Using the example of pottery imported into the Channel ports of southern England, an approach to examining the role of pottery in the emergence and mediation of coastal communities is proposed here. Building on recent scholarship, it is argued that it is no longer tenable to see pottery as a carrier of identity, or as part of a ‘cultural package’, with meaning emerging with identity as people interact with pottery within and without port environments. The study proposes that imported pottery found meaning in different ways, depending on the context of acquisition and use. Hence it mediated different forms of community and identity. The article ends with a consideration of the wider implications of this approach for ongoing studies of material culture, trade, and urban identities in medieval Europe.