93143 - Archaeology of Production in the Ancient and Medieval World (LM)

Academic Year 2023/2024

  • Docente: Andrea Gaucci
  • Credits: 6
  • SSD: L-ANT/06
  • Language: English
  • Teaching Mode: Traditional lectures
  • Campus: Bologna
  • Corso: Second cycle degree programme (LM) in Archaeology and Cultures of the Ancient World (cod. 8855)

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will know the material sources available for reconstructing the production processes and the function of objects and structures found in the archaeology of the ancient and medieval worlds, coping with the technical and anthropological aspects. They will recognize and critically examine the archaeological documentation relating to production sites and places of consumption in ancient and medieval finds; they will also know how to identify the diagnostic elements of material culture and have the tools to frame information in its correct chronological, historical, political and social context.

Course contents

The course deals with Archaeology of Production in both theoretical and practical perspectives, with particular attention to the most updated analysis models and with a multi-disciplinary approach. A diachronic overview from Protohistory to Medieval Age is offered, focusing the examples on the Mediterranean and European areas.

The course is broadly divided in three blocks of lessons:

1. Theoretical and methodological issues;

2. Craft processes;

3. Thematic studies related to the discipline.

During each block, frontal lectures on specific topics and several activities are scheduled (readings and discussions; visits to Museums and Laboratories; seminars). Hands-on activities will be scheduled during the visit.

1. Theoretical and methodological issues

The first block of lessons are dedicated to theoretical and methodological issues. The first lesson introduces students to the main sources to reconstruct production processes and related issues in Ancient and Medieval world. During the following lessons, most relevant theoretical approaches and the main analytical tools at the base of the discipline are discussed. The main focuses are:

- the different conceptions of ethnoarchaeology and how this can help the study of past production processes.

- classification systems and chrono-morphological seriations within the study of archaeological finds;

- the basic knowledge of archaeometry, i.e. the scientific methods for the study of the archaeological contexts and the analyses of the materials, in order to deepen issues as origin, raw materials, production processes.

A visit to the laboratories of the Department of Biological, Geological and Enrvironmental Sciences will be organised. During the visit the main archaeometrical methods will be shown and explained.

2. Craft processes

After the introductory block, craft processes are deepened. This second block of lessons deals with crafts employing mechanical modification of the raw materials (i.e. stone, fabrics, bone, wood, amber) and crafts employing transformative processes (i.e. metals, pottery, glass). Besides, the articulation of the productive contexts is investigated through examples amongst archaeological excavations in a diachronic perspective. In particular, the variety of internal organization is analysed on the base of the related landscape and the supply of raw materials.

A visit to the Etruscan National Museum of Marzabotto and the archaeological park of Kainua (with a particular focus on production contexts and a first hand experience on related records) will be organised.

3. Thematic studies related to the discipline

The third block of lessons deals with thematic studies:

- Organisation of Labour within the different production contexts in a diachronic perspective. Several methodologies applied to investigate the issue are analysed (i.e. contextual studies, iconography, ethnoarchaeology, epigraphy); special attention is given to the different social roles emerging from the archaeological evidence.

- Cross-craft studies, which approach to the reconstruction of knowledge networks by integrating two or more craft traditions, that is flows and transfers among crafts that deal with different materials.

- Skeuomorphism, the process of mimesis between objects made with different materials.

During the final lesson, the selection of the topics for the two-phase work valid for the evaluation (see Assessment methods) is discussed with the teacher.


Attending students

During the course discussions on readings are scheduled. Readings will be available in PDF format in VIRTUALE, i.e. the mutual web space of the course only accessible to Unibo students with institutional credentials.

1. Theoretical and methodological issues

One reading from the following papers:

- R. B. Salisbury, K. Rebay-Salisbury, Processes of theory: from production sequences and process to chaînes opératoires and object biographies, in A. Gorgues, K. Rebay-Salisbury, R.B. Salisbury (eds.), Material Chains in late Prehistoric Europe and the Mediterranean. Time, Space and Technologies of Production, Bordeaux 2017, 15-29.

