Book Review – ‘Pudding Pan: A Roman shipwreck and its cargo in context’ by Robert J. C. Mowat
The ‘Pudding Pan wreck’ discovery is of extreme significance in the development of British archaeology, both general and maritime, but remains little understood. This comprehensive and authoritative re-publication of the scattered evidence by Michael Walsh is long overdue, but leaves its significance unclear.
Essentially, the ‘discovery’ refers to the repeated recovery of intact vessels of Samian ware or terra sigillata, dating from the later second century ad, across an ill-defined area of the outer Thames estuary, off Whitstable, North Kent, and generally in trawling, from at least as early as 1773.
The core of the book summarizes and discusses successive discoveries of what were first described, by Governor Pownall of Massachusetts in 1779, as ‘a very peculiar kind of red earthenware found amidst the cottage furniture of the fishermen on the Kentish coast’ and commonly then in re-use for their original function ‘till the ardour of the antiquary rescued them from their hands’.
In short, this is a fine summary work, but it could have been much more. It is written for the ceramic specialist primarily and for the maritime archaeologist and historian of archaeology thereafter; both will read it with profit, and see it as a stimulus to further work. The ancient historian, however, should not eschew it completely, illustrating as it does the nature and volume of trade in manufactured goods in antiquity. Material evidence is illustrative as well as informative …