Hampshire Museums Service

Our collections

Flat bottomed pots

  • The first flat-based pots made and used in any quantity in this country, and the first that were used as grave offerings, are the late Neolithic (Stone Age) Beakers. These carefully made vessels are nearly always decorated with combed and impressed ornament and archaeologists have spent a lot of time classifying them. They come from the period when the first metalworking was taking place (Irish gold and Irish and Iberian copper) and the time when Stonehenge was in its heyday.

    This particular vessel, which is 152mm in height, was unearthed in a grave during building work at Kempshott Park, Basingstoke, in 2000. The drainage pit being dug had removed some of the skeleton, but enough survived to show that the burial was of a mature male at least 45 and possibly as many as 60 years old. The pot had been placed at his knees. Presumably it would have contained food or drink to sustain him on his journey into the afterlife. The grave would probably have been at the centre of a small mound or ‘barrow’, but no trace of this survived the centuries of ploughing.

    The Beaker is of Wessex/Middle Rhine type and a radiocarbon date from the skeleton gives a result of 2210 to 2020 BC - over 4,000 years ago. Beaker burials are well-known, but not common, in Hampshire. At Andover Museum the Chilbolton find – a grave containing two men (buried at different times) two Beakers, two pairs of gold ‘earrings’, a copper dagger and other implements, is probably the richest known so far in the county. Just across the boundary in Wiltshire, the ‘Amesbury Archer’ was found in a grave, also with two pairs of gold ‘earrings’ – but he also had a host of other items with him including five Beakers, three copper knives and 17 flint arrowheads!

    Just 100m from the Kempshott grave another Beaker burial was heavily disturbed during building work. The fragments of skeleton recovered suggest it was a female burial and that she too was at least 45 years of age. The dating reveals that she was a generation or two earlier than the man, but the similarity of the pieces of pottery found in her vicinity to the complete Beaker, indicate that they were from the same community.

    Earlier Neolithic pots generally have rounded bottoms – fine if they are placed on an earthen floor, but not so good if they are expected to balance on high. The Beakers have flat bases. Were the Beaker potters also into furniture?

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