Archaeological Semblance and the Remaking of Roman Pottery Practice

Marzuolo Archaeology Project, Cinigiano, Italy, 2017.

For my masters thesis in cultural anthropology, I conducted fieldwork with the Marzuolo Archaeology Project (MAP), a multi-year excavation of a rural Roman craft production complex dating to the first century CE. The project's principal investigators have been working at the site to uncover evidence of early experimental pottery-making practices that challenge archaeological assumptions about terra sigillata—a ubiquitous form of mass-produced pottery which is used to shape knowledge about the Roman economy. The very notion of “economy” in our modern sense is something that MAP’s investigators challenge through their reconceptualization of what it means to innovate a craft in the rural time and space of a community that left evidence of experiences which exceed any simplified understanding of Roman life. 

Through an ethnographic analysis of the dig, my thesis demonstrates how MAP's investigators are using concepts drawn from science and technology studies to revise historical narratives about Roman pottery and its production. I also address an essential, yet overlooked aspect of archaeological excavation — aesthetic appearing. Functioning like a theatrical stage, the archaeological site is shaped by semblance, metaphor, conceptual blending, and cognitive compressions of time and space. This proved to be especially relevant in combination with MAP’s methodologies that focus on both human and non-human materialist agencies. Sensory and emotional scenarios are used to shape different realities and to revise historical knowledge.