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How to ... write a pipe report

The scope and detail of any pipe report will depend on a number of factors and, in particular, the end purpose for which it is intended.  Where small numbers of pipes are present and/or their significance for the particular project is not great, then it may be possible for a non-specialist to carry out the work using these guidelines.  Where larger or more important assemblages of pipes are recovered, then a specialist should be employed.  This is particularly the case where kiln waste or large numbers of marked or decorated pipes are present, or where the final report is intended for publication.  Further advice on the significance of pipe assemblages can be obtained by contacting the National Pipe Archive (, the Society for Clay Pipe Research ( or the Académie Internationale de la Pipe (

At its most basic level, a pipe report may be an interim spot dating of the context groups from a site, or an archive catalogue, simply listing and dating the pipes recovered.  At the other extreme, a full publication report may contain detailed lists of the pipes and/or context groups as well as illustrations of key pieces and a discussion placing the finds within their local and/or national context.  Any report will also be shaped by the nature and range of the pipe assemblage that is to be reported on and the significance of the pipes in relation to the excavation itself.  The following guidelines therefore provide broad pointers as to the sorts of information that may be relevant to any given report. They outline the main subject areas that should be considered for inclusion and the range of elements that should be included within each subject area.  The key thing is to structure any report clearly and, where the following topics are addressed, to make sure that information is presented in such a way as to make the data easily accessible within the report (e.g., by the use of sub-headings) as well as being comparable with data from other assemblages (e.g., by providing clear figures for the occurrence of particular attributes and/or by the use of tables to present information).  The use of a good recording system for systematically collecting details of the individual fragments (e.g., Higgins and Davey 2004) and/or preparing a context summary is an important prelude to writing any report, since this allows data about the various attributes of any particular assemblage to be easily seen, sorted and extracted.

The other important factor is making sure that the project director supplies the specialist with all the necessary supporting site information for the work to be carried out properly.  This includes making sure that the specialist is fully aware of the aims and objectives of the work (project design) as well as provided with all the necessary information required to interpret the finds in relation to the archaeology of the site.  This includes background historical information; structural details of the site itself (plans, contest descriptions, site matrix, phasing); the results of any other finds assessments that have been completed and any absolute dates that have been established for specific features (dated structures, radiocarbon analysis, dendrochronology, etc.).  There should be an ongoing dialogue between the project director and the pipe specialist from the inception of the project through to completion, and allowances made for the specialist to visit the site/attend project meetings as required for major projects.

Introduction  Any report should start with an introductory statement giving background details of how the report came about, who prepared it and what material is covered in it.  This allows the report to ‘stand-alone’ in a site archive or as grey literature, while still being easily adapted for inclusion as part of a larger site report.  For this reason, it is helpful to try and keep any very general background details that would normally appear at the start of a project monograph in a separate first paragraph that can easily be removed if necessary, while any introductory information directly relevant to the pipes themselves can be contained in the following paragraph(s).

The key information that should be present includes the authors name (and that of any illustrators); the date the report was compiled; where the study material comes from (including site name, site code and, if known, grid reference); when the pipes were recovered; the name of the individual or organisation who recovered the pipes and, if possible, the final location at which the pipes are intended to be deposited/stored.  The introduction should also detail any specific methodologies that were applied to collecting the material (e.g., sieving of specific deposits, 2D/3D recording of finds, etc.), as well as reference to any typologies that have been used for dating and a concordance of any codes/abbreviations used.

Quantification  There are some basic statements as to the overall pipe assemblage that it is useful to include, so as to enable direct comparison of one assemblage with another.  These include the total number of fragments recovered and a breakdown of this figure into the total numbers of bowl, stem and mouthpiece present.  It is also useful to note the total number of context groups from which the material was recovered, so that an overall feel for the size and composition of the assemblage can be given.  There is, for example, a marked difference between one context that has produced an assemblage of 100 fragments of pipe and 100 contexts that have only produced one fragment each.

Marked Pipes  Another element of any assemblage that it is useful to quantify are the numbers and range of marked pieces present.  Any makers’ marks should be clearly and accurately described, together with a note of the number of examples of each type recovered.  So far as possible the marks should be dated and identified to maker and references supplied as to other known examples of each type.  Where a mark has not been previously published, it should be illustrated.  It is often useful to provide a table tabulating the marks and details about them, together with a cross reference to any illustrations.  This makes it easy to see what material has been recovered from any given site and to access information about the marks.  Small numbers of marks are sometimes discussed together in the same section (but care must be taken to distinguish between stamped and moulded marks).  Where larger numbers of marks are present, it is usually best to list and describe the marks in two sections, one for stamped marks and one for moulded.

Decorated Pipes  Decorated pipe fragments should also be clearly listed and described.  The range and nature of decoration on pipes can be quite variable and so a pragmatic approach has to be taken to describing any particular assemblage.  In general terms, it is helpful to present any decorated pieces in broadly chronological order and to group those pieces decorated in the same way together (e.g., stamped decoration; moulded decoration, etc.).  Parallels should be quoted for previously published examples, particularly if the same mould appears to have been used, and consideration given to illustrating previously unrecorded designs.  Rim milling is usually considered under ‘manufacturing’ as a finishing technique, rather as a type of decoration.  Milled bands applied elsewhere on the bowl or stem should, however, be mentioned in any discussion of decorative elements.

