AGATHOCLES, the Archaeology of Gesture | Project presentation

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A.G.A.T.H.O.C.L.E.S. is an international research project (Marie Sklodowska-Curie Global Fellowship, n. 893629) supported by the European Commission (Horizon 2020 – EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation) and lead by Marco Serino ( as Principal Investigator (

Fig. 1 A.G.A.T.H.O.C.L.E.S. project’s Official Logo

The acronym stands for “The ‘Archaeology of Gesture’: Apprenticeship, Tools, Hands, Organization, Collaborations, Learning Experience and Social Network Analysis”. The name-reference is to Agathocles, firstly tyrant of Syracuse and later self-proclaimed “basileus” of Sicily (betwenn 316 and 289/288 BCE). According to the ancient literature sources (Diod. Sic. XIX, 2, 2-3), he was the son of Carcinus of Reghion, a potter with a workshop at Thermai Himeraiai, the new center located in the NW coast of Sicily, founded by ancient Libyans and exiles coming from the previous Greek colony of Himera, destroyed by the Carthaginians in 409 BCE.

The project therefore refers to Agathocles as the son of a craftsman, and the acronym aims to evoke the curiosity and the typical mood of children, that learn by observing the intangible actions closely related to manual skills and gestures provided by those people who are used to transmit their knowledge through the wise use of their hands. The gestures taken into account in this research-project are those of the ancient South Italian painters. The research intends to start right from this unusual perspective, typical of an “apprentice”.

Starting October 2021, the project will focus on the study of the productive technology, the formative models and the organization networks of the ancient red-figure pottery workshops of Magna Graecia and Sicily. One of the main goals of the research is to reconstruct – thanks to a highly interdisciplinary approach – the ancient savoir-faire of the South Italian painters during the fifth and the fourth centuries BCE, thanks to an in-depth analysis of the “sequence of gestures” related to the craftsmen working within the ancient workshops of red-figure pottery [1].

This research aims to combine traditional studies [2] together with some innovative diagnostic techniques: 1) archaeometric analysis in order to focus on some technological features related to the black-glaze, firing temperature, firing defects, different use of miltos, chemical compositions of