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SUBMISSION DATE: 26/10/2017// ACCEPTANCE DATE: 13/12/2017

// PUBLICATION DATE: 12/01/2018 (pp. 31-51)

KEYWORDS: Symmetrical Archaeology, Epistemology of archaeology, Late-Punic

amphorae, Cross-cultural interactions, Sociology of the artifacts, Actor Network

ABSTRACT: The development of the Symmetrical Archaeology has recently offered

new insights regarding the study of artifacts, not only in archaeology but also in
others fields of the social sciences. However, although this theoretical perspective
has provided a relevant framework for (re)connecting “humans and things”, some
question have been raised regarding the modalities of such relations. This
contribution aims to offer some answers to these issues, by analyzing the production
and diffusion of the Late-Punic amphorae – a group of specific ancient containers
from the Late Republican era (2nd c. – 1st c. BC) –from an interdisciplinary
perspective. The confrontation of these empirical data with a wide conceptual
framework leads us to propose a more detailed definition with respect to how and
why humans and artifacts are interconnected, as it outlines the interest of the
symmetric approach in performing a more common archaeological interpretation.

1. Introduction “Processual Archaeology” and the

“Po st-p r o cessua l A r ch a eo l o -
For a long time, things —in the sense gy” (Webmoor 2007), proposed to
given to this term by I. Hodder reevaluate the place of things in the
(Hodder 2012, 7)— have been archaeological analysis and in the
neglected by the social sciences (Olsen p r a c t i c e o f t h e a r ch a e o l o g i s t s.
2007. 579-582). However, this relative Nevertheless, the validity of the
indifference have been compensated analytical frameworks suggested by
during the 1980s (Appadurai 1986), these currents were widely questioned
thanks to the intellectual movement that between the end of 1980s and the early
we name today the “material turn”. 1990s (Miller 1987, 110-112; Webmoor
Archaeology has not been excluded by 2007, 297-299). Conscious of the
this revival of interest on things. Several excesses of the previous approaches,
theoretical currents, in particular the



which were presented as “fetishist” archaeologist to follow these relations,

perspectives, and a lack of interest for even though their study is about the
the related social role of the objects, heart of its ontology (17). Even if the
archaeologists have tried to instigate a Symmetrical Archaeology presents
more balanced approach (González many interests, these critics and
Ruibal 2007, 283-285). The observations set fundamental questions
“Symmetrical Archaeology” is one of regarding its application. To try to
the theoretical perspective that recently a n swer th eses o b j ecti o n s, my
arose from these developments (Shanks contribution will try to address them in
2007; Webmoor & Witmore 2008, a comprehensive manner. I wish to
59-65). discuss a definition regarding the
relations between humans and things, as
Like most of the other scientific I will present its possible application in
approaches engaged in the “material the study of archaeological material.
turn”, the Symmetrical Archaeology was
profoundly inspired by the works of M. Before trying to observe the relation
Heidegger, B. Latour and M. Serres, as between human beings and things, it
well as by the development of the Actor may be necessary to specify which type
Network Theory (ANT) (Olsen 2007). of thing, and thus relation, I will
However, it tried to adapt these analyze. Indeed, the semiotic granted to
perspectives to the specificities of its the notion of “things” in various
scientific field, the “symmetric” nature publications could have been a source
of this approach holding in the outlined of confusion in the definition of these
importance given to the mutual relations. For example, I. Hodder
influence of humans and things with presented the term “things” as more
respect to the archaeological contexts relevant than the notion of “object”,
(Shanks 2007, 593-594). The Symme- because of its slightest connotation
trical Archaeology invites, in fact, to (Hodder 2012, 3-4). Things actually
focus the analysis on the synchronic and influencing the course of the human
diachronic relations related to an existence turn out not to be only limited
archaeological site, both in the present to artifacts, as it is the case for the
and in the past. Nevertheless, despite weather and the landscape. The study
the interest of the researches linked to of I. Hodder and its distinction with the
this symmetrical approach (Hodder term object has the merit to integrate
2012; González Ruibal et al., 2011), “actors” whose connections with the
several critics recently arose regarding human existence may be
its epistemic value. underestimated among the social
sciences 1. Nonetheless, it may be more
One of the main criticism levelled relevant to use the term “artifact” when
against Symmetrical Archaeolog y considering the sole human productions
concerns the lack of definition it offers among this things.
on the relations between things and
humans (Van Oyen 2014, 16-17). Without denying the mutual influence
Indeed, only a few academic works have between an ecosystem or a river and
clearly specified how and why these humans, artifacts send back to a specific
interconnection are established. dimension of agencies with respect to a
Fur ther more, the Symmetrical river or a wild animal. Artifacts are
Archaeology was blamed for not indeed strictly produced by a human
offering a clear method allowing the being with regard to a strictly human

1 Links that are defined as Human-Things (HT and TH), Things-Things (TT) and Human-Human
(HH) type of relations (Hodder 2012, 89-96).



