An unexpected find

Pottery fragment - outside

The fragment seen from the outside of the original pot. Plant fibre remnants can be seen in the hole.

 

Exciting finds at archaeological excavations are usually made in the actual excavation situation, when working with an excavator or a spade reveals artefacts are revealed under the ploughing layer. However, once in a while, interesting discoveries are also made later in the finds handling process. This was the case with a pottery fragment, which at first during the excavation looked like most of the other fragments. But when later it was washed clean of soil, it was revealed that not only did it have a finely drilled hole, it also contained plant fibre remnants, which were attached to the hole.

 

A drilled hole

The appearance of finds during excavations is interesting in itself, but things get really exciting when the finds contribute to greater understanding by increasing our insight into the function that the object would have had, and thereby into the needs of prehistoric man. The special find with the drilled hole and attached plant fibres facilitates a greater insight into the use of pottery in prehistoric villages. Drilled holes in pottery from antiquity is not an unknown phenomenon, but finding organic material attached in them is.

 

Some of the earliest pottery?

The find context indicates that the fragment stems from the early Neolithic period (in Danish, TN1), i.e. the earliest stage of the Neolithic Age during which agriculture first gained ground in Denmark. Several examples of pottery with drilled holes are known from this period, including from the Åmose bog in western Zealand. Most often, the holes are located just beneath the rim, and they are usually interpreted as decoration holes, while others are placed lower down on the belly and are interpreted as rivet holes, whose function has been to keep a cracked vessel together with cord. As the fragment in question is not located near the rim of the pot, it was therefore obvious to believe that it stemmed from a riveted pot, and that the plant parts were remnants from stringing.
An examination of the fragment's edges showed that these had been polished. It is possible that this wear was the result of later depositing in the wetland after the pot had been smashed and discarded, as the fragment could have drifted around and been waterworn. However, the surrounding finds of flint and pottery from the find site showed that the polished edges only applied to this particular fragment.
The polishing would therefore have taken place earlier, before the fragment was discarded, and the fragment with the drilled hole would probably have served a function in its present form and not as a part of a riveted pot.

 

Pottery fragment - inside

The fragment seen from inside of the original pot. Plant fibres are jammed into the hole..

 

Closer inspection

The question is: What was the fragment used for? The fragment has only been drilled into from the outside, and the plant fibres protrude from the drilled hole as five separate stalks, which are jammed into the inside of the fragment where the hole is significantly narrower than on the outside. Maybe they were plaited into a piece of string? Further investigations, such as wood dating and radiocarbon dating, as well as finds of more similar fragments may contribute to solving this little pottery mystery.