Learning about history from food utensils

What do dinner utensils say about Roman social interactions?

Archaeologists and Big Data experts will be gathering at the University for a series of workshops between 26-27 September at College Court Conference Centre to provide some answers to that question.

‘Big Data on the Roman Table’ is a research network jointly led by the University of Leicester and the University of Exeter that examines how big data gleaned mainly from Roman ceramics can give us insights into the lives of people less represented in the history books.

Artefacts associated with eating and drinking have been recorded by archaeologists over many decades and are the largest component of ‘big data’ from the Roman world. They include mass-produced terra sigillata fine wares and more numerous local imitations and off-shoots, as well as metal and glass wares and utensils.

These under-utilised data provide fine-grained information on Roman food-consumption practices essential for a bottom-up approach to varied experiences of phenomena such as imperialism and globalisation.

The ‘Big Data on the Roman Table’ network is co-directed by Professor Penelope Allison from the School of Archaeology and Ancient History.

Professor Allison said: “Artefacts used for eating and drinking in the Roman world are found from Scotland to the Middle East. At this first workshop some forty delegates from Britain, Europe and North America will be discussing, for the first time, how we can use these enormous datasets to better understand social behaviour across that world. This will not only give us great insights into social behaviour in the past but provide models for analysing and presenting such large quantities of data.”