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From Ceramic to Plastic: The Mediterranean in Twelve Objects


Admission requirements

  • Material Studies 1 and Material Studies 2 or equivalent obtained;

  • This is a seminar with a limited number of participants (20 students), for Archaeology students exclusively;

  • BA3 students who want to take this course: please contact the Administration Office. You can only be admitted if there are spots left, BA2 students will have priority.


This course will take you on a journey across the Mediterranean, a narrow sea that stretches from Gibraltar to the Dardanelles, from Venice to Alexandria. An enclosed water space that history and geography have turned into an inland sea, “the sea amid land” as the term Mediterranean literally translates.
An everchanging, conflicted space, where people, things, ideas, and hopes have traveled constantly in slow, sudden, unpredictable waves. We will sail across its waters by looking at simple things, everyday objects that tell anything but ordinary stories, all revolving around three main themes: exchange, migration, and technological knowledge.

Our journey will focus particularly on two durable materials, one that looks back, the other forward: clay and plastic.
We will follow the itineraries (Fontijn 2013) of a selection of iconic ceramic objects particularly relevant to the history of first millennium Mediterranean (amphorae, craters, oil lamps, mortars, ointment containers etc.): looking through the prism of materiality this course will offer a different perspective on mechanisms of exchange, human mobility, and knowledge transfer.

The Mediterranean, however, is a living entity and cannot be confined to one image frozen in time. People, their stories and expectations, keep crossing its waters while leaving things behind.
Today those objects are made of plastic, they pollute the Mediterranean and accumulate along its coastline, so much to have turned it in what has been aptly defined a plastic soup (Suaria et. 2016).

Alongside the ceramic objects, every week a plastic counterpart will be illustrated in class, applying the same theoretical frameworks and methodologies used for archaeological artefacts. As the new stratigraphic record of the Anthropocene (Zalasiewicz, J. et al. 2016), plastic objects gather voices from a less distant past which add to our understanding of the broad themes addressed in this course (exchange, mobility, knowledge transfer), thus enriching our perception of the Mediterranean in modern times.

Course set-up

The course consists of three main parts:

  • Lectures to introduce the main theoretical frameworks currently applied to disentangle the relationship between humans and things. Every week one ceramic and one plastic artefact will provide the testing ground to assess the applicability of such frameworks;

  • Tutorials to both discuss the literature and the case studies and present the progresses in the assignments;

  • Practical work on archaeological ceramics derived from our Mediterranean reference collection and plastic artefacts derived from online reference collections and other sources.

Tutorials and practical sessions are instrumental to build your final assignment.

Course objectives

Upon completion of the module, you will be able to:

Learning goals

  • Critically reflect on the dynamics underlying exchange, mobility, and knowledge transfer in 1st millennium Mediterranean;

  • Gain insights in the itinerary of ceramic objects particularly significant for the history of 1st millennium Mediterranean;

  • Acquire a better understanding of the theoretical developments concerning materiality in archaeology;

  • Apply current analytical frameworks to ancient and modern objects and produce meaningful interpretations of broader phenomena.


  • Select and apply the appropriate analytical techniques to document ceramic material according to its main features: style/typology, surface treatment, fabric and use wear;

  • Extend the same approach to modern material;

  • Acquire a method to integrate data derived from online archives;

  • Process, interpret, and scientifically present the data acquired.


Course schedule details can be found in MyTimetable.
Log in with your ULCN account, and add this course using the 'Add timetable' button.

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures;

  • Tutorials;

  • Practical work.

Assessment method

Group assignment

  • Co-creation of a virtual gallery illustrating the Mediterranean through ceramic and plastic artefacts (30%).

Individual assignment

  • Presentations: outline of the topic, methodology, sources chosen for the final paper; presentation of your contribution to the virtual gallery (20%);

  • Final paper: select one or more topics addressed in class, a case study from the collections analysed for both ceramic and plastic, and illustrate them against the theory and analytical methods discussed in class (50%).

Assessment deadlines

All assessment deadlines (exams, retakes, paper deadlines etc.) can be found in MyTimetable.
Log in with your ULCN account, and add this course using the 'Add timetable' button. To view the assessment deadline(s), make sure to select the course with a code ending in T and/or R.

Reading list

Weekly readings will be available on Brightspace.


Registration start dates for the BA2 seminars differ from the registration dates of the regular courses.

Registration will take place with the use of forms. These will be e-mailed by the study advisers to all BA2 students and pre-master students at the beginning of January 2024.

The Administration Office will register all Archaeology BA2 students in uSis for their seminar exams. However, confirmation of these exams in MyStudymap is mandatory. No confirmation = no participation!


For more information about this course, please contact drs. M. (Martina) Revello Lami.


Compulsory attendance, students can miss no more than one class.