Lost in translation? Archaeological materials science as evidence for the study of the history of technology: case studies on ceramics

Perhaps owing to historians’ heavy reliance on written documentation, the study of the history of science and technology has traditionally largely focused on accounts of eminent chemists, physicists, and mathematicians whose breakthrough contributions landmark the development of sciences. Such accounts of history, although important, are severely unbalanced and usually neglect the masses of anonymous craftspeople – e.g. potters, miners, smiths, glassmakers, and farmers – who constituted the backbone of the development of knowledge and crafts. Archaeological materials science (or Archaeometry) proposes an important methodology that reveals new information on the processes of manufacture of objects, trade, and networks of interaction, and provides insights into the less visible aspects of the history of technology. This paper looks at some case studies on such efforts involving laboratory and experimental examination of ceramics.