Analysis of ceramic assemblages from four Cape historical sites dating from the late seventeenth century to the mid-nineteenth century

Master Thesis


Permanent link to this Item
Journal Title
Link to Journal
Journal ISSN
Volume Title

University of Cape Town

This dissertation sets up a standardised system for analysing mid-seventeenth to mid- nineteenth century Cape colonial ceramic assemblages and then applies it to a number of Dutch and British historical sites in the south-western Cape region of South Africa in order to trace patterns of change in the availability and use of domestic ceramics in the colony. The system accommodates the wide range of African, Asian and European ceramics used during the period of Dutch East India rule from 1652 to 1795, the following Transitional years when the Cape was governed for short periods by both the British and Dutch governments and the period from 1815 onwards when the Cape became a British Crown Colony. A systematic ceramic classificatory system was required to form a framework for the first stage of a proposed study of the role of Asian porcelain in the Cape during the 17th and 18th centuries. The resulting Cape Classificatory System has five sections. (i) Ware Table, a ware based classification, records ceramics by sherd count and minimum number of vessels, and acts as a check list for Cape colonial sites. (ii) Date Table provides the accepted dates of production and references for all ceramics excavated in the Cape. (iii) Form and Function Table lists excavated ceramics by vessel form within functional categories. (iv) The Site Catalogue accessions and references (where possible) all the ceramics in an assemblage. (v) A catalogue of previously unreferenced Asian market ware (coarse porcelain) excavated from 17th to 19th century colonial sites in the south-western Cape. Thirty ceramic assemblages from Cape colonial sites and four assemblages from shipwrecks in Cape waters were analysed or examined. The Cape Classificatory System was applied in full to the ceramics from four sites: the Granary, a late seventeenth century Dutch East India site; Elsenburg, an elite mid-eighteenth century farmstead; Sea Street, Cape Town, a town midden in use from the last quarter of the eighteenth century to ca. 1830; and a well in Barrack Street, Cape Town, that was open from ca. 1775 till the late nineteenth century. The results clearly demonstrated changes in ceramic availability, usage and discard in the Cape over a two hundred year period, differences in refuse disposal practices and the dependence of the colony on Asian porcelain, including Asian market coarse porcelain, during the late seventeenth century and eighteenth century.

Includes bibliography.