7th Experimental Archaeology Conference Poster Abstract – Josefa Rey Castiñeira et al

Poster presentation:

Cooking pots or cooking with pots? Experiments with Iron Age portable baking chambers of NW Iberia

Josefa Rey Castiñeira, Andrés Teira-Brión, Nuria Calo Ramos, Estevo Amado Rodríguez

Study Group for the Prehistory of NW Iberia – University of Santiago de Compostela (GEPN-USC). 15782 Santiago de Compostela (Spain).

A PDF of this poster, copyright of the authors, is available to download.

Portable ceramic firing/baking chambers have been found in fifteen Iron Age and Roman period sites in the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula. They are circular in plan with a diameter ranging from 55–65cm. Their fabric is poorly tempered, often quite roughly finished, with only one decorated example discovered so far. In the archaeological literature they are referred to as “Castromao ovens” and can be comprised of two pieces, a lower grill with various perforations into which a cover can fit. Abundant soot deposits on the base and interiors of some examples indicate that they were exposed to fire. These ovens, with some variations in form, have parallels from the Bronze Age in Western Europe.

One of the main difficulties in defining the functionality of these objects is the scarcity of contexts related to their use. They often appear dispersed or integrated in anthropic deposits alongside very heterogeneous material. So far only grill fragments have been found wedged between the stones of hearths within two house structures. Another factor is the high rate of fragmentation and poor conservation of pieces, a consequence of insufficient firing in many cases, which impedes the correct reconstruction of the oven.

Until now various functions have been attributed to these objects. Some authors suggest that they were used as pottery kilns, while others link them to the preparation of food (e.g. domestic ovens, stoves, driers, smokers), with a third hypothesis proposing that they are connected with metallurgical activity.

In order to assess the viability of these different interpretations, experiments were undertaken using a replica of a “Castromao oven”. The collaboration of a traditional potter in the construction of the oven added an ethnoarchaeological perspective to the experiment. During firing the oven was subjected to temperatures that reached around 700-800ºC in order to successfully fire the pottery. Once this step was completed, the oven was then used to prepare various types of food, trying different forms of providing heat. In these experiments the marks left by each process were taken into account, along with its impact on the oven. Preliminary results showed that the hypotheses suggesting that these chambers were used for the firing of pottery, and for food preparation are both viable, suggesting that this general morphotype could have been used for both. For future interpretations of these objects, the analysis of their surfaces and use-related marks, along with their archaeological contexts, should provide data as to their exact function.

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