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Rose Moir studying the Neolithic pottery from Freston in fall 2021 (T. Carter).

Anthropology student receives grant from UK’s Prehistoric Society

Second year MA student Rose Moir is the first McMaster student to receive The John and Bryony Coles Bursary of the Prehistoric Society. The grant is to facilitate “travel away from their home country or region to study and work at prehistoric archaeology”, in Rose’s case, to complete her analysis of pottery from the large Neolithic ceremonial site at Freston, eastern England.

Feb 10, 2022

Anthropology MA student Rose Moir has been a member of the Freston Archaeological Research Mission [FARM] since the excavation’s outset in 2019, when she joined the four-person team in her last summer of undergraduate studies. Rose already had significant field experience from her work on Prof. Tristan Carter’s other excavation on Naxos, Greece, and had been working on the analysis and publication of stone tools from a site in SE Turkey. However, working with the pottery from Freston sparked her interest in the Early Neolithic of Britain, and led to the formulation of research questions that underpin her current studies, having completed her BA in 2020 with the R.C. McIvor Medal, i.e., the outstanding member of the class of Social Sciences graduands for that academic year.

The site at Freston comprises a monumental (8.55 hectare) double bank-and-ditch earthwork of ‘Early Neolithic’ date, i.e., the period we associate with the introduction of agriculture to Britain by migrant farmers from continental Europe some 6000 years ago. The monument is one of Britain’s largest ‘causewayed enclosures’ (500 years earlier and 100 times larger than Stonehenge), sites where we believe small-scale farming communities would have gathered at certain times of year to initiate and maintain relations with their dispersed kith and kin.

Various activities took place in these causewayed enclosures, not least feasting, the meals cooked and served in large handmade ceramic bowls. This is the material that Rose is working with, a substantial quantity of pottery despite the excavation investigating less than 2% of the site. Rather than viewing these pots as simply functional utensils, Rose is approaching the material as fundamentally important media in the negotiation and representation of the social relations being forged and celebrated at Freston.

One question she is considering relates to the character of pottery from a causewayed enclosure, compared to that of a small-scale settlement of the period. Might it follow that the ceramic vessels from a site like Freston would embody much greater variability in terms of how and where these pots were made, having been brought to the site from different farmsteads across the region? Alternatively, might we be dealing with a dominant, host community who produced all the feasting equipment locally? To that end, Rose is also studying pottery from a nearby domestic site to compare and contrast.

Rose began her study of the Freston pottery in earnest straight after the 2021 excavation season, last September, but more remains to be done. Her successful application for The John and Bryony Coles Bursary will enable her to return to England this March to complete her hands-on studies, before she writes up her thesis for submission later this year. In the interim, Rose is contributing some of her theories and initial results to the project’s next academic paper, having already co-authored three Freston publications in the past 12 months, the most recent appearing only a couple of weeks ago.

More information on the John and Bryony Coles Bursary can be found here.