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Rinse Willet "The socio-cultural context of the concept and use of tableware in the Roman East (2nd c. BC – 7th c. AD)" Promotor: Prof. Dr. Jeroen Poblome Katholieke Universiteit Leuven Starting date: 1/1/2009 Ceramics are a very common find in the archaeology and have been used as indicators of chronology, economic ties and to some extent culture. The ceramic tablewares of the Roman World are recognizable by their distinct red slip and repertoire of shapes. And although regional variation in shape and decoration does exist, similarities are encountered in the vessels as well. At the same time it is clear that the repertoire of shapes/decoration etc. does change over time. Why? To answer this it is necessary to establish the differences, similarities and changes over space and time in the framework of the Roman East between the 2nd century BC - 7th century AD. The analysis of larger datasets has enabled us to perform more detailed studies of Roman tableware. The ICRATES project (Inventory of Crafts and Trade in the Roman East) has developed a large dataset of Roman table ware and is currently extending the set towards amphorae. At present the ICRATES dataset contains over 27,000 entries of table ware. Statistical analysis can give more insight in the socio-economic realities of the past, but also into the patterns of development of table ware. This project aims at recognizing and explaining these patterns. The first stage is to recognize the patterns of development for all the major fine wares. (African Res Slip Ware, Cypriot Red Slip Ware, Eastern Sigillata A/B/C/D, Italian Sigillata and Phocaean Red Slip Ware). The patterns of distribution are addressed per ware and per region, which is done by dividing the individual sherds over the timesegments of their respective dating. This can be done by dividing the individual equally over each dated time segment (a linear distribution). A sherd/pot with a dating of 25-75 AD would fall into the time segments of 25-50 AD and 50-75 AD, therefore their count is divided in two. The problem is that the production and distribution of the ceramics was probably not equal per timesegment. Therefore experimentation has been done with a Gaussian distribution with good results. A Gaussian curve complements and accentuates the linear curve by its complexity. The peaks in these curves are important since they are mostly caused by a few popular forms of table ware. These forms are indicative of the development of the table wares, since they influence or are copied in other fabrics as well. The second stage is to identify which forms are the cause of the peaks within the curve. This is done by dividing each curve into percentiles, assigning the values above the 50th percentile as the 'hotzone', I.E. the zone where the distribution of the ware is peaking. From this zone a top 3 of forms is drawn per timesegment. Below a table for the linear results for Italian Terra Sigillata is displayed, together with illustrations of the popular forms to the left. This represents the top 3 of the more popular shapes as distributed from the Italian peninsula in the Roman East. The next step is to explain all the found patterns in each ware and region. For this it is necessary to observe the concept of table ware, rather than the material category alone. Various examples indicate that ceramic tableware is closely related to and probably derived from more precious materials. Many examples of vessels in glass, bronze, silver and even more precious materials are known to have exact parallels in ceramics in terms of shape, decoration. But since the ceramics are more omnipresent and the glass, silver, gold and crystal examples are very rare, they are the obvious choice to be used as a proxy of the development and fashions in table ware. In a sense the ceramics are a distillation from a development of table wares from the elite. In fact the relationship between the different material categories is more complex: it is not a coincidence that the cheaper ceramic table wares resemble the more precious materials, since not only is table ware a nice plate to eat from, which the less-financially capable would envy and of which they would like to have a cheaper version, but it is also a means to culturally identify yourself with the elite while at the same time the elite binds the 'lower classes' by producing a product (assuming that ceramic production was in the end controlled by the elite) which follows their tastes and customs. This binding in the material cultural (and possibly also behavioural, although this has not yet been adressed) sense between elite and 'lower classes' is another aspect of a world where connections and patronage are paramount. At present this hypothesis seems to leave a lot of space for choice. Exactly how much choice there was in the type of table ware the lower classes had is unclear. But since it was available in a world where the economy was not integrated and since the production of ceramics was in the hands of the elite, the choice seems rather limited. The shape of the plate Marcus Vulgaris Pulcher had in his home was more likely determined by the tastes of the elite than by fancy from a wide range of plates, bowls, jugs etc. How and how fast these tastes did change is a subject of current study, although it seems that the fashions did not change often. But change did occur and together with the similarities or differences in local table ware traditions, form a pattern of table ware 'fashion' development over the Roman East. Rather than explaining these patterns by the theorems of Agency, this project seeks to explore multiple theoretical frameworks, including structuralism, memetics and the recent developments in neural science. What this project aims to establish the patterns of development in table ware, which should then be explained by their socio-cultural and socio-economic framework, thus trying to reconstruct an emic concept of tableware next to the etic realities of the material. It is therefore necessary to try to explain the patterns as a result of human activity, not just 'Roman' activity.