Potsherd: Atlas of Roman Pottery

Black-burnished 1

Coarse-textured hand-formed black sandy wares with burnished surfaces, typically everted-rim jars, plain dishes, flat-rimmed or flanged bowls decorated externally with zones of burnished lattice or intersecting arcs. Produced in the Poole Harbour region (Dorset/GB) and distributed thoughout Britain from the mid-2nd to 4th centuries AD. Everted-rim jars, flanged bowls and dishes derived from BB1 originals become the dominant forms in many Romano-British coarse ware industries during the later 3rd-4th cent. AD.

Fabric and technology

Hard, granular dark grey or black (2.5YR 3/0-4/0) fabric (occasionally with lighter grey or buff patches); abundant well-sorted translucent quartz (giving distinctive ‘cod’s roe’ fracture) and occasional rounded shale fragments, red and black iron ores and flint, and a little white mica.

Surfaces burnished or smoothed (1st-2nd cent.) or slipped and burnished or wiped (3rd-4th cent.). On closed forms (jars) only outer surface burnished, frequently with decorated (e.g. burnished lattice) band across middle of body; inner surfaces untreated or coarsely wiped, but burnished down inside of everted rims. Both inner and outer surfaces treated on open forms (dishes, bowls). Burnishing frequently shiny, showing individual strokes, but sometimes highly polished and glossy. Slip often difficult to distinguish, but sometimes clear drip marks visible – some vessels perhaps ‘self-slipped’. Hand-formed. (Photographs of BB1 fabric in Farrar 1973, pl. I-V.)


Bewildering variety of forms apparent at kiln sites and in some south-western assemblages, including copies of Gallo-Belgic plates and bowls, cups, folded beakers, flagons and jugs, paterae/ candlesticks and ceramic table legs. However, the principal types (and mainstay of the export market) are jars, bowls and dishes:

Type Description
1 Pedestalled bowls
2-3 Barrel-shaped bead-rim jars
4 Single-handled beakers
5-6 Double-strap-handled beakers
11-20 Cooking pots
23-24 Jars with countersunk-lug handles
29-30 Bead-rim bowls
31 Imitation Drag.37
32.1 Imitation Drag.38
32.2 Imitation Cam.58
33-37 Bowls with beaded and plain rims
38-42 Flat-rimmed bowls
43-46 Bowls with flat grooved rims
56-59 Plain-rimmed dish
61 Handled oval ‘fish’ dish
62-63 Handled dish

Table 1.  Classification of South-east Dorset BB1 forms (after Holbrook and Bidwell)


Derived from pre-Roman Durotrigian ceramic traditions; production of pottery in Poole Harbour region may commence in middle Iron Age (Brown and Vince 1984, 90). Production continues until late 4th cent. but with fluctuating distribution pattern (see below).

Gillam (1976) proposed a sequence of constant and even – almost mechanical – changes in the principal forms. Subsequent reassessments have suggested periods of relative stasis interspersed by more rapid typological change (Farrar 1981; Brown and Vince 1984, 94-114). The general sequence is reasonably clear. The everted rim cooking pots become progressively more slender and the rims move from vertical to become splayed and flared. The decorated lattice band becomes narrower and the angle of intersection of the burnished lines changes from acute to obtuse, with the cross-over point at c. AD 200 and fully obtuse lattice by c. AD 220. In the bowls, the flat-rimmed variant develops by c. AD 120 and the bowl with flat-rim and groove dates from late 2nd. until mid-3rd cent. AD. The conical flanged bowl probably develops c. AD 250 and, with the obtuse latticed cooking pot, dominates the later assemblage.


The Wareham/Poole Harbour region of south-east Dorset. The petrology of the fabric (Williams 1977, group I) and the discovery of kiln sites (e.g.Hearne and Smith 1992) confirm the source.


Present on pre-Flavian military sites in Dorset and Devon and in Flavian-Trajanic assemblages in the south-west, lower Severn Valley and South Wales. Major expansion c. AD 120, when BB1 appears in northern Britain in levels associated with construction of Hadrian’s Wall (Brown and Vince 1984, 92). Appears in south-east at this time (e.g. in London Hadrianic fire deposits) although initially in only small quantities. Major contributor to assemblages in Midlands, south-east and north during 3rd cent. but declining from early to mid-4th cent. (losing northern markets to East Yorkshire grey wares). Distribution retreats to south-west and lower Severn Valley and some other coastal sites by later 4th cent. Some small scale exports to northern France, particularly Normandy and Brittany, during the later 3rd/4th cent (Pilet 1987; Fulford 1991, fig.5.7).


Bath fabric 10.3. Caister-on-sea fabrics BB1-100 and BB1G-101. Carlisle fabric 104. Chelmsford fabric 40. Cirencester fabrics 49 and 74. Colchester fabric GA. Dorchester fabric 1. Exeter fabric 31. Gloucester fabric TF4. JRPS bibliography fabric bb1. Lullingstone fabric 65. Milton Keynes fabric 8. Old Penrith fabric 43. Kent coarse fabric 3. Portchester fabric B. Sidbury fabric 22. Towcester fabric 15.


For background to study of BB1: Farrar 1973; petrology: Williams 1977. BB1 in the south-west: Holbrook and Bidwell 1991, 88-114; AML 131/87 1987, 249-58. Kiln assemblages and firing technology: Hearne and Smith 1992; Woodward 1987. For chronology of principal types: Brown and Vince 1984; Bidwell 1985. RCHM gazetteer F259-64.


Bidwell 1985. Bidwell, P. T., The Roman Fort of Vindolanda at Chesterholm, Northumberland, Archaeological Report, 1, Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England, London, (1985).

Brown and Vince 1984. Brown, D. H. and Vince, A. G., ‘Petrological Aspects; the Medieval Pottery of Exeter under the Microscope’ in Medieval and Post medieval Finds from Exeter 1971-1981, ed. J. P. Allan, Exeter Archaeology Reports, 3, (1984), pp. 32-34.

Farrar 1973. Farrar, R. A. H., ‘The techniques and sources of Romano-British black-burnished ware’ in Current research in Romano-British coarse pottery: papers given at a C.B.A. Conference held at New College, Oxford, March 24 to 26, 1972, ed. A. Detsicas, Research reports/Council for British Archaeology, 10, Council for British Archaeology, London, (1973), pp. 67-103.

Farrar 1981. Farrar, R. A. H., ‘The first Darfield hoard and the dating of black-burnished ware’ in Roman Pottery research in Britain and North-West Europe. Papers presented to Graham Webster, ed. A. C. Anderson and A. S. Anderson, British archaeological reports. International series, 123, BAR, Oxford, (1981), pp. 417-30.

Fulford 1991. Fulford, M. G., ‘Britain and the Roman Empire: the evidence for regional and long distance trade’ in Britain in the Roman period: recent trends, ed. R. F. J. Jones, J. R. Collis Publications, Sheffield, (1991).

Gillam 1976. Gillam, J. P., ‘Coarse fumed ware in northern Britain’, GlasgowAJ, 4, (1976), pp. 57-80.

Hearne and Smith 1992. Hearne, C. M. and Smith, R. J. C., ‘A late Iron Age settlement and Black Burnished ware (BB1) production site at Worgret, near Wareham, Dorset (1986-7)’, PDorsetNHAS, 113, (1992), pp. 55-105.

Holbrook and Bidwell 1991. Holbrook, N. and Bidwell, P. T., Roman finds from Exeter, Exeter Archaeological Reports, 4, Exeter City Council and the University of Exeter, Exeter, (1991).

Pilet 1987. Pilet, C., ‘La céramique britanno-romaine et anglo-saxonne découverte dans les nécropoles bas-normandes’ in Actes du Congrès de Caen. 28-31 Mai 1987. Société Française d’tude de la Céramique Antique en Gaule, ed. L. Rivet, SFECAG, Marseille, (1987), pp. 87-94.

Williams 1977. Williams, D. F., ‘The Romano-British black-burnished industry: an essay on characterization by heavy-mineral analysis’ in Pottery and early commerce. Characterization and trade in Roman and later ceramics, ed. D. P. S. Peacock, Academic Press, London, (1977), pp. 163-220.

AML 131/87 1987. Williams, D. F., Petrological analysis of Roman coarse pottery from Greyhound Yard, Dorchester, Ancient Monuments Laboratory Reports, 131/87, English Heritage, London, (1987).

Woodward 1987. Woodward, P. J., ‘The excavation of a Late Iron-Age tading settlement and Romano-British pottery production site at Ower, Dorset’ in Roman-British industries in Purbeck, Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society. Monograph series, 6, Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society, (1987), pp. 44-123.

Distribution of Black-burnished 1 in Britain
Roman Pottery in Britain (Tyers 1996)
  • Fabric code: BB1 (p.182)
Thumbnail images (click for higher resolution):
National Roman Fabric Reference Collection
(Dore & Tomber 1998, Museum of London Archaeology Service Monograph 2)
  • Fabric code: DOR BB 1 ((South-East) Dorset Black-burnished ware 1, p.127).
Thumbnail images
Worcestershire ceramics online database
(Worcestershire Historic Environment and Archaeology Service)
  • Fabric no. 22 (Black Burnished ware, type 1 (BB1))
Thumbnail images (click for higher resolution):
Ceramics in Herefordshire
(Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club, Herefordshire) Pages include some images.
Museum of London ceramics catalogue
(Museum of London) Catalogue includes some images, but may include vessels of other types.
The pottery kilns of Roman Britain (Swan 1984)
Kilns producing this ware are located at:
  • Arne (Dorset)
  • Corfe Castle (Dorset)
  • Corfe Mullen (Dorset)
  • Milton Abbas (Dorset)
  • Studland (Dorset)
Further details of these sites are available through the link above, and are summarized and mapped here.
Black-burnished 1
URL: http://potsherd.net/atlas/Ware/BB1.html • © Text 1996, 2014: Layout 2012, 2014. Some images may be linked to other web sites.