Portuguese coarseware was identified in the 1960s as Merida ware because British ceramic historian John Hurst initially believed it was made in Merida, Spain. In the 1970s he correctly recognized it as a product of Portugal, but suspected that it came from the Alto Alentejo region (Hurst et al. 1986). Historical archaeologist Sarah Newstead and other researchers, however, have more recently found that production extended over a larger area. According to Newstead, the ware was made in Braga, Prado, Aveiro, Coimbra, and Lisbon, as well as in Estremoz in Alto Alentejo (Newstead 2013; 2014). At the recommendation of Ms. Newstead, the ware is now called Portuguese coarseware.
Within the James Fort assemblage, Portuguese coarseware was found in the pre-1610 debris in James Fort’s “First Well” and in the “Factory Cellar.” It was also found in features of later deposition dates at Jamestown. The few objects of this ware recovered from James Fort include both highly burnished tableware and coarser storage vessels. Items from the earliest contexts likely came with consumers or supplies from Plymouth, England, where trade with the Portuguese was well established. Portuguese coarseware also appears occasionally on other Virginia sites dating to the first half of the 17th century, generally in the forms of globular- or barrel-shaped costrels (cantil) and olive jars (anforeta).
Fabric: Porous earthenware fabric, ranging in color from a pinkish-, to reddish-, to purplish-orange, occasionally streaked with yellow, and sometimes having a reduced gray to purplish core. Portuguese coarseware generally contains prolific mica flecks, and occasional quartz, feldspar and grog inclusions.
Glaze: This ware is generally unglazed, and often highly burnished. Coarse utilitarian olive jars are sometimes white slipped, or glazed with lead appearing green from the addition of copper oxide, or yellowish-brown without the addition of oxides.
Form: The refined tableware forms recovered from James Fort include a highly burnished jug (cântaro); a globular cup (púcaro); shallow bowls; and olive jars (anforet). The jug is globular and curves inward toward its tall base. Its thickened, everted rim is rolled on the exterior edge, and has a pinched pouring spout. A single horizontal ridge ornaments the central neck, and two incised horizontal lines separate the neck from the bulbous body. Its vertical strap handle terminates with a rat-tail. Similarly, the cup is globular, highly burnished, and has a rat-tail handle terminal. The bowls are small in diameter and shallow. Their walls flare outward, and their rims are everted and rounded on the top edge. Their exterior bases are raised and encircled by a short, u-sectioned footring.
A body section of a small capacity olive jar was recovered from the “Cellar Well.” This vessel is glazed on the upper exterior with a lead glaze appearing green from the addition of copper oxide. A section of a larger olive jar was recovered from a later deposit in John White’s House. It has a triangular-sectioned rim, which displays traces of a white slip on the interior and exterior. A spotty lead glaze appears yellow on the slip, and brown where it dripped on the exterior body.