Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Unique Terra-Cotta Fragments Volume 51 Number 2, March/April 1998
by Erik Klingenberg

[image] German site yields damaged goods. (Landesamt für Denkmalpflege, Mainz) [LARGER IMAGE]

A Roman industrial site in Mainz, Germany, has yielded a kiln filled with finely worked fragments of terra-cotta figures and busts, presumably damaged during firing. Some are statues of Venus, Hercules, Mercury, Cupid, Fortuna, and mother goddesses, while others are busts of an empress or noble lady and an unidentified man. With the exception of one female bust type known also from Cologne, the artworks are without parallel in Western Europe. They have been dated, according to an overlying find and some of the hairstyles, to the middle of the second century A.D.

"The fine workmanship of the figures leads us to believe that the molds were manufactured somewhere else and that perhaps a local potter attempted to produce the figures here," says Marion Witteyer of Mainz's Department of Monuments and Archaeological Heritage. The surface details on the figures are quite sharp, indicating that the molds were new, or used only a few times. The thickness and hardness of the kiln's walls indicate that it was in use only for a short time. "The [potter's] attempt was unsuccessful and the work was abandoned," says Witteyer.

Terra-cotta pieces such as these were usually mass-produced copies of similar objects made of marble or bronze that only wealthier buyers could afford. They were probably intended for use in households or temples.

© 1998 by the Archaeological Institute of America