Objectives & Scope

Despite several recent publications that discuss various forms of craft production, both at a national and European level, one major problem persists; it is often impossible for researchers to agree on common terms to qualify their subject of study. Despite some isolated exceptions, there is no tool to assist exchange between researchers, from different linguistic backgrounds, studying aspects of craft production in antiquity.

The general aim of this dictionary is, therefore, to offer a tool that makes it possible to give a straightforward and standardised description of the various techniques and procedures associated with craft production. It will principally base itself on the archaeological record. Starting from our current understanding of material culture and illustrated on this basis, the dictionary will facilitate the interpretation of material traces at the moment of their discovery.

The dictionary will follow the broad outline of the chaîne opératoire (operational sequence), so that it will be possible to follow the progress of raw material from its extraction to its transformation into a half-finished or finished product. It will follow the principle proposed by R. Cresswell where: “An operational sequence is a series of operations that transform raw material into a product, the latter being subject to consumption or being a tool”.[1] For instance, apart from the issues specifically related to the growing of cereals, which will be treated in a separate volume (see below), the operational sequence of turning cereals into an edible product would come down to three successive phases: preparatory treatments (milling, roasting, etc.), mixing of ingredients, and cooking. Each of these main phases can subsequently be subdivided into several stages, which can include variants and innovations that will be presented following the technological order and the chronology of their introduction. The extent to which the exploration of the degrés du fait (distinctive characteristics of a culture)[2] will be limited and vary according to the nature of each type of production. The products produced will be excluded, except when they are themselves part of the operational sequence, such as a tool or a semi-finished product, or when their description makes it possible to reconstruct tools or actions of which the material traces otherwise remain invisible.

From a chronological point of view, the dictionary will take into consideration techniques from the sixth century BCE onwards, when all regions and peoples covered by the dictionary had fully entered the Iron Age; thus including those that had not only mastered iron metallurgy but also had developed a widespread use of iron that was not restricted to the elite.

Conversely, the chronological limits will be flexible in that they will depend on the time at which radical changes took place in the operational sequence. Late antiquity will be included, and the discussion could extend into the early middle ages, up until the moment where the gradual disappearance of commercial networks, notably those related to the supply of raw materials, reached a point where it was no longer possible to maintain the practices inherited from the Greco-Roman world and so new techniques became necessary. The chronological period covered will therefore extend as late as the seventh century CE.

The central area in this project will be the Mediterranean basin, extended northwards to central Europe. It will be necessary in certain instances to move outside this area particularly to be able to trace back the transfers of technology that took place in the Middle East and Asia. Commercial interactions will be excluded, unless they were relevant to technical variations concerning core themes. In this way, it will be possible to define the nature of the technological base in use in the Mediterranean region over a period slightly longer than a Millennium.

[1] « Une chaîne opératoire est une série d’opérations qui transforment une matière première en un produit, que celui-ci soit objet de consommation ou outil », R. Cresswell, Techniques et culture : les bases d’un programme de travail, Techniques & Culture, 54‑55, 2010 [1976], p. 23‑45, part. p. 26 [available online].

[2] A. Leroi-Gourhan, Évolution et techniques. 1. L’homme et la matière, 2e éd., Paris, 1971 (Sciences d’aujourd’hui), p. 27‑35.

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

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