Specialist course: Economic Archaeology

Comparative approaches for determining economic performance in archaeological and historical research from Antiquity to the Middle Ages

A specialist course within the Doctoral School Program of Arts, Humanities and Law

Ghent University, February-May 2019
Organized by the Departments of Archaeology and Ancient History, within the Inter-university partnership SDEP
For more information and inquiry, please contact: dimitri.vanlimbergen@ugent.be

(click here for folder)


Economic archaeology is the study of the (diachronic) relationship between ancient populations and their (available) natural and cultural resources, as expressed principally through exploitation, production, distribution and consumption. Over the years, archaeologists and historians have become particularly interested in how ancient societies ‘performed’ economically – as determined by factors such as climate, geography, technology, demography and institutions – and how this ‘performance’ changed through time. To this purpose, scholars have developed a wide range of methodological and conceptual tools and new methods of investigation. This has turned economic archaeology into an increasingly interdisciplinary discipline, encompassing many specialized subfields such as paleobotany, zooarchaeology, bio- archaeology, geomorphology, climatology, demography and spatial analysis. At the same time, the application of modern economics to archaeology and history has resulted in a greater sophistication in (theoretical) thinking. This means that (doctoral) students need evermore and better guidance.


The principal aim of this course is to make PhD researchers in archaeology and history who work on Antiquity and the Middle Ages more familiar with the increasingly important sub-discipline of economic archaeology. Through a series of seven thematic interactive seminars, they will gain insight into – and learn how to critically apply – a selective number of comparative concepts, methods and theories in this field that are of key relevance to their own research. In particular, by the end of this course, the participating doctoral students will have acquired foundational-level skills for scholarship in economic archaeology with regard to the following topics: demography and ancient economic performance (1); the vulnerability and resilience of complex societies under climate change (2); ancient landscape use and satellite remote sensing (3); agricultural productivity in past societies (4); the chaîne opératoire approach to the exploitation of natural resources (5); data analysis and pre-modern trade networks (6); and the socio-economic and spatial analysis of ancient urban space (7).

A second important aim of this specialist course is to allow the targeted PhD researchers to present, discuss and receive feedback on their work-in-progress from national and international peers. Through the involvement of members of the SDEP network, the active participation of UGent researchers at all levels (postdoctoral and faculty) with ample experience in economic archaeology and history, and the attendance of researchers from Brussels and Leuven, the course will promote knowledge transfer and the building of an interdisciplinary network.

Attendance & Practicalities

The targeted audience of this specialist course consists in the first place of early career doctoral researchers from the departments of Archaeology and History at Ghent University. The chronological and regional focus of the course is on the Mediterranean and North-western Europe in the classical, late antique and medieval period.
The course consists of a series of seven interactive seminars, each combining a lecture by an external specialist, a presentation by a doctoral researcher, and a discussion/feedback moment afterwards. Each seminar lasts for three hours.
Participating doctoral researchers are evaluated on the basis of three criteria: 100% attendance, their own presentation (max. one PhD talk per seminar), and active participation in the discussion.
As a theoretical and methodological background to the course, the participants will receive a kit of basic literature on economic archaeology at the start of the seminars. In addition, one week before each seminar, they are provided with lecture-specific literature to help facilitate the discussion. The invited speakers are also expected to upload a pdf version of their PowerPoint before the seminar. All teaching material will be made available to the participants through a Dropbox folder.
Those who would like to include this course into their Doctoral Training Program are requested to register ASAP by email to dimitri.vanlimbergen@ugent.be Registration is free of charge.
The seminar series is however open to all who want to deepen/share their knowledge on the principles, methods and theories of economic archaeology. Both UGent and non-Ghent researchers at all levels (PhD, postdoctoral, faculty) in a relevant discipline are welcome and encouraged to attend. Attendance is free, but for practical reasons non-Ghent participants are asked to RSVP to dimitri.vanlimbergen@ugent.be prior to the start of each seminar.


13 February
Søren Michael Sindbaek (Aarhus University), Data analysis and pre-modern trade networks
13 March
Thomas Currie (University of Exeter), Agricultural productivity in past societies
27 March
Paul Erdkamp (Vrije Universiteit Brussel), Climate, complexity and the resilience of the Roman economy
25 April
Martin Sterry (Durham University), Ancient landscape use and satellite remote sensing
09 May
Timothy Anderson (Laboratoire Recherche Historique), The chaîne opératoire approach to the exploitation of natural resources
16 May
Neville Morley (University of Exeter), Demography and ancient economic performance
23 May
Akkelies van Nes (Western Norway University), The socio-economic and spatial analysis of ancient urban space

* time and place is TBD