Quantifying change: an evolutionary approach to interpret the amphorae production in the Roman Empire

Maria Coto-Sarmiento, Xavier Rubio-Campillo, José Remesal


The aim of this study is to explore the dynamics of change in amphoric production within the Roman Empire. In particular, an evolutionary framework is applied to understand the mechanisms of changes in olive oil amphorae [1].

This analysis can be developed by the fact that we detect differences in the amphorae production through time that allow us to quantify the rates of change. One of the main challenges of this approach is the high level of uncertainty associated to the archaeological chronologies. In addition, this problem is combined with the lack of a formal framework to apply on the conventional techniques for the analysis of the amphorae dataset.

In order to achieve this goal the study uses a quantitative framework based on cultural evolution theory. It provides a set of methods that can be used to account these changes in the production of olive oil amphorae. In this context, it will be presented a research where this methodology has been used to show its capacity to detect the culture trajectories. In particular, our case study has been focused to understand the dynamics of change of olive oil amphora production found in Baetica (currently Andalusia) during the Roman Empire (1st-3rd century AD). Specifically phylogenetic approach has been applied to quantify the morphological distance between pottery assemblages in order to identify discontinuities in archaeological and historical sequences. The phylogenetic tree created with this method will then be used to explore rates of change detected in the amphorae. In particular, we want to identify if these changes were produced by cultural reasons as it may be economical, political and social changes.

The analysis explores how the framework provided by evolutionary archaeology can provide a useful base for understanding change in production processes using material culture. Finally, the results suggest that different factors can influence rate of change and thus different speeds can be identified with distinguishable patterns of social behaviour.

Cultural evolution, Roman Empire, amphorae

[1] Mesoudi, A. (2015) Cultural Evolution: A review of Theory, Finding and Controversies, Evolutionary biology

Abstract presented in session type: paper