intention. Moreover, the relation the one of things, both in the

between an artifact and an individual is archaeological context and in the
bound to a sociocultural frame and to a entanglement with other things and
very distinct intentionality, whether individuals.
individual or collective. Such a relation
would not exist if there were no Many works have considered artifacts as
humans to produce or receive it. On the the sole results of technical activities
contrar y, if mankind where to realized according to the pragmatic and
disappear, snow will keep falling and the m a t e r i a l i s t i c o b j e c t ive s ( Jü r g e n
e r o s i o n w i l l ke e p s h a p i n g t h e Habermas 1973). It is true that the
landscape2. However, one of the main transformation of matter associated
issue that the Symmetrical Archaeology with them is often realized according to
tried to expose concerned the irrelevant a specific purpose (Leroi-Gourhan
distinction between subject and object, 1964). But to only define objects as the
with the myth of the initiative of an result of such a transformation turns
agency being strictly human (Webmoor out to be particularly simplistic. In fact,
& Witmore 2008, 57-59; Witmore 2007, it is not compulsory to transform the
307). To answer such an epistemological matter “to produce” an artifact. We can
problem, I would like to make a clear collect a shell by the sea and keep it as a
distinction here: if the production of an souvenir, for example. Although the
artifact is clearly the result of human mollusk at the origin of the shell did
intentionality, its action is nearly always not make it for the human hand which
independent from humans. In fact, if it collected it, the shell is going to be
is by being used that an artifact plays its associated with other trinkets on a shelf.
role in the course of the social If we are bound to consider this shell as
phenomena (Boissinot 2015, 107-110), an artifact, we can wonder what would
such action happened most of the time distinguish it from the others stayed on
away from its maker, both in time and the beach. More than the fact that it was
space. In turn, the action of an artifacts collected, it would rather be the human
should be analyzed as its own, humans intentionality, or even the function
having transferred their agencies in the granted to this shell - here picked up to
ar tifacts during the production serve as a material mark for the
processes. My goal in this contribution memory process - that would define the
then is to try to characterize more artifact.
exactly the forms of relations between
Although we can define artifacts as the
humans and artifacts, by defining the
result of a manufacture activity, the
latter as a specific category of “thing”,
latter does not correspond solely to a
in the sense given by I. Hodder3.
processing of matter. The production
Therefore, we have to define the
associated with an artifact often only
particular ontology of artifacts beyond

2 Human beings, landscape and bridges are without a doubt entangled, for example. The analysis of
the relations between these things and humans —those who “produced” the bridge, those who use it
and the landscape which led to the installation of the bridge while influencing its very existence— are
better studied from a symmetric perspective. However, this same example shows that there is
different kinds of relation between them, each one having to be observed in parallel with the other
but taking into account their specificities.

3To follow the perspective proposed by I. Hodder (2012, 107-108), we could envisage a distinction
between the different categories of “things” based on the intensity of the dependence and
dependencies —“intensity” with respect to their distinct relative temporalities— that they have
between each other.



consists in the allocation of a function spatiotemporal frame (Passeron 2006,

than in the modification of its 81-83). But it is the agency of artifacts
physicochemical composition4. Several themselves, beyond their action as
researchers have presented this idea human representatives, which I would
(Boissinot 2015, 106-107; Shanks & like to question here (Webmoor &
Tilley 1987, 79-86). Such a definition is Witmore 2008, 65-66). Such inquiry
essential for the epistemology of should take care of the fetishist trap
archaeology, as the action of this outlined by Miller (1987, 110-111), by
discipline involves an inescapable keeping in mind that an artifact needs
transformation of the function of the to be activated and is always more or
artifacts (Jones 2002, 17-23). The less directly linked to a human being.
previous examples illustrate the fact that Nevertheless, artifacts seem to have the
the relationship between shape, capacity to act independently of their
function and functioning in the makers and beyond direct interaction
definition of what is an artifact is b e t w e e n h u m a n s 5, w h i c h i s a
neither linear, nor unidirectional perspective I would like to analyze more
(Boissinot 2015, 108-109). It is the precisely. Finally, we have to base our
allocation of a function that would be a study on a specific archaeological
deciding fact for the characterization of material, but one which various
a material element as an artifact. But relations with humans and things is well
this observation leads to wonder about known, as our aim is to propose a
the conditions of this allocation, as well definition valid in archaeology and in
as about the logics that are associated to other social sciences.
it. To get back to the issues presented
before, how and why are artifacts The diachronic definition I would like
entangled with humans, both in the past to envisage with respect to the Human-
and in the present? To try to answer Thing/artifact relations could only be
these questions is not without interest. based on the unity of Mankind, from a
However, to define the diachronic social methodological point of view (Morin &
ontology of the artifacts confronts us Piatelli-Palmarini 1983). However, to
with clear constraints: how can we be connect exclusively this contribution
sure that individuals who have with this prospect would oblige us to
disappeared would answer to the same question a plurality of objects, such an
social logics as today? Conversely, can analysis exceeding by far the frame of
we define diachronic sociological this ar ticle. To cope with this
mechanisms from archaeological data? constraints and previous issues we
Is it relevant to deduce the existence of evoked, I propose to base my
these mechanisms from the contribution on a specific group of
documentation of another space/time? ancient containers: the Late-Punic
amphorae. T hese archaeological
Such possibility have been distinctively artifacts offer many advantages, one of
refuted by sociologists, and the actual them being that there function and the
intellectual framework invites to engage various stages of their “social life” is
my comments in a very specific well known. Moreover, it turns out that

4 Which is everything but simple, as this capacity to envisage a transformation of the world that
surrounds us according to our mental categories —to realize an abstraction— represent one of the
main specificity of Mankind.