‘Imported’ Pipes  While the majority of pipes in any British assemblage are likely to have been made locally, there are often some pieces that have either been traded within the region or brought in from further afield.  These pieces can shed light on day to day trading activities within the region or highlight particular connections with a more distant source as a result of special commissions / trading arrangements, or because of their unusual design or quality.  Any such pieces should be clearly identified and discussed within the report.

Manufacturing Techniques  Any evidence for the way in which the pipes have been produced and finished should be considered.  As well as the more obvious features, such as milled rims or burnished surfaces, this section can also include characteristics ranging from the clay type used to evidence for wear or alteration of the moulds themselves.  Particular attention should be paid to any features that appear to be characteristic of any particular production centre or individual.  The sorts of evidence that might be relevant to include or discuss in this section include:-

  • Fabric type(s).
  • Mould types (where these can be distinguished).
  • Rim finish (bottered, wiped, cut, internally trimmed, etc.).
  • Rim milling, including the amount used and any changes by date or form.
  • Internal bowl marks (form, frequency and relationship to mould types).
  • Burnishing, including an assessment of quality.
  • Other surface finish (varnishing, enamelling, etc.)
  • Stem bore size and variation.
  • Stem curvature (or lack of it).
  • Stem length.
  • Mouthpiece types and finish.
  • Heel trimming (presence/absence, and the date of any change).
  • Nature and type of any maker’s marks (by form and date).
  • Evidence for manufacturing idiosyncrasies (by individual maker and/or workshop).

Kiln Waste  Quite apart from the structural evidence in the form of the kiln itself (or associated buildings), the artefactual evidence arising from pipe manufacture can be divided into two broad types; the kiln furniture and supplements used in the kiln and the waste pipes themselves.  Waste pipes themselves may not look that different from a domestic assemblage in that, in most cases, very few will show obvious signs of being wasters (overfired, warped, deformed slag encrusted or cracked); most of them are simply ones that got broken during the manufacturing process.  The best clue to a group of waste pipes is simply that there is often a repetition of pipes from the same mould and a very low percentage of them will show signs of having been smoked.  When a pipe has been smoked there is often a greyish discolouration of the fabric inside the bowl, particularly towards the rim.  This discolouration is very persistent and little changed by either burial or chemical cleaning with EDTA to remove iron staining (Mirdamadi 1999).  In contrast to the pipes themselves, the associated kiln waste is often very distinctive, most often comprising the following types of material:-

  • Thin sheets of fired white clay, with just one side showing smear marks.
  • Hand formed rolls or strips of fired white clay.
  • Stems with slaggy encrustation on them.
  • Amorphous pieces of fired white clay, sometimes vegetable tempered.
  • Fired white clay with pipe stems embedded in it.

The various types of kiln waste have been described in detail by Peacey (1996) and his study should be consulted if material of this type is found or suspected (available online at  Where a significant quantity of kiln waste or any structural evidence is found, then a specialist should certainly be consulted.  The relatively large quantities of waste generated, however, led to a disposal problem and kiln waste is quite often found dumped away from a kiln site, where it was used as hard-core in building works, for filling potholes in roads, etc.  As a result, isolated pieces or small groups of kiln waste may turn up on excavations quite unrelated to a production site.  Where such pieces occur they can be identified and described by reference to Peacey’s work and highlighted in the excavation report.

Social Status and Trade Patterns  In any report it is important to look beyond archaeological artefacts themselves by trying to interpret the society that created them and the role that excavated objects played within that society.  Where the evidence allows, a section should be included to present a broader discussion and interpretation of artefactual evidence.  Social status is one of the avenues that can be explored through pipes, since different styles and qualities would have been used by different sections of society or on different social occasions.  The measureable characteristics they exhibit in terms of bowl form, production quality, makers’ marks, stem length and finishing techniques allow them to be compared and assessed.  At one end of the social spectrum, pipes from prisons have been found with signs of long and extensive reuse in a broken condition, while fine quality long-stemmed pipes can occur as large fragments from high status rubbish deposits.

The precision with which pipes can be sourced and identified also makes them an ideal artefact type through which to study trade and marketing patterns.  Furthermore, site groups often contain a chronological range so that changing patterns can be observed over time.  The very local nature of most pipe production enables the catchment areas for local towns to be assessed, while the presence of pieces from further afield can reveal longer distance trading connections.  Pipes can also act as markers for longer distance trade routes, when significant numbers of examples from a single source are found to occupy a particular pattern within the broader landscape.

Discussion  A concluding discussion is useful for any report, especially if it has covered a number of areas/topics.  This should bring together a summary of the analysis and findings and provides an opportunity for a broader and more general discussion of the evidence and results.  It should set the pipes within their local, regional and/or national context as appropriate, highlighting any advances to knowledge that have been made.

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