- T. Mannoni, The Transmission of Craft Techniques according to the Principles of Material Culture: Continuity and Rupture, in L. Lavan, E. Zanini, A. Sarantis, Technology in Transition A.D. 300-650, Leiden - Boston 2007, xli-lx.

- M. Vidale, J.M. Kenoyer, K.K. Bhan, A discussion of the concept of "chaine opératoire" in the study of stratified societies: evidence from ethnoarchaeology and archaeology, in Ethnoarchéologie. Justification, problèmes, limites, XII Rencontres lnternationales d'Archéologie et d'Histoire d'Amibes, Juan-les-Pins 1992, 181-194.

2. Craft processes

One reading on crafts employing mechanical modification of the raw materials:

- N. Schlanger, Mindful technology: Unleashing the chaîne opératoire for an archaeology of mind, in C. Renfrew, E.B.W. Zubrow (eds.), The ancient mind. Elements of cognitive archaeology, Cambridge 1994, 143-151.

-L. Rahmstorf, An introduction to the investigation of archaeological textile tools, in E. Andersson Strand and M-L Nosch (eds), Tools, Textiles and Contexts. Investigating textile production in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean Bronze Age, Oxford 2015, 1-23.

One reading from the following papers on pottery:

- V. Roux, C. Jeffra, The Spreading of the Potter’s Wheel in the Ancient Mediterranean. A Social Context-Dependent Phenomenon, in W. Gauss, G. Klebinder-Gauss, C. von Rüden (eds.), The Transmission of Technical Knowledge in the Production of Ancient Mediterranean Pottery (Proceedings of the International Conference, Athens 2012), Wien 2015, 165-182.

- E. Borgna, S.T. Levi, The Italo-Mycenaen Connection. Some Considerations on the Technological Transfer in the Field of Pottery Production, in W. Gauss, G. Klebinder-Gauss, C. von Rüden (eds.), The Transmission of Technical Knowledge in the Production of Ancient Mediterranean Pottery (Proceedings of the International Conference, Athens 2012), Wien 2015, 115-138.

- A.-M. Curé, Wheelmade Pottery and Socioeconomic Changes in Indigenous Mediterranean Gaul Societies during the Early Iron Age, in W. Gauss, G. Klebinder-Gauss, C. von Rüden (eds.), The Transmission of Technical Knowledge in the Production of Ancient Mediterranean Pottery (Proceedings of the International Conference, Athens 2012), Wien 2015, 239-255.

- P. Arthur, Form, Function and Technology in Pottery Production from Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages, in L. Lavan, E. Zanini, A. Sarantis, Technology in Transition A.D. 300-650, Leiden - Boston 2007, 159-186.

One reading from the following papers on metals:

- Th. Stöllner, Humans approach to resources: Old World mining between technological innovations, social change and economical structures, in Archaeometallurgy in Europe III. Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference (Bochum 2011), Bochum 2015, 63-82.

- A. J. Nijboer, Across cultures: The introduction of iron in the western Mediterranean, 10th and 9th centuries BC, in M. Bentz, T. Helms, Craft production systems in a cross-cultural perspective, Bonn 2018, 61-81.

- E. Giannicchedda, Metal Production in Late Antiquity: From Continuity of Knowledge to Changes in Consumption, in L. Lavan, E. Zanini, A. Sarantis, Technology in Transition A.D. 300-650, Leiden - Boston 2007, 187-210.

One reading from the following papers on glasses:

- B. Vanthuyne, Amarna Factories, Workshops, Faience Moulds and their produce, in 22/23, 2012-2013, 395-429.

- S. Paynter, C.M. Jackson, Reused Roman rubbish: A thousand years of recycling glass, in Post-Classical Archaeologies, 6, 2016, 31-52.