5 In this perspective, it may be interesting to enrich the three relational schema presented by I.
Hodder by adding things in the middle, as most of the Human-Human (HH) interactions are done
through things (Human-Thing-Human)



amphorae have been artifacts which 2. From the Amphora to the Late
function remained unchanged during Punic amphorae: generalities and
several millennia. Although their form particularities
had regularly evolved, we find material
elements made from clay, answering to T he amphora responded to an
the same function and the same eminently commercial function
operating chain, between the Bronze throughout history. This object was a
Age and the early modern times6. These container which first use concerned the
maritime packaging also knew a wide maritime transport of commodities.
geographical distribution during this Amphorae were regularly reused for
long existence, affecting almost all the others not economic offices, but they
continents. Although the Late-Punic do not interest us here. In spite of a use
containers were a specific group within fundamentally pragmatic in connection
this category of objects, the data which with economic considerations, these
we are going to examine send back to objects present a wide diversity, whether
their functioning as amphorae. Thus I it is in their morphologies or in the
can realize relevant observations on the economic practices which were
social role of artifacts within the associated with them. The Late-Punic
framework of a particularly wide amphorae illustrate this disparity.
“circumstantiation”, by basing my study
on the amphorae. The documentation
which I am going to evoke stays 2.1. Some generalities regarding the
however limited to the historical amphora
periods, which involves that it is not for
the moment congruent to deduce my During the Antiquity, the amphora was
comments for previous eras7. Finally, it a single-use maritime packaging. This
is also necessary to present in detail the situation regarding its commercial
empirical data at the foundation of my function was what distinguished this
reflection to answer completely the object from the other ancient storage
prerequisites of a scientific analysis, ceramic. These maritime containers
before we dive into more conceptual participated in the transport of goods
comments. in the course of a crossing between a
zone of production and consumption
areas. Because of its low cost of
production and the condition of
ancient sea traffic, it was not profitable
to bring back amphorae to their place
of production. Thus, these containers
were generally broken and emptied of
their contents when the ship had arrived
at destination 8.

6 The Spanish traders of the 16th and 17th c. AD used amphorae to transport certain liquid products
towards the American colonies, for example.

7 This chronological limitation seems quite unsatisfactory but it is imposed on me by the

epistemological constraints of the social science analysis. It calls up to future discussions and

8 A fact that did not forbid the re-use of certain amphorae, on the spot and for the same function or
not (Peña 2007). Nevertheless, it seems to have been a rather marginal situation, empirical data having
given evidence of a more common unique use.



As we can see, the use of these artifacts to exogenous ones. We know, for
was influenced by rational conceptions example that the Ancients did not
and economic mechanisms, like the hesitate to produce imitations of
search for profitability and the foreign forms (Sáez Romero & Díaz
recognition of specific markets, as it Rodríguez 2007), probably because they
was also observed for other ancient wer e b etter r eco g n i z ed by th e
commodities (Morel 2008). The “consumers” of certain products, or
operating chain associated with the that they were better suited to the
manufacture of amphorae were also transport of a given contents.
bound to these economic logics. The
raw material of an amphora was a As the amphorae had an essentially
preparation (clay and grease additives) pragmatic function, they possessed a
which was wheeled, before being dried low symbolic value their selves (Bazin &
then fired in a kiln (Cuomo Di Caprio Bensa 1994), as their systematic
2007). Since the Iron Age, even before r e j e c t i o n a n d mu l t i p l e r e - u s e s
then, these various operations were demonstrate. It was their contents that
realized according to a highly organized may had some symbolic or prestigious
economic planning, in connection with value. Thus, the merchants and
mass production patterns. As a consumers of that time did not hesitate
commercial packaging, the amphorae to change the form of an amphora if it
was an ideal support for numerous could help to increase their sells or
economic marks and information, like expand their trade routes. Other factors
fiscal marks. Some information, like the related to the sociocultural conditions,
origin and the nature of the contents, whether they were demographic or
which were mostly foodstuff, were technical, also contributed to the
however registered in their shape. appearance of new form of amphorae.
The observation of these chronological
A very large number of forms were and cultural variations allowed to isolate
associated with amphorae, each one “typo-morphological” evolutionary
being as much the result of singular lines, which associate a singular shape
manufacture processes as the from a specific period to a particular
expression of culturally specific esthetic designation. These evolutions have been
values. In the end, each of these forms gathered within historically coherent
cor responded to a ver y precise typological groups. The various types of
chronological and geographical frame. the Late-Punic amphorae represent one
We may consider these morphological of these groups.
differences as the expression of various
factors. First of all, there was a
privileged – but not exclusive – link
2.2. The Late Punic amphorae as a
between a shape of an amphora and a
specific categor y of ancient
kind of content (wine, oil, fish
maritime container
products, etc.). Besides, each of the
various cultural areas of the ancient For now, the Late-Punic containers are
Mediterranean used more or less mainly defined as artifacts made in the
singular forms of amphorae to show area related to the “Circle of the Strait”,
their specificity9. Finally, these factors after the conquest of the Strait of
of differentiation went through Gibraltar by Rome (Luaces 2017, 81-90;
diachronic evolution, as much in Ramón Torres 2008, 71-77). The
reaction to endogenous phenomena as paradigm of the Circle of the Strait

9 Cultural areas which sometimes amounted to the territory of a unique one city-state.



defines a geohistorical sector (Bernal (Ferrer Abelda 2011, 202-205; López

Casasola 2016; Callegarin 2016; Castro 2006, 43-51) 10. It is from these
Ta r r a d e l l 1 9 6 0 ) . T h i s c o n c e p t rich Iberian cities and their neighboring
distinguishes a cultural area that territories that Carthage began its
combined both shores of this Strait, second conflict against Rome (218-202
associating several city-states related to BC). The cities of the Circle of the
the Phoenician colonization of the Strait were at first associated with
beginning of the Iron Age. Among Carthage during this confrontation. But
them, we should quote the cities of this war quickly seemed to have struck a
Gadir (Cadiz, Spain), Malaka (Málaga, blow on the interests of some of these
Spain), Tingi (Tangier, Morocco), Lixus cities of the Circle of the Strait. When
(Larache, Morocco) and Tamuda the Roman legions began to take the
(Tetouan, Morocco) (fig. 1). These cities advantage, they tried to switch sides. It
developed an economy based on the was in particular the case for the ancient
trade of fisheries products, which were Cadiz, a community that signed a treaty
particularly famed commodities (salted with Rome in 206 BC —a foedus— that
fish and dye products), from the 6th c. implied some kind of subjugation by
BC. Since the Iron Age, these products Rome.
were exported in amphorae that
presented morphologies specific to this The geopolitical and economic situation
area of the Strait of Gibraltar of Gadir at the beginning of the roman
time makes this city particularly
After its defeat during the first Punic interesting to study. Well before the
War (264-241 BC), Carthage began to arrival of the Roman, Gadir had a high
expand toward the South of Iberia. To level of economic organization and
help in its expansion, the Punic exported its goods, thus its amphorae,
metropolis was joined by the to Corinth and Athens (Sáez Romero,
Phoenician city-states of this region, 2008a). But History tends to consider
like Gadir and Malaka, which that its passage under Roman control
maintained a relative political autonomy would have induced a crisis, or at least a

