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Book review: A Social Archaeology of Roman and Late Antique Egypt: Artefacts of Everyday Life

Artifacts have the power to illuminate many aspects of life.

However, there is a gap in research on the simple, everyday artifacts of Roman and late-antique Egypt.

This book from authors Ellen Swift (University of Kent), Jo Stoner (University of Kent), and April Pudsey (Manchester Metropolitan University) presents an in-depth study that uses everyday artifacts as its principal source of evidence. It’s a reference work for scholars, with essential information on numerous artifacts, many of which are found not only in Egypt but also in the wider Roman and late-antique world.

By taking a social archaeology approach, the work sets out a new interpretation of daily life and aspects of social relations in Roman and late-antique Egypt, contributing insights into everyday practices and their social meanings in the past. Artifacts from University College London’s Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology are the principal source of evidence.

According to the authors, most of these objects have never been the subject of any previous research. The book integrates the close study of artifact features with other sources of evidence, including papyri and visual material.

Part one explores the social functions of dress objects, while part two explores the domestic realm and everyday experience.

An important theme is the life course, and how both dress-related artifacts and ordinary functional objects construct age and gender-related status and facilitate appropriate social relations and activities. There is also a particular focus on wider social experience in the domestic context, as well as broader consideration of economic and social changes across the period.

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