Thursday, 1 December 2011

What is a ceramiscene?

Recently, while finishing the Romanisation of a Faliscan Town project that aimed at analysing the Roman material from the Nepi Survey, I and my Roman pottery expert Philip Mills suggested a new concept ‘ceramiscene’ (see Mills and Rajala 2010a,b). ‘Ceramiscene’ is defined as the landscape that is created, manipulated and experienced by the manufacturing, usage and disposal of material of deliberately fired clay; this definition that excludes more friable materials such as mud brick and daub. This concept is clearly a specific view of Ingold’s (1993) taskscape that emphasizes the experience of a landscape through social every day actions. A ceramiscene can be taken on its own terms, but it can also be developed with the parallel studies of the other antique landscapes of production, use and disposal, such as the ‘lithoscene’ (lithics) or ‘sideroscene’ (iron).

This landscape is naturally not directly observable but it is an end product of a research project. Most of the material preserved from Roman times is ceramic based – ceramic vessels and ceramic building materials. An assemblage collected during a surface survey in the Mediterranean, such as the Nepi Survey c. 45 kilometres north-west from Rome, is usually dominated by ceramic materials. Therefore, we argued that the ceramics is a key proxy for Roman action within the landscape. The ceramiscene also ties the concepts of landscape, consumption and discard together.

The methods of ceramic analysis applied were fabric and functional analysis. After the separation of different wares (e.g. amphorae, black gloss, white wares), they were grouped into different fabrics. In addition, all rims and/or handles of pottery vessels were defined into different functional categories (e.g. amphorae, flagons, jars, storage jars, mortaria, bowls, dishes, lids). The fabrics could provide information of different sources used in different parts of the area whereas the proportions of different functional categories suggested statuses of different sites. In those areas where the distributions of different fabrics, different producers, overlapped with geographically definable districts, the ceramiscene could be presented in detail and used in explanation and interpretation.

For an example of a ceramiscene representation, in this case a ware distribution at selected sites, see this map:

This way of approaching ceramic materials in a landscape worked well in central Italy. However, since it is a theoretical construction, it is perfectly well applicable in Britain or other areas as well. It should not be restricted to the study of Roman ceramic material but be applied in the study of Medieval and later wares as well.


Ingold, T. 1993. The temporality of the landscape. World Archaeology 25, 152–174.

Mills, P., and Rajala, U., 2011a. Interpreting a ceramiscene landscape – the Roman pottery from the Nepi Survey Project, in D. Mladenović and B. Russell (eds.). TRAC 2010. Proceedings of the Twentieth Annual Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference, Oxford 2010, 1-17.

Mills, P., and Rajala, U., 2011b. The Roman ceramic material from the fieldwalking in the environs of Nepi, Papers of the British School at Rome 79, 147-240.

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