Fig. 1: map of the situation of the Circle of the Strait region, with the localization of the principal
cities mentioned (personal illustration).

10However, as it was initially because of their relation with Carthage which inhabitants were called
Punic that these cities were studied, their various material productions were traditionally associated
with the “Punic” term.



break, in the economic activity and the various data derived from their feature
commercial modalities. In fact, the invite to interpret them as the result of
study of the amphoric production of progressive transformations that have
this city reports a more complex taken place in the long term, in
situation. Several traditional shapes of opposition to what we consider
amphorae from this city continued to generally as a consequence of the
be manufactured more than a century Roman conquest. To document these
after its integration into the Roman transformations and being able to
world (Luaces 2017, 96-147; Sáez understand them, I tried to observe the
Romero 2008b). In the meantime, these change in their production
Punic forms were also marked by environments. This study showed that
perceptible morphological evolutions, the first Late-Punic containers appeared
associated with progressive transforma- in connection with technical tools
tions of their production environments. stemming from Italy, these objects
Both phenomena unfold according to being completely absent in the Gaditan
the Roman tradition, which can be seen amphoric production before the Roman
in various features of the Late-Punic conquest (Sáez Romero et al. 2016,
amphorae: truly Roman types (Dressel 37-49). These tools (annular supports
1) have been adapted and produced in for firing, removable hob and new
number by Gadir, at the same time as structures of kiln) were not present in
new “Punic” morphologies appeared the Circle of the Strait before the
and evolved (T- (fig. 2). Roman era (Blanco Jiménez 1991; Sáez
Romero 2010, 901-917). Nevertheless,
The Late-Punic containers present the activity of the ceramic workshops
numerous ambiguities: most of them associated with these tools was
respond to a “Punic” form but they essentially realized by local craftsmen,
were all produced during the Roman even during the Roman time. This fact
period; their production pattern shows is attested by the wide Punic imprint
a mix of Punic and Roman tradition; observed in the contexts related to
they offer epigraphic inscriptions both them.
in Latin and in neo-Punic language. The

Fig. 2: pictures of the various forms of amphorae assembled within the Late Punic group (A: type
T-; B: type T-; C: type T-; D: type T-; E: type Dressel 1). Each shape
represents a specific type within the typo-morphological classification (personal illustration). For
more details, see Luaces, 2017: 91-148.



The analysis of these Roman technical sociocultural transformation among the

tools invites to consider that they were Gaditan population.
able to influence the quality and
volumes of the Gaditan amphoric Besides the examination of their
production. This factor could be an contexts of production, I realized a
explanation for their adoption by study of the means of transportation
populations which were completely and the distribution of these Late-Punic
foreign to the Roman culture at that amphorae. The data I obtained testified
time. But in the other hand, these the progressive commercial distribution
technical changes were also of these containers, at first limited to
accompanied by a transformation of the traditional markets of the Circle of
the production pattern and the the Strait (Galicia, Portugal and western
economic organization11. All these Languedoc), then spread to further
transformations occurred initially in territories controlled by Rome. To be
workshops where the activity was more precise, this dissemination seems
realized by Punic individuals, which to have been extended along the Roman
leads to envisage the implication of the military and political expansion, both in
first Roman technical tools in deeper Iberia and in Gaul. Thus the
transformations of the practices of distribution of the Late-Punic
production. packaging seems to have been
correlated with the Roman expansion, a
In fact, the more the production phenomenon that would have echoed
Apparatus was “Romanized”, the more the technical and economic
the Gaditan ceramic repertories, transformations evoked for the Gaditan
whether the amphorae or the dishes, production pattern (Luaces 2017,
were transformed toward Roman forms 633-668).
(García Vargas 1996). The examination
of the fiscal marks (amphoric stamps) The archaeological data that we have
on the Late-Punic containers allows to presented invite to consider a link
realize a similar report, as from an initial between the transformations of the
anepigraphic type of stamps, used since morphologic features of the amphorae,
the 3rd c. BC (marks indicating a likely the pattern of production and the
corporate production), the development evolutions of the trade networks related
of the Late-Punic containers marked to these goods. It is more especially the
the appearance of an epigraphic connection between the economic
stamping (marks appointing probably to changes and the cultural
a natural person) in neo-Punic, at about transformations that calls out when
the years 125/100 BC. This stamping studying the Late-Punic amphorae. The
evolved into a writing in Latin around passage from an anepigraphic stamping
the same time, although most of the to an epigraphic one, at first written
registered names were still being of neo-Punic then in Latin, for example,
“Punic” tradition (García Vargas 1998, reveals much more than a simple
159-162). What is interesting here is economic change. The production
that this modification of stamping activities are a meeting point for several
seemed to occur after the appearance significant social forces, in particular
of the Late-Punic amphorae, as if it was from the point of view of the social
the result of a second stage of some stratification and of the distribution of

11 This economic organization answered initially to a singular model related with a more “Punic”
pattern, established around specialized areas, that was still the major economic model at the beginning
of the Roman time (approximately 200/175 BC). However, this model was completely “Romanized”
around the years 75/50 BC.



the various forms of “capital”, in the 3. From sociology and anthropology

sense granted by Bourdieu to this to Cross-cultural psychology, a
notion (cultural capital, economic multidisciplinary framework for a
capital and social capital) (Bourdieu better definition of the Human-
2015, 505-528; Bourdieu 2011). Studies Artifacts relations?
in anthropo-logy allowed to identify a
certain inertia in front of the technical The historic and archaeological
changes when they imply a significant documentation testified the arrival of
transformation of the social order, individuals from the Roman Italy after
whatever is their contribution to the the conquest of Southern Iberia by
increase of economic and cultural Rome (Padilla Monge 2010). But these
resources (Onrubia-Pintado 1995, individuals belonged mostly to the
178-179). Thus the magnitude of the economic and political elite of the
transformations observed with respect Eternal City. On the other hand, the
to the Late-Punic packaging hails out craftsmen of the first Gaditan
even more. workshops marked by the appearance
of Roman technical objects were surely
Behind the changes apparently strictly natives from this Punic city. Therefore,
economic of the amphoric production the Punic potters of Gadir have decided
of Gadir, but also of various cities of themselves to integrate technical tools
the Circle of the Strait, it is a profound associated with the Roman production
sociocultural transformation which techniques 12. Such a report leads to
rather seems to have taken place consider that relatively simple objects,
(Luaces 2015,  245-265; Luaces 2017, as some ceramic supports for baking
676-696). We are led to wonder about the amphorae, were able to participate
the link between these transformations in the realization of deeper changes
and the Late-Punic amphorae: were within the sociocultural environment.
they only passive, by being the toy of To consider such a correlation brings
social phenomena that overstepped inevitably to new questioning with
them widely? I don't think so, because respect to the way in which artifacts
the transformations we exposed seem could have exerted themselves as
to have been connected to the dynamic agencies in the course of these
and multi-scalar interactions related to phenomena.
these containers (the production unit,
the city, the Strait of Gibraltar area and Scholars engaged in the Symmetrical
the Mediterranean Basin). But how do Archaeology have raised these questions
we explain these prog ressive at several occasions, taking into account
transformations in the sociocultural the prior insights of other social
structures, as they exceeded by far the sciences. Even if the definition of the
simple modification of the economic artifacts still seem unanswered, these
environment? In which measure the questions have not been neglected
Late-Punic amphorae were involved in (González Ruibal 2007; Hodder 2012;
these changes? Trying to answer these Webmoor & Witmore 2008). However,
questions required to consider the I wish to focus here on trying to
sociocultural role and contribution of describe how material elements obtain
the artifacts through the perspectives of the capacity to influence human’s daily
various social sciences. life and how we could define this
agency. Most of all, I would like to
engage the discussion on the analytical

12It is necessary to remind here that the adoption of a new technique is not a harmless fact, and that
this action resounds with a modification of certain culturally established designs.



framework that the symmetric approach Nevertheless, once it is produced, the

authorizes. artifact seems to enter a new stage of its
social life, independent from humans.
As mentioned in the introduction, an The action then exerts on other things
important distinction should be made or on humans should be read as its
regarding the “social life” of the own. If we wish to define and analyze
artifacts and their relations with how and why artifacts are related with
Humans. Prior works have proposed to humans and other things, we should
consider the influence of multiple then take into consideration these
temporalities in the artifact’s relation various stages of their social lives.
with humans (Hodder 2012, 84-85).
The Human-Things (HT) and Things-
Things (TT) relations proposed by I.
Hodder, for example, offer an 3.1 Artifacts as reflection: the
interesting insights on how artifacts production as a process linking
articulates with our daily lives with artifacts to human context and
respect to their own “life” cycle. Such intentionality
perspective invites us to observe the
Artifacts must be “activated” to play
temporalities imposed by the natural
their role of mediators: it is by being
characteristics of artifacts, like “the time
used than a material element has agency
it takes for metal to heat and be
(Boissinot 2015, 108; Sigaut 1991). The
hammered” (84). However, these
use of an artifact can be the result of a
temporalities only concern the intrinsic
chain of things, but a human agent is
changes occurring to an artifact. The
always at first instance the one who
extrinsic transformation related to its
operates it. However, the advantage of
social entanglement with human life is
an artifact is in fact that they exist apart
being left aside. In fact, if we apply the
from human, as they exert influence or
same idea of multiple and intertwined
agency despite our absence. Such idea
temporalities with respect to the
brings us to ask when this agency is
relations between material elements and
given to a material element. As we
humans, we could observe that artifacts
discussed in the previous chapter, the
have different social life cycles.
fact that the attribution of a function
This perspective has already been produces an artifact invite us to
discussed elsewhere, as the mere consider that it is during this step that a
transformation of a jar into an material element receives agency from
archaeological artifacts implies an humans. It is then directly linked to the
extrinsic change of its function and human intentionality. But how does this
social nature (Boissinot 2015, 110-111; agency is exerted by an artifact and how
Shanks & Tilley 1987, 88-95). The latter is it given to it?
indeed changes throughout time, as
The work of P. Bourdieu offers some
artifacts are in use or in fashion, then
answers to these questions (Bourdieu
discarded, and sometimes trendy again,
2015). In a definition of the central
or re-use with respect to a distinct
notion of “habitus”, P. Bourdieu
function. Therefore, it seems that
presents this concept as an incorporated
artifacts pass through distinct
tendency, both in the mind and in the
temporalities in the course of their social
body, of the good use of an “artifact or
life. The first stage of it seems to be
a good behavior”, according to the
related to the production processes
modalities put forward by a human
linked to the (re)attribution of a
collective (232-233). In this perspective,
function. This step is directly connected
each human group would be brought to
t o t h e h u m a n i n t e n t i o n a l i t y.



confront the realities that surround it in artifact —here a clothing accessory— is

a specific way, in promoting specific clearly the support of the “habitus”.
behaviors and sensitive perceptions. Conversely, to be able to show the
This “promotion” of behaviors could possession of this “habitus”, thanks to
be analyzed as a way to contribute to a well realized knot of tie, learned
the persistence of a collective by through a specific socialization
establishing specificities distinguishing it (Darmon 2010, 45-90; Vinsonneau,
from other groups (Vinsonneau  2000, 2000, 41-53), also becomes a means to
73-94) 13 . T herefore, this social integrate this group.
promotion takes place inevitably with
respect to the conditions and It is by the “habitus” that artifacts exert
circumstances of the activity of the their agencies. But how do they obtain
group (its context)14. this capacity? We should outline that the
features of an artifact —its shape or its
All the behavior, the perceptions and mechanical resistance— are the results
artifacts promoted by a human of the collective promotion of certain
collective are incorporated at the specific perceptions and patterns
individual level via the “habitus”15. An (Appadurai 1986, 6-7). In this case, the
aspect that is essential here is that course of the production activities
artifacts are the supports of the implies that artifacts tend to become the
deployment of the “habitus”. Relations depositories of promoted perceptions
between humans are presented by P. and sensitivities. The technical gesture,
Bourdieu as phenomena which “are for example, is at first the result of a
established in things, in objects —it is training and of some promoted
the case of the book— or in behaviors that are culturally established
mechanisms that are not inevitably (Bril 2002, 115-125). On the scale of
visible things”  (personal translation the domestic space, the course of the
from Bourdieu 2015, 233). To wear a production activities of the artifacts
garment correctly with respect to a engage evidently the application of the
specific human collective —to “habit” it perceptions and social patterns of the
well, as indicated by Bourdieu— agent (Gorgues 2013, 115-125; Picon &
requires to have the adequate habitus, Elhraiki 1995, 137-139). Even in the
whether it is by learning or by mimicry. case of a mass production, the
In these conditions, to wear a garment manufacturing activities are realized
in an appropriate way becomes the with respect with the social patterns of
mark of the integration to the social a human collective. Therefore, the
group related with it; it also represents production of an artifact, whether by
the practical process to integrate this the transformation of matter or the
human collective. In both cases, the

13 The link with the situational, elaborate and instrumented deployment of the identity and the
ethnicity, or rather of different kind of identifications, do not seem trifling to me (Boissinot 2011;
Fernandez Götz 2008, 63-101)

14 When various people are founding a rock band, for example, they have to adapt the musical
repertoire that they are going to play according to the music sensitivity, the talents of the members of
the group and music trends of its time, and the musical material at hand. Whatever is the individual
and collective situation of the band, it is inevitably going to present specific behaviors and clothes, or
even to establish new ones if the band manages to stand out and become “fashionable”.

15We could maybe define the set formed by these diverse habitus as founding aspect of a “culture”, in
the archaeological and anthropological sense of the term. Nonetheless, it is a debate that is far
beyond the scope of this contribution.



allocation of a function, implies to forms of human association cannot

embed it with the promoted sensitive exist without “actors”, whether they
perception and behaviors of a human contribute to establish or to maintain
collective (Criado Boado 2012, the relations between the agents which
255-256). It is all the more the case for make them up. This notion of
the commodities, as to define an object “maintaining” is important, as it implies
as such involves the assignment of a the contribution of mechanisms and
value, an action eminently related to the social forces at every stage of the
specific social patterns of a human association. In these conditions, a
collective (Kopytoff 1986, 72-77). community would be the result of the
action of several “mediators”, which are
As material elements reflect the context the relays that contribute to transfer the
in which they are made, embedded social link both in time and space,
through the production processes, I according to their own features (Latour
propose to define them as having a 2 0 0 5 , 3 7 - 4 5 ) . T h i s p e r s p e c t ive
“reflection” nature. Such characteristic connecting various actors have been the
would be strictly related to the human basis for the Actor Network Theory.
intentionality during this stage. This
perspective invite to consider the The specificity of the definition of
production activities as a “materiali- these relays as mediator holds in the
zation” of culturally specific practices fact that they do not have to be
and behaviors, both in its esthetics exclusively human and unique. This idea
features and its mechanical characte- led B. Latour to redefine the mediators
ristics. It is then through this of the social relations under the
production step that artifacts gain concept of “actant” (54-55). It is from
agency, as humans put their own this notion that he proposed to consider
capacity of action into material the role of artifacts and their agencies
elements. However, the nature of into the social phenomena. Material
artifacts change once they are produced, elements turn out to be excellent
as they are set apart from humans. It mediators indeed, as their physical
would be from this second step that features can participate to the transfer
they exert their own agency, one that I of the social information. Furthermore,
also wish to define. it is possible to easily produce a
multitude of them to face preservation
of the relations at the foundation of a
human association (70-82). Finally, as
3.2 Artifacts as actants: the “in use” artifacts have been given agency
step as the deployment stage of the through their production, they also
independent agencies of artifacts dispose of a capacity to act on behalf
Several works have permitted to define of humans and to become independent
the action of material elements in the actors. In fact, it is probably because
course of the social phenomena. they represent a materialization of the
Although he is not the first to have perceptions and behaviors promoted by
approached this theme, the studies of B. a group that artifacts serve as the relays
Latour have been presented as in conveying the social information
fundamental for the Symmetrical (Huguet 2017, 38-42). This idea is
Archaeology (Latour 1999, 2005). This illustrated by the fact that the “social
scholar considers human association death” of an artifact —defined as an
and collectives as a construction that “archaeologized” state by Pierre
tries to develop itself and persists to Bourdieu (2015, 233)— seems to be
reach its connecting objectives. All the



