Item Details

Thinking Beyond Imitation: Mixed-style Pottery in Ancient Western Sicily

Issue: Vol 31 No. 2 (2018)

Journal: Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology

Subject Areas: Ancient History Archaeology

DOI: 10.1558/jma.38082


This study explores the manufacture, use, and archaeological classification of ceramic commensal vessels from western Sicily dating from the late Iron Age and Archaic periods (approximately 900-600 BC), addressing the stylistic transformation of pottery manufactured by indigenous Sicilians following social contact, interaction, and entanglement with foreigners. Potters blended various styles of form and decoration to manufacture ceramic vessels which continue to challenge theoretical frameworks that attempt to classify and interpret them. Previous studies have utilized models of material imitation and emulation, yet have seldom explored the social significance of their production and use. More recent studies break from these predecessors, applying post-colonial perspectives to evaluate critically and contextualize these products of social entanglement. Unfortunately, many of these interpretations fail to distinguish between material and behavioral classifications, inadequately employing theories of social behavior to characterize material culture. Here, the distinction between material and behavioral classification is emphasized, differentiating between physical styles and the social behaviors associated with the production, use, and discard of objects. The concept of mixed-style artifacts is presented as an alternative to previous classificatory models, distinguishing and parsing between material and behavioral classifications to contextualize and understand these artifacts. Using this approach, mixed-style Sicilian pottery can be classified more objectively, divorcing such classifications from subjective biases. Consequently, such pottery appears to be a product of local potters who, operating as communities of practice, incorporated elements of foreign style alongside indigenous ones, creating a material manifestation of the social middle ground. In this way, the mixedstyle concept varies from strict imitation as it more accurately accounts for the selective incorporation of particular styles to synthesize something new, albeit familiar.

Author: William M. Balco

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