National Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Staci Willis

Affiliation: Houston Community College

Staci Willis is Professor of Anthropology at Houston Community College, and holds her degrees from Texas A&M University (Ph.D.), the University of Chicago, and Baylor University.  Her areas of specialization include ancient Mediterranean seafaring, sewn boatbuilding traditions, paleoethnobotany, and archaeological palynology.  She is currently a Co-Principle Investigator with the Albania Ancient Shipwreck Project, which is working on site assessments of shipwrecks off the southern coast near the UNESCO site of Butrint.  Professor Willis is the AIA Steffy Lecturer for 2020/2021.


In the river systems and along the coast of the northwestern Adriatic Sea, a distinct tradition of sewn boatbuilding persisted from the Roman late Republic through the Imperial period, with definitive evidence between the 2nd century BC and the 6th century AD. This sewn tradition of boatbuilding is not only present in the northwestern Adriatic, but overshadows the archaeological record in this region during this timeframe, presenting a unique nautical landscape as compared to the broader Mediterranean world, which was dominated by boats and ships constructed using mortise-and-tenon joinery. The Northwestern Adriatic sewn boat tradition also coincided with Rome’s imperial expansion across the Mediterranean world, making these hull remains a last echo of a community of builders practicing their craft within a context of increasing external pressures to adopt “Roman” customs. As such, the preservation of this tradition of boatbuilding, the active participation by the builders in an indigenous form of craftsmanship, is a maritime reflection of the tensions that were playing out all over the Roman world. This lecture explores the tradition of sewn boatbuilding in the northwestern Adriatic as a representation of a community of builders who actively and intentionally preserved their inheritance as a facet of their identity, through the twists and strokes and passes of cord that bound together more than just a boat.

Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

Willis, Staci and Massimo Capulli. 2018. “Bottoms Up! The Corte Cavanella II Laced Boat.” INA Quarterly 45(1/2): 9-13.

Willis, Staci and Massimo Capulli. 2014. “Putting the Pieces Together: The Laced Timbers of the Venice Lido III Assemblage.” INA Quarterly 40(1): 10-15.

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