bound to the disappearance of the an exercise requires to know the

habitus connected to its use. perceptions and the mental conceptions
of these agents. But still, it is necessary
The concept of “actant” and the related to be able to reach these conceptions,
Actor Network theory have largely an exercise that turns out to be
influenced the instigation of the particularly difficult when the subjects
Symmetrical Archaeology. By defining quite simply disappears, as it is
artifacts as elements that participate in inevitably the case in archaeology. If the
the sociocultural dynamics, this concept archaeologist is able to analyze the
authorizes to study their relations with symbolic value of an artifact, he is able
the daily life of humans. However, the to have access to its agency as an
use of this concept in the case of “actant”.
ancient artifacts requires to satisfy
certain conditions that may have been The notion of symbolic value has
overlooked. To clearly appreciate the hardly been defined, but it could be
agency of a material element as an associated with the propensity, more or
“actant”, that is to say to analyze it less significantly raised, of an object to
during the stage in which its action is release the important information for
independent from humans, the scholar the demarcation and the preservation
has to know its “symbolic value”. of a human collective. In this particular
Indeed, an artifact needs to be case, the more the symbolic value of a
recognized and acknowledged to fulfill material element is strong —the more
its social role, as it reflects socially entangled it is?— the less it will be
promoted characteristics and is initially permeable to changing, the role of such
connected to human intentionality. This an object being exactly to contribute to
aspect may have been overlooked by B. the preservation of the founding
Latour, as he was observing artifacts conceptions of a collective, and thus to
which function were clear to him as a be more difficult to transform 17. To
sociologist. However, archaeologist are analyze an artifact with a high symbolic
confronted with a more complex value is not without interest when
situation, as the function of most of studying the transformations of a
the material elements we study is not sociocultural environment. However, if
clearly defined, if not completely it is a question of analyzing the course
hypothetic. As such, the first condition of these transformations, it could be
for an application of a symmetric preferable to favor one with a low
approach in archaeology is related to symbolic value. It is necessary to
the identification of the function of an underline here that the study of the
object from the emic perspective of Late-Punic containers answers favorably
those who made it (Dundes 1962), that to all these conditions: they are artifacts
is to say from the mental categories of with a well-known function, the mental
the people that made and used it 16. Such conceptions related to their manu-

16The distinction here is important, as the humans making an artifact and the one using them could
be respond to different sociocultural environments. However, such situation implies necessarily
another production, with the attribution of a new function related to the context of those using it.
Once again, the case of the archaeological artifact is the best illustration of this.

17 An artifact offering a representation of one of the founding myths of a community bears

inevitably a very high symbolic value. Any modification of such an object will always be the source of
transactions within this community, while marking a central stage in its redefining. Marianne's
representations in France would be an excellent examples of this kind of object with a high symbolic



facture as maritime containers being role as mediators. It also gives an

also well defined, and they had a low explanation on when it unwinds, which
symbolic value. is while they are functioning with
respect to a specific “habitus”. An
Artifacts exert agency by being used, a analysis of the social life of an object
capacity that was at first embedded into should then take into account this dual
them through the human intentionality. nature, and also the objectivized stage
They become only indirectly, and even —symbolic status— when it is
quite remotely, dependent of humans accessible. This definition of the artifact
after the production step: artifacts are as is deeply connected to the perspective
much the “reflection” of a social offered by the Symmetrical Archaeo-
context as they are its “actants”, both logy. Therefore, trying to and analyze
characteristic being interlaced in the archaeological objects through it could
nature of these things. This dual be a good illustration of what the
capacity is at least the aspect that is symmetric approach could offer to
accessible to an archaeologist. But we archaeology, but also to other social
should also consider the symbolic sciences. I would like now to consider
nature of the artifacts, as it may be this idea by analyzing of the Late-Punic
thanks to the objectivization of the amphorae through this perspective.
reflected social information that they
could play their role as “actant” 18. We
ought to link the reflection/actant nature
of artifacts with the proposition of T. 4. The Late-Punic amphorae as
Huguet regarding the digital objects as reflection/actant: an example of the
symbols (Huguet 2017, 73-77): it is application of the symmetric
because an object materializes a approach to the study of
“habitus” that it is the mediator of the archaeological artifacts?
social action; it would conversely be
As it was mentioned previously, the
difficult for a human collective to carry
Late-Punic amphorae seem as much to
out its goals in the absence of the
have been the result of the economic
“actants” participating to the social
and sociocultural changes of Circle of
forces, which would also not be possible
the Strait at the beginning of the roman
if the “habitus” it reflects had not been
time, as key contributors —or rather
mediators— to these changes. The
Although they are not at their initiative, notion of “reflection/actant” may allow
the objects influence the course of the to define better the relations between
social phenomena in a decisive way, these artifacts and the related social
both from their intrinsic and extrinsic phenomena.
characteristics. But even if humans are
Well before the arrival of the Roman in
always those who initiate the conveying
the region of the Strait of Gibraltar, the
of social forces through the artifacts,
ancient Cadiz was a major center for the
they then exert this force independently,
production and trade of fisheries
and can even transfer it to another
p r o d u c t s. T h e m a nu f a c t u r e o f
thing, being an artifact or not. This
amphorae occupied an important place
“reflection/actant” nature could be a
in these activities, as they were maritime
first explanation regarding why and how
packaging of these commodities. The
this kind of things are fulfilling their

18 I make a clear reference here to the study of Thibault Huguet in this same volume. As an
archaeologist, I do not have access to the interiorized step of the use of an artifact. But the
confrontation of our respective studies may be a key for understanding the social role of the artifacts.



city-state of Gadir had its own ceramic its specific perceptions and conceptions
repertory since the beginning of the to initially foreign individuals.
Classic period, in connection with an
economic organization and a It is in parallel to these first
production pattern adapted to its transformations that the Late-Punic
manufacture. The passage of this amphorae appeared. Recent researches
community under the Roman rule, at have outlined that these new amphorae
the end of the 3rd c. BC, did not initially had a correspondence with the Roman
cause a break in these economic activity. measurement system, which the
However, the political and military ceramics of Gadir did not possess
expansion of the Roman authority, as before. Therefore, we can see that other
much in the Iberian Peninsula as in artifacts have contributed to the
Gaul, seems to have led to various increased integration of the Roman
changes. culture, as the measurement standards
are mostly transferred through material
As an ally of the Roman Republic, the elements. The technical tools previously
ancient Cadiz was a major center for the mentioned were related to this system,
supplying of the Roman troops and as they had a form related to particular
agents, which could have caused an measurement. As “reflection/actant”,
increase of the demand and of the various artifacts had changed the
production volumes (Luaces 2017, promoted perception of space of the
665-675). The investment of Italian Punic population of the ancient Cadiz,
agents in southern Iberia should be which in turn has changed the form of
related to this political and military the amphorae. The chronological and
expansion. However, the first actors of contextual relation between both
these economic activities were still phenomena sustain such a correlation.
native individuals. The pragmatic and When we analyze this contribution of
opportunist adoption of the first the artifacts through their definition as
Roman technical tools, seemingly more “reflection/actant” and the symmetric
effective during the baking of the approach, the relations between the
amphorae, should be analyzed with people of Gadir and the production of
respect to this situation. The use of amphorae have contributed to change
these new objects however implied the sociocultural environment of the
modifications in the production practice ancient Cadiz. We could then consider
and behaviors. Because of their that the Roman technical tools have led
“reflection/actant” nature, these foreign to a “Romanization” of the production
technical objects would thus have patterns and behaviors, which again
contributed to the incorporation by contributed to other changes connected
Punic individuals of Roman behaviors with the Roman culture, here in the
and conceptions. To make these tools, morphologies of the amphorae. We can
the Punic potters of the ancient Cadiz see such idea in the appearance of the
had indeed to interiorize the promoted Late-Punic type T-, with his
perceptions of the Roman culture, sharp foot closer to a Roman shape
which were reflected in these artifacts. than to a Punic one, and through the
In turn, these artifacts exerted an adaptation of a typically Roman form
agency as “actant” over the economic among the ceramic repertory of Gadir,
and production pattern related to the the Dressel 1type. The replacement of
activity of these Punic individuals. In an the anepigraphic stamps to epigraphic
entangled perspective, the Roman tools ones, at first in neo-Punic then in Latin,
both transferred a part of the Roman is an illustration of a second level of
culture and increased the integration of transformation, again at least due to the



dual role of the artifacts. The change of 5. Conclusion

writing expresses a significant but
progressive transformation of the The lack of definition regarding the
sociocultural environment. In these social nature of the objects has arose as
conditions, we could envisage that the an important issue with respect to the
Late-Punic containers were once again study of their interconnections with
“reflection/actant” of these transfor- humans. I aimed to contribute to this
mations, as the carriers of these stamps. discussion along this study by taking
Both their production and their use into consideration the insights granted
would have increase the intertwinement by the Symmetrical Archaeology. Even
of the local Punic people to the Roman if some objections have been raised
culture. regarding this theoretical approach, it
grants a relevant framework to analyze,
As “reflection” of the transformations in a diachronic perspective, the mutual
of their sociocultural environment, relation between artifacts —as a
these Late-Punic amphorae were the particular category of things— and the
result of the “Romanization” of their daily lives of human beings.
productive contexts. However, their
nature of “actant” also led them to One of the main appreciation of this
contribute to these phenomena: as they symmetric approach concerns the
materialized an adaptation of the influence of distinct temporalities in the
amphorae morphologies to commercial course of their mutual connections.
markets managed by the Roman elite, However, we have mainly focused on
the increase of the economic and social the intrinsic changes related to the
interactions related to their diffusion material elements. As we connect
would have then strengthened both artifacts to our lives, we integrate them
transformations of the material and in the extrinsic temporalities that also
sociocultural environment. drive us. At first, by producing artifacts
we embed them with the socially
At a third level, the cross-cultural promoted perceptions and conceptions
character of the production patterns related to the specific conditions in
associated with the manufacture of the which we are entangled. They are linked
Late-Punic amphorae seem to have to the features and human intentionality
reflected the modifications of the of this context. As such, artifacts are
cultural frame of a city like Gadir, as “reflection” of distinct sociocultural
another mediator of these changes. But contexts, a nature that have to be
it is in the interaction with other things– closely connected with the “habitus”, as
whether with production tools or a social force that embeds things and
architectonic elements – and humans support collective’s relations. Secondly,
that artifacts exerted their agencies as artifacts become actors once they are
“reflection/actant”. From this point of produced, as they exert the agency we
view, to analyze the dual contribution have given them to other artifacts and
of the Late-Punic amphorae would humans. They are then “actant” of the
confirm the link, often envisaged in sociocultural phenomena and
Roman history but still debated, contribute, by and through their
between the political and economic relations, to their course.
expansion of Rome on one hand, and
the diffusion of the Roman culture on I proposed to define artifacts as
the other hand. “reflection/actant”. This nature implies
that artifacts both receive and exert
agencies, as they are connected with
humans and other things. It should be



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