National Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Carrie Atkins

Affiliation: University of Toronto Mississauga

Carrie Atkins is Assistant Professor with the Department of Historical Studies at the University Toronto, Mississauga.  She holds her degrees from Cornell University (Ph.D.), Texas A&M University, and Bowdoin College.  Her research interests include the maritime connections of the ancient Mediterranean, particularly the conceptualization of shipwrecks in the ancient economy.   Professor Atkins is currently the Principal Investigator of the Assessing the Anchorage at Maroni-Tsaroukkas project, and the Principal Co-Investigator of the Between Land and Sea: An archaeological survey of the eroding south-central Cyprus coastline project. Her current book project is Nautical Networks: Cultural Exchange and the Roman Economy, examining the cross-cultural circulation of raw materials, finished products, and people across maritime networks in the ancient Mediterranean (c. 200 BCE-200CE).  Professor Atkins is the AIA Bass Lecturer for 2020/2021.


During the late Republic and early Empire, Rome had a voracious appetite for importing luxury objects from around the Mediterranean: spices from the Arabian Peninsula, sculptures and bronzes from Greece, glassware from Egypt and the Levant, and textiles from India, to list a few examples. Some of these so-termed luxuries have been preserved in shipwrecks in the Mediterranean, yet these objects only represent a small portion of the overall cargoes. By examining several Roman shipwrecks (ca 200 BCE – 200 CE) that were transporting such luxury objects, I discuss how these assemblages force us to re-evaluate static definitions of luxury and assess the impact of mobility upon shifting social importance in multi-scalar networks. In particular, through considering cargoes as assemblages, I discuss agents who were often overlooked in literary accounts, and I de-centralize Rome as the main consumer of luxuries by showing the transportation of these goods to the western Mediterranean.

For Greco-Roman sailors or passengers aboard a ship, aspects of daily life occurred within a ship’s physical boundaries while at sea. These activities were related not only to sailing and trading, but also to eating, sleeping, and performing rituals. The material remnants of these ritual activities have been little studied, yet represent key evidence in understanding the impact of mobility on ritual practices aboard the Greco-Roman ship. In this lecture, I discuss archaeological evidence for potential ritual objects from shipwrecks in the Mediterranean alongside textual and iconographic depictions of these rituals. Not all ritual objects found in shipwrecks provide evidence for shipboard ritual but instead were likely transported as cargo. For some multifunctional objects that had a potential use both in religious ritual or for general activities, I suggest these objects could construct temporary sacred spaces aboard the ship when employed at poignant times in the voyage. These rituals, however, were not prescriptive nor ubiquitous but instead were chosen by individuals, shaped by cross-cultural connectivity and mobility.

Just offshore from the Late Bronze Age site of Maroni-Tsaroukkas on the south-central coastline of Cyprus lies an anchorage with over 70 stone anchors, more than 400 ceramic sherds, and at least 15 stone architectural blocks. Based on the ceramic remains scattered across the site, one area served as an active anchorage where ships would stop to exchange their goods. However, another area of the now-submerged seabed was likely once a terrestrial building that would have stored ceramics and other goods. In this region, we recorded concentrated deposits of Cypriot ceramics, imports from Egypt and the Levant, and several unfinished anchors. These submerged remains indicate that Tsaroukkas was an active site for anchor production and a vital node for re-supply of Late Bronze Age ships sailing within regional and long-distance trade networks.

In order to record these remains across such a large area and in shallow waters, we developed a computer-controlled camera system to photograph the seabed and to produce 3D models for further analysis. Taking the audience on a three-dimensional tour of part of the anchorage, this talk discusses the material results and highlights the digital technologies developed for recording Tsaroukkas.

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