At the end of the course, attending students will tackle a two-phase work: the work could employ the readings discussed during lessons (and the more general readings here below) as well as a more specific set of bibliographical references that each student is required to create.

For a complete preparation, it is suggested to study the following texts:

- C. Renfrew, P. Bahn, Archaeology. Theories, Methods, and Practices, London 20167, 317-356.

- C. Renfrew, P. Bahn, Archaeology. The Key Concepts, Oxon 2005 (ss.vv. The Chaîne Opératoire, Ethnoarchaeology, Experimental archaeology, Archaeological formation processes).

- H. M.-L. Miller, Archaeological Approaches to Technology, USA 2007 (or following editions), 1-166, 237-245.

Non-attending students

To prepare the exam, they should contact the teacher, in order to plan a specific bibliography.

Teaching methods

Teaching method consists in frontal lectures, collective discussions on readings and visits to Museums and University facilities dealing with the subject of the course. 

Students are strongly encouraged to actively take part in the discussions and visits.

Specialists will be involved during the course to speak about specific topics.

Assessment methods

Attending students

It is required knowledge of specified bibliography and of topics covered during lessons. Attendance to the lessons, active participation to collective discussions and visits to Museums and University facilities is very helpful to pass the final evaluation.

The evaluation will be based on a two-phase work focused on a specific material class, discussed using theoretical approaches and particularly thematic studies addressed during lessons. The topic will be previously agreed with the teacher, and the work could employ the readings discussed during lessons, the general bibliography as well as a more specific set of bibliographical references that each student is required to create. 

The work is structured in two phases, an oral presentation and an essay. The first phase includes a 10-minute presentation with slides in front of the class, in which the student will have to defend the structure of his/her own work and have opportunities for feedback before turning in the essay. The essay (about 16,000 characters including notes and bibliography) should be structured by presenting the topic, the aims of the work, the analysis and conclusions. Specific guidelines will be provided. If the student is found to have cheated (that is presenting the work of others as your own) or plagiarized (that is using information and quotations of others without clearly acknowledging the source), he/she won’t pass the exam.

The essay will be discuss with the teacher during an oral exam among the scheduled ones.

The grade assigned to the two-phase work will be based on:

- relation of the topic with the course content;

- clarity in structure and aims;

- ability in synthetically expose the structure of the work and defend it in front of the class;

- ability to identify relevant bibliography;

- organisation of the essay;

- critical analysis;

- use of field-specific terminology and appropriate language.

Non-attending students

Students who do not attend the course will have to pass an oral exam, with questions aimed to verify the student's knowledge of the themes treated in the texts agreed with the teacher. The questions will be aimed at testing the student's ability in exposing with an appropriate language some of the topics as well as his/her skills in making connections between different texts in order to build an argument. The overall evaluation will consider the following parameters:

- an excellent knowledge of the topics, the ability to analyse themes, to refer them by using the field-specific terminology and to discuss specific issues critically, arguing their own opinion, will be rewarded with an excellent mark.

- a mnemonic knowledge of the subject with the ability to analyse, with correct, although not always field-specific command of the language will be rewarded with a 'fair' mark.

- minimal knowledge of the subject will not be enough to pass the exam.

Teaching tools

Each lesson will be accompanied by presentation slides with a wide repertoire of images and conceptual maps, subsequently accessible through VIRTUALE.

Students with special learning needs, students with disabilities will be supported during the course and in the preparation of the exam through individual interviews with the teachers, who will provide all the necessary tools (e.g. bibliography in a foreign language for foreign students; concept maps for students with learning disabilities). Please express personal needs from the beginning of the course or by contacting the teacher by e-mail.

Students who are affected by learning disability (DSA) and in need of special strategies to compensate it, are kindly requested to contact the Teacher, in order to be referred to the colleagues in charge and get proper advice and instructions.

Office hours

See the website of Andrea Gaucci


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This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.