Part 1 – Description of the operational sequence

The core of each volume consists of the description of the individual phases of the operational sequence, highlighting each element and particularly those that can be observed in the archaeological record. It will therefore be important to follow the spirit of the definition of the different elements of a technique as defined by P. Lemonnier: “[…] the human actors, sources of energy, tools, raw materials, gestures and mental procedures involved in a given action aimed at obtaining some material result generally fit together physically, or are at least more or less mutually compatible, otherwise no tangible result would derive from their systemic interaction”. [1]

The first chapter of each volume will focus on the characterisation of the primary materials used in the production process. This will include a description of these primary materials with reference to the international nomenclature used in the relevant natural sciences (mineralogy, botany, zoology). The possible combined uses of these materials (e.g. through alloys) will also be discussed. In the same way, the possibilities for recycling (particularly for glass and metals) will need to be analysed in this chapter.

If the technology of acquisition of primary materials is not the subject of an individual volume, this will need to be explored in a separate chapter, according to the order of the operational sequence. For organic materials, it will be important to underline seasonal availability (which eventually could be extended through processes of conservation); for mineral materials, it will be necessary to discuss the geographical spread of their availability.

For complex operational sequences, there may be multiple chapters devoted to primary materials: at the beginning of the description of every secondary operational sequence, a description of the ‘secondary’ raw materials should be added. For instance, in the volume devoted to textiles, the materials that make dyeing possible will feature at the start of the chapters devoted to dyeing, while the initial chapter of the volume will focus exclusively on the vegetal and animal fibres.

As the primary materials have already been discussed, the following chapters will focus on defining the forms of energy and tools used and the actions involved. As far as they are archaeologically visible, the results of these processes will also have to be described and defined, including by-products, waste, sketches, misfirings and finished products, whenever they relate to the definition of the individual steps of the production process. It will also be important to discuss the operations relating to maintenance, repair and reuse, where possible. In cases where such operations necessitate the use of a particular raw material, this briefly referred to in the paragraphs connected to the repair so that the technical procedure will be defined in all of its details. For instance, in the sub-chapter devoted to the repair of ceramic wares, a very short definition of lead should be given, as should be defined every step of this operation. Space for eventual forms of reuse will be reserved at the end of the description of the operational sequence.

As the operational sequence remains, by definition, an interpretative description of an observed procedure,[2] its limits and degree of precision remain subjective and conditional, particularly concerning the state of research at the present time. Moreover, as ancient techniques can only be observed indirectly, the dictionary will principally be based on the material traces from which they can be reconstructed. However, other sources from the ancient world (literary and iconographical) will not be excluded in describing the operational sequence. Indeed, in certain cases, only textual evidence or iconography allows us to understand the details of a certain technique. For instance, the use of urine by Roman fullers is only known through texts. In general, commentary on the sources will be indicated in notes rather than in the body of the text.

In contrast with traditional historiographic argument,[3] ancient technology developed considerably during the almost thirteen centuries covered by the dictionary. To allow for this, the dictionary will consider ‘variants’, distinguishing those that are alternatives from those that are facultative. Alternative variants are stages of the production process that are indispensable but were executed in different ways from time to time. For instance, in the production of bread, kneading is essential, and could be done by hand, possibly in a chest-like tub, or by means of a mechanical kneading machine.  Hand-kneading and mechanical kneading are two alternative variants of kneading. Facultative variants are stages of the production process that were not necessarily essential or even performed. Their presence in the operational sequence depends on several criteria such as chronology, geography, quality, etc. All known variants will have to be covered, giving details of their character.

One of the challenges for the printed version of the dictionary will be ensuring a clear and linear presentation of procedures that are known in several alternative variants. Therefore, the volumes will follow a standard arrangement beginning with a theoretical and full operational sequence. Optional variants will be presented as part of the operational sequence even if their diffusion was limited but can be found at the place where they were first performed.  Thus, the first fermentation of the dough (Fr: ‘pointage’) will therefore logically find its place after kneading. Alternative variants will be presented in the chronological order in which they appeared. For example, the various types of flour mills will be presented in the following order: back-and-forth mill, Olynthus mill, muscle-rotated mill (in its various forms), hydraulic mill.

As a rule, the necessities imposed by the operational sequence will determine the presence or absence of a definition, even if this means that definitions sometimes need to be repeated in two volumes; within the same volume, an internal reference will prevent repetition.

[1] P. Lemonnier, Introduction, in P. Lemonnier (dir.), Technological choices: transformation in material cultures since the Neolithic, London – New York, 1993, p. 1‑35, part. p. 4.

[2] F. Sigaut, Technology, in T. Ingold (dir.), Companion encyclopedia of anthropology: humanity, culture and social life, London – New York, 1994 (Routledge Reference), p. 420‑459, part. p. 424-433.

[3] K. Greene, Technological innovation and economic progress in the ancient world: M. I. Finley re-considered, Economic History Review, 53, 1, 2000, p. 29‑59, contra M. I. Finley, Technical innovation and economic progress in the ancient world, Economic History Review, 18, 1, 1965, p. 29‑45.

Dictionnaire des techniques dans l'Antiquité | Dictionary of Techniques in Antiquity

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