Sunday, 29 April 2012

Potters Leaving their Mark: Thumb Marks

Recently, mudlarking on the Thames, I purposely sought out pottery where hands have left their mark. Poignant reminders of their makers. Impressions left by the maker’s thumbs, whether part of shaping the object, fixing a handle to the main body or in decoration have to be the most moving of all. 
Fragment of Medieval? Pot Found Mudlarking on Thames Foreshore
When following the potter’s decorative thumb mark on the piece above yesterday, I noticed clear finger prints captured in the clay, at the top of the indentations.

Close up of thumb marks on Medieval? Pot, showing finger prints. 
Perhaps a bit of a rushed job, the shapes are not quite as uniform as they are on the second  and third sherds below.  All I suspect  are  from the rims of storage jars, all have traces of glaze.   The curves on two are very shallow, they must have been enormous. My uneducated guess is the first is hand formed red ware made between 1250-1450. The second  and third are both wheel made, the second perhaps redware from 1600-1700,  quite possibly made in London as the redware industry was firmly established in London from end of 15th Century. The third could be Surrey whiteware made between 1240-1500.  

Sections of Pot Redware and White Ware Pot Rims found Mudlarking on the Thames 
Just now I noticed what could be 500+ year old finger prints on the reverse of the whiteware. The potter must have held the inside of the wet pot whilst they created the indentations on the outside, magic. Double click on the photo for a better view. 

Close up of border whiteware sherd, showing  potter's finger prints. 
The last example is a tree trunk of a handle base, decoratively attached to the body of a cooking pot with confident thumb presses.  Are the blackened areas the remains of the fires that cooked countless meals?

The base of a redware cooking pot handle found on the Thames Foreshore
I prefer not to dwell on the hours I’ve spent googling trying to identify these finds, with only partial success. Clearly something best  left to the experts and my up and coming visit to the Museum of London’s Finds Officer. Meanwhile,  I’ll  continue with this series of posts, it’ll be interesting to see if I get any of this right. 

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