Kent Archaeological Review extract

Aquamanile from Dover.
by John Willson.

The continuous rescue excavations in Dover being carried out by the Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit have unearthed some rare, unusual and interesting finds during the past few years. One such find is a medieval pottery aquamanile in the form of a ram.

This fine aquamanile, or horizontal jug, as it is also known was unfortunately found with the lower half and legs broken away. The head and back surviving are of a sandy orange ware with overall applied scales, finished with tones of green, yellow and brown glaze. The type is normally attributed to the 13th - 14th centuries AD.

The face of the animal is glazed a greenish brown and it has modelled eyes, brows, mouth and nostrils -- one of the latter serving as a pouring spout. The horns are also of the same greenish brown glaze. The body, neck and forehead are covered with a close set arrangement of applied scales which are glazed a greenish yellow. At the rear of the head there is a large opening through which the vessel would have been filled with water or other liquids. From this opening springs a strap handle which is grooved and thumbed on each side. The potter's skill has captured the movement of the animal and the subtle shade toning in the glazing gives the whole object warmth and perspective.

This type of vessel is, indeed, quite a rare find and always proves highly interesting. It was used during the medieval period for the constant and necessary washing of hands whilst eating with ones fingers before the fork was invented.

There are several close parallels and a famous one is from Scarborough and another at Oxford. These vessels were usually made in animal form such as a ram, stag or lion. Variants include a knight on horseback from Lewes, Sussex. See Footnote [1] See Footnote [2] See Footnote [3]

It is supposed that these vessels were copied from bronze versions known in Germany during the 13th century and that its origins may lie in the Middle East some centuries earlier.

The specimen from Dover was found in the fill of a medieval garderobe shaft close to the great church of St Martin-le-Grand and was associated with other 13th or 14th century pottery.


Footnote 1.

Scarborough Museum 3 39 1. Rutter, 1961, page 26, figure 27/1. Medieval English pottery by Bernard Rackham, 1972, pages 20 & 24. Return to the paragraph.

Footnote 2.

In the Ashmolean Museum. Published Oxoniensia IV (1939), page 113. Return to the paragraph.

Footnote 3.

Now in Barbican House, Lewes, Sussex. Medieval English Pottery by Bernard Rackham (1972), page 20 and plate 13a. Return to the paragraph.
DRAWING: aquamanile, or horizontal jug.

This superb aquamanile, or horizontal jug was found in the fill of a medieval garderobe shaft close to the great church of St Martin-le-Grand in Dover.

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