Category Archives: Material Networks

The material networks left behind by migrations and mobility.

Things and people

Migrants do not just travel; they also carry stuff or use objects to travel on; they do that today and they did so in the past. Ships are the obvious case in point but not all migrants travel light either…

Migration and Material Culture






This raises critical questions about the relationships between people and their material culture. This week’s class explored notions such as ‘Thing Theory’  and other key concepts put forward by thinkers like Bruno Latour and Daniel Miller.


Networking Archaeology

This week was dedicated to a major upcoming theme in Archaeology, which is networks, more properly spelled out as Social Networks Analysis or SNA. We read and discussed key paper by Carl Knappett and Tom Brughmans, which both provide generic overviews, before we turned to Irad Malkin’s A Small Greek World. (CUP, 2011).

While the connections between networks and migration seems all too obvious in the case of the ancient Greek colonial world, we struggled to pinpoint how and where such links may be made. Another case study discussed concerned ancient road systems, which we examined in Roman Egypt and in late Roman Andalusia (Spain) through papers by Gates-Foster and Isaksen.

In the end, we remain to be convinced of the usefulness of networks for studying migrants, although we may come back to them.

Prehistoric Migrations

Snow, sleet, hail and slippery roads notwithstanding, the whole class was present to discuss migrations in prehistory. We had read the introductory chapter of Gordon Childe’s Prehistoric Migrations in Europe (1950) and discussed his views on culture, cultural change and migration, which he sets out with remarkable clarity of argument. We were then treated to a guest lecture by JIAAW graduate Tom Leppard, who explained how paleontological evidence and biogeographical theories can be used to gauge the level of intensity and impact of early prehistoric migrations of Mediterranean islands, without actually having to find the precise sites, where these early hominins and hominids stayed and worked.

Tom’s lecture and Leach et al.’s paper on ‘the Lady of York’ (Antiquity 2010) led to a discussion of how new theories and techniques (e.g. dna and isotope analysis) from other disciplines may or had better not be used to investigate ancient migration.

Conceptualizing Migration

What is migration, how can we define it and most of all how can we approach it? These were the key questions pursued in the second seminar.  Broad-sweep discussions of ‘migration in world history’ were found to be less than helpful, eve if they do recognize and demonstrate that migration is a phenomenon of all times and all places. As a complex and multifaceted phenomenon, migration is most usefully approached through a range of disciplines as Brettell and Hollifield’s book on Migration Theory (2008) argues and demonstrates.

While archaeology, material culture studies and the past are notably absent from the disciplines covered, we explored how the ancient Mediterranean similarly offers abundant evidence for complex perceptions, representations and activities. The abundant archaeological evidence and rich literary accounts of Greek colonization  make this field particularly suited for exploration in this regard – we started by examining Carol Dougherty’s (1993) claim that it is murder to found a colony!

For a most interesting archaeological approach to migration, we turned to Jason De León’s studies of undocumented migrants in the Arizonan deserts (

The Other Side of Immigration

The first seminar of the course on January 22nd was dedicated to a basic premise of the course that migration is a phenomenon of all times and that insights in modern contexts of migration may be helpful to understand ancient contexts.

To this end, we watched the documentary The Other Side of Immigration, which ‘challenges audiences to think about the many political, economic, and social causes and effects of mass migration in Mexico’ – (see The following discussion led us to the view that migration is not a one-off event but may be cyclical or recurrent; it may be thought of as a process. For more talking points, see

This was followed up by a brief discussion of a well-known migrant in Classical Antiquity, namely Demaratus of Corinth and a brief exploration of the Aristonothos Krater.


Material Networks Introduction

Material Networks

The movement of people and objects has always stood at the heart of endeavors to understand the course and processes of human history. In the Mediterranean, evidence of such movements is particularly abundant, and issues like migration, colonialism and exchange have played prominent roles in archaeological, historical and anthropological discussions.

Migration and Material Culture

Migration and Material Culture

This course explores Mediterranean migration past and present through the lens of material culture by zooming in on the material surroundings of migrants and their host societies and by tracing the connections that they forged across the Mediterranean seas.

ARCH 2230  |  Wed 3.00-5.20  |  Rhode Island Hall 008

Peter van Dommelen

To view all blog posts for this class, click on Material Networks at the top right of this page.