Session: #150

Theme & Session Format

1. Artefacts, Buildings & Ecofacts
Session format:
Regular session

Title & Content

The Archaeology of Luxury: Craftsmanship, Consumption, and Desirability in Archaeological Perspective
Luxury as a concept has had many and often conflicting meanings and connotations throughout history. Seen as morally dubious throughout Antiquity and the Middle Ages, it received a mostly positive spin beginning in the Early Modern period but is nowadays once more under critique. However, the archaeological record for most, if not all, periods is rich in evidence for the production, circulation, and consumption of differentiated crafted products imbued with added material, aesthetic, and social value.

In the interpretation of these goods and their significance, the anthropological language of ‘prestige’ has been dominant. In this session, we wish to explore the potential of ‘luxury’ as a complementary conceptual framework, drawing on recent research which highlighted desirability as a key feature of past high status material culture. This session aims to bring together case studies, from Antiquity and beyond, illustrating the complex interplay of material qualities and socially assigned values which set specific crafts and products aside as valuable, desirable, and ultimately luxurious.

Focusing on craft activities, we invite participants to reflect on the connections between production – including discussions of craftsmanship, specialization, and ‘branding’, and how they affect the perceived desirability of goods – and consumption, taken as a socially and politically laden phenomenon. Methodological discussions on how to identify and interpret luxury productions in the archaeological record are especially welcome, as are insights into the role of long-distance trade in creating trans-cultural languages of luxury.

In promoting a cross-craft, cross-cultural, and integrated comparative approach, we hope to promote a reflection on luxury as a contextual, situational, and relational category and to explore its conceptual utility for an exploration of social relations, craft development and creative expression in the past.
Luxury Goods, Craftsmanship, Craft Specialization, Branding, Consumption, Regimes of Value
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Main organiser:
Francisco Gomes (Portugal) 1,2
Francesco Meo (Italy) 3
1. UNIARQ - Centre for Archaeology of the University of Lisbon
2. School of Arts and Humanities of the University of Lisbon
3. Department of Cultural Heritage of the University of Salento