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TRAC 2013: Proceedings of the Twenty-Third Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference, King’s College, London, 4–6 April 2013

TRAC 2013: Proceedings of the Twenty-Third Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference, King’s College, London, 4–6 April 2013

Edited by Hannah Platts, John Pearce, Caroline Barron, Jason Lundock, and Justin Yoo. Pp. 173, figs. 38, tables 6. Oxbow Books, Oxford 2014. $60. ISBN 978-1-78297-690-5 (paper).

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This volume presents the proceedings of the Twenty-Third Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference (TRAC 2013), which was held at King’s College, London, in April 2013. Eleven papers have been published in this volume out of a total of 65 delivered at the conference. They cover various topics ranging from the Roman economy to processes of site formation to quantitative approaches in reading Roman iconography. Several of the papers contain a strong methodological strand focusing on context characterization, quantification, and site formation. As the editors state (5–7), TRAC in general does not attract the interested public to the same degree as museum exhibitions and archaeological tours; therefore, TRAC volumes are geared toward an informed and specialized audience, which, in addition to archaeologists, may include a number of individuals with research interests in the theoretical social sciences.

The introduction (1–8) presents an important question that should be of general interest to all theoretical archaeologists of the Roman period: “TRAC Past, Present and Future: Where to Go from Here?” Indeed, this question has been on the minds of many theoretical Roman archaeologists in the past couple of years, chiefly because older theoretical models—particularly the term “romanization”—have been discussed and reevaluated, while new concepts such as glocalization, upcycling, and emulative acculturation, often derived from other social sciences and the humanities, have now entered debates in Roman archaeology.

The highlight of this volume is the debate between Jongman and Hobson over the value-laden character of employing quantification methods in studies of the Roman economy. Hobson rightly argues that comparisons between preindustrial societies and contemporary societies using current models from economic theory are fraught with biases arising from an imperial (and increasingly global) view of economics and development. Conversely, Jongman favors the usage of contemporary models of economic theory in the study of the Roman economy and, especially, their application to the dynamics of production and distribution of commodities when situated in a specifically Roman context.

Lulic’s paper employs theoretical approaches from the social sciences (i.e., cognitive psychology and anthropology) to the study of votive representations of the deity Silvanus in Roman Dalmatia. Arguing against earlier readings that favored either native resistance or romanization, she advocates an alternate view based on continued reinterpretation of the religious figure of Silvanus by the local population.

The spring deposits at Bath and the worship of Sulis Minerva are the focus of Cousins’ article. She discusses the variety of objects chosen as votive dedications to the goddess in conjunction with evidence from curse tablets and pewter vessels from the site and argues that dedications to Sulis Minerva reflect individual worshipers’ issues with loss, decay, and theft.

Dicus discusses subsurface assemblages at Pompeii. His paper brings much-needed attention to the overused “Pompeii Premise,” which has permeated archaeological discussions for a long time. He focuses specifically on two subsurface house assemblages and argues that such assemblages should be approached from the point of view of their formation rather than as evidence of systemic context. Furthermore, theories of formation process should be applied to contexts that appear on the site regularly, rather than continuing to view them specifically as static remnants frozen in time.

Ball’s paper focuses on quantifying and characterizing finds assemblages. Taking the case of artifacts in historic battlefields in Europe and the United States in general, she compares them with Roman republican and imperial examples and discusses the importance of taphonomic factors for assemblage composition and distribution. By highlighting nonmilitary objects within battlefield assemblages, one can distinguish between military and nonmilitary objects within such contexts.

Manchiori discusses finds assemblages from the sites of Kom al-Ahmer and Kom Wasit in the Nile Delta from the Late Dynastic period and the later first millennium. Evidence from finds assemblages suggests that there was local migration between these two sites in the Early Roman period. Manchiori argues that environmental change was a major catalyst in this migration and was conditioned by the political geography of the early years of Roman rule in Egypt.

Prior’s paper focuses on quantifying the consumption of Roman glass by weight, fragment count, estimated vessel equivalent, and estimated vessel number. Most of his examples come from northwest Europe and Italy, and he discusses new methods for quantifying ceramics to glass.

Podavitte analyzes ceramic assemblages from Roman London using postcolonial and agency-centered perspectives to discern culture change in a provincial setting. With a specific focus on Pompeian Red Ware, the paper brings attention to the acquisition, use, deposition, and distribution of this fabric type in Roman imperial London.

Vucetic’s paper highlights the iconographic aspects of artifacts, and in particular erotic motifs on lamps from Ampurias, Salamis, Carthage, and Vindonissa dated from the first to the fourth centuries C.E. The author uses a quantitative approach and concludes that there was a marked diversity in the erotic iconography from the four sites, which may suggest diversity in the sexual ideologies within different regions of the Roman empire.

Heeren’s paper presents a reading of the Batavian settlement of Tiel-Passewaaij as a case study for the process of romanization. Through a short introduction to Batavian settlement forms, object assemblages, and funerary rituals, he argues for a weak version of “romanisation” (as he prefers to refer to the process), where Rome was the force that instigated and initiated culture change, while the Batavians engaged with and augmented the process in their region.

The volume is a welcome contribution to the expanding field of theoretical archaeology and follows in the footsteps of previous TRAC volumes in both scope and quality. The papers demonstrate that current trends in theoretical archaeology have shifted away from the much-debated concept of romanization, which featured extensively in earlier TRAC volumes; discussions in TRAC 2013 focus on more nuanced readings specific to individual contexts and finds assemblages. A fuller engagement with theories from fields outside archaeology, such as economics, cognitive psychology, and the anthropology of religion suggest that this is a trend that is likely to continue in the next TRAC conferences.

Anna Kouremenos
American School of Classical Studies at Athens

Book Review of TRAC 2013: Proceedings of the Twenty-Third Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference, King’s College, London, 4–6 April 2013, edited by Hannah Platts, John Pearce, Caroline Barron, Jason Lundock, and Justin Yoo

Reviewed by Anna Kouremenos

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 119, No. 4 (October 2015)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1194.Kouremenos

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