colony of Avalon, Lord Baltimore’s first New World venture (1621–1637), and the succeeding Pool Plantation, presided over by Sir David Kirke, his wife Sara, and their sons between 1638 and 1696. Discoveries from the original settlement include parts of the waterfront, a stone warehouse with attached privy, the forge, a cobblestone street, and parts of the defensive works. A barn/byre, two dwellings, and the refuse midden from an upper class residence represent the latter, and longer, period of occupation. 

The midden contained several tobacco pipes manufactured in the Chesapeake region during the seventeenth century and bearing the monogram “DK,” almost certainly that of David Kirke who was proprietor of the Pool Plantation from 1638 until his death in 1654. However, the lowest layers of the deposit may pertain to Baltimore’s occupation of the “mansion house.” Among the more than one million artifacts recovered to date is a small collection of about 400 fine orange-bodied earthenware sherds pertaining to at least nine small vessels. Many of the fragments bear fine incised curvilinear geometric decorations formed by pairs of incised lines and picked out with a white slip. At least four types of vessel forms can now be recognized. 

Three small bowls, three globes, two elaborate “handled pots,” and a small jug or pitcher, represent these four distinct vessel forms. The fabric of all of the examples is fine and apparently untempered. The vessels are burnished on the exterior surfaces, and fired to a uniform bright orange color. No traces of color variation caused by the kiln environment are on any of the sherds.[1]

The bowls are small, shallow, and extremely thin walled. The most complete example (fig. 1) measures five inches in diameter and about two and one half inches high. The rim is “frilled,” and decoration consists of a geometric motif on the interior (fig. 2). Vertical handles extend from just below the rim to somewhat below the vessel midpoint. The second example has essentially the same form, but the decoration is confined to the exterior and consists of horizontal bands of curved lines above a lower band of geometric and curving lines. The third specimen consists of a complete base, slightly thicker than the other specimens, and decorated only on the exterior.

The three globes were recently recognized when newly unearthed sherds joined bases of goblet-like vessels to finials that surmounted the closed bodies. A computer-generated illustration depicts a partial restoration of one such vessel (fig. 3). It stands about nine and one half inches high and is decorated on the exterior with a complex series of paired incisions filled with white slip. The finial is decorated with bands of incised triangles and diamonds, also filled with white slip. At least one horizontal handle remains just above the midpoint of the vessel. The presence of a second handle is uncertain. These unusual decorative pieces seem to have been thrown in two parts: the globes themselves, and the bases and foot rings. A cylinder on the base was inserted in a slightly larger cylinder on the globe and cemented with wet clay or slip. This resulted in an open base that allowed gases to escape during firing.

The largest and most elaborate vessels are of a peculiar globular form surmounted by a decorative finial. Although very fragmentary, enough sherds have been recovered to indicate that two such vessels are present. Two horizontal strap handles, one or more spouts, incised curvilinear and oral decorations picked out in white, and a molded face further decorate the vessels (fig. 4). They are similar to the “handled pots” illustrated by Jan Baart in his article on terra sigillata from the Low Countries.

The base of the small jug or pitcher (not illustrated here) is decorated with thumb impressions on the shoulder. The remnants of a handle attachment are in line with the decorative impressions.

The name for these ceramics, terra sigillata, is based on a 1632 inventory of the palace “Noordeinde” in The Hague. Some eighty-nine “pots, jugs and saucers...cups...and small pots” of “terre siglata” were arranged on three shelves. Portuguese scholars prefer the more generic term “fine redware,” reserving terra sigillata for Roman ceramics. The Roman wares, however, are supposed to have been prototypes for the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century vessels. Such vessels may have been produced in a number of Portuguese centers, but the most elaborate, including those from Ferryland, were probably produced at Estremoz. Outside of Portugal, fragments of about sixty-four vessels have been recovered from some twenty-odd sites in the Low Countries.[2]

The Ferryland specimens were recovered from several areas on the site, primarily from the deep midden. A few sherds were recovered from the defensive ditch not far from the midden, some from the oor of the waterfront warehouse, and many more from an unusual deposit in a small stone-lined alcove in the inner face of the rampart. Artifacts associated with the terra sigillata include tobacco pipes dating from the 1630s and 1640s, including several from the Chesapeake bearing the “DK” monogram of Sir David Kirke. Pipes from the same craftsman were made for Walter Aston, of Virginia, in the 1640s. A bale seal from Charles I (1625–1649) further supports the other dates.

It is thought that the terra sigillata is not old enough to have belonged to the colony’s first proprietor, George Calvert (Lord Baltimore), or his wife Joan. It seems more likely that the ceramics may have been among the possessions of Lady Sara Kirke, who arrived in 1638, or her sister, Lady Frances Hopkins, who arrived about 1650. Terra sigillata was clearly a high status item—Philip II of Spain bought several examples as gifts for his daughters in 1581. Both Lady Hopkins and Lady Kirke were of the gentry, and chances are good that one of them collected the exotic ceramics found more than 350 years after their arrival at Ferryland. Their occurrence at Ferryland is the first known in the New World; the authors, however, would welcome information about any other examples being found here.

James A. Tuck and Barry Gaulton
Archaeology Unit
Memorial University of Newfoundland
St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada
<bgaulton@morgan.ucs.mun.ca>

  • Figure 1
    Figure 1

    Side view of a small terra sigillata bowl, probably made in Estremoz, Portugal, in the early seventeenth century. D. 5". (All illustrations courtesy Department of Biology, Memorial University of Newfoundland; photos by Roy Ficken.)

  • Figure 2
    Figure 2

    Interior of the vessel shown in fig. 1 illustrating geometric decoration

  • Figure 3
    Figure 3

    Computer reconstruction of a terra sigillata globe probably made in Estremoz, Portugal, in the early seventeenth century. H. 9 1/2". A second handle may have been present opposite the one shown.

  • Figure 4
    Figure 4

    Fragments of large terra sigillata “handled pots,” most likely made in Estremoz, Portugal, in the early seventeenth century. Measurements of the complete vessels are unknown. Note the complex incised decoration and the molded human face.

Ceramics in America 2002

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Contents
  • [1]

    Barry Gaulton and Cathy Mathias, “Portuguese Terra Sigillata Earthenware Discovered at a 17th-Century Colonial Site in Ferryland, Newfoundland,”Avalon Chronicles 3 (1998): 1–17, and Jan Baart, “Terra Sigillata from Estremoz, Portugal,” in Everyday and Exotic Pottery from Europe c. 650–1900, edited by David Gaimster and Mark Redknap (Oxford: Oxbow Books, 1992), pp. 273–78.

  • [2]

    Baart, “Terra Sigillata from Estremoz, Portugal,” pp. 273–78.