Nothing makes me smile more than when even the smallest piece of Samian ware is brought back to the office, especially if that sherd is stamped. Instantly recognisable, Samian (Terra Sigillata) is a typical ceramic find on most Roman sites in Britain. The fact that many of the vessels are stamped with the name of a known potter or workshop makes it the most closely datable of the Roman ceramics. Over the past few weeks the volunteers at Binchester have recovered numerous Samian sherds, and in particular two stamped examples, both of which can be attributed to the South Gaulish (La Graufesenque) potter Calvus, active during the Late Neronian/Flavian period, c. AD 65-90.
While both stamps identified from Binchester can be attributed to the same potter, in each case a separate die has been used. Stamps were impressed on vessels using dies made of bone, clay or even reused sherds, with the stamp legend cut into a flat surface, normally in reverse. Dies could be used again and again, and potters working on any significant scale would typically have more than one die in use at any given time.
The first of the two stamps identified, is complete and is stamped on the basal interior of a cup using a known die. The stamp reads CALVI and can be translated as ‘[the work] of Calvus’.
The second stamp produced using another known die is also located on the inner base of a cup. Incomplete, it reads OFICAL[VI] with the letter C in reverse, and can be translated as ‘(made by the) workshop of Calvus’. Misreading’s are common with this die as the middle of the stamp is rarely clear. Scratching of the die (in cleaning?) possibly accounts for the nature of the A while the reversed C is sometimes identified as S. Further examples of vessels produced using this particular die have been recovered nearby at both at Catterick and at York