In using the Latin expression instrumentum domesticum, we are referring to the set of implements, vessels, utensils and material equipment that in antiquity defined day-to-day human activity in all its areas. It especially concerns the consumption and trade of foodstuffs, but also looks at other more varied areas, such as worship or the weapons used in conflict. It is a generic designation for items that tell us about the activities, customs and socioeconomic links of the individuals who used them, from the time they were manufactured to their abandonment or destruction.
It is fundamental that we learn how the objects reached the hands of the people who used or handled them, and how this process developed through trade and exchange mechanisms, with all their political, social and economic implications. The study of archaeological finds and the trade that derived from them is a valuable source of information and a determining factor for our knowledge of antiquity.
One of the fundamental elements in the study of instrumentum domesticum is pottery, to the extent that it is known as the “index fossil” of archaeology. This is because, thanks to the typologies drawn up since the 19th century and mainly in the 20th century, the identification pottery types is the main factor used in dating archaeological strata, along with coins and other objects. Pottery is also often the most abundant element among the archaeological finds in any excavation of habitats from the ancient world and later.
Likewise, beyond its value as a dating element, we also have to consider pottery’s important role in telling us about trade networks in antiquity, as well as other information such as the artistic and stylistic study of the decorated pieces (thus linking to the history of art), its use in relation to food (an area to which little attention has been paid to date) and the study of products that were transported in receptacles or the study of the epigraphy of the texts on those finds.
One of the most widely studied items is the amphora. These receptacles tell us a great deal about the trade networks, as, by determining their content (basically wine, olive oil and salted goods), we can have a good idea of the business activity in antiquity (mainly during the Roman period).
Various related projects are being carried out as part of the instrumentum domesticum line of research, mainly on Roman pottery, its use, trade and characterisation. In recent years, they have specialised in the study of Hispanic amphoras.
As a complement to the work carried out in this line of research, the ICAC’s Archaeometric Studies Unit offers the possibility of analysing pottery shards to establish their physical characteristics and origin.Consult the different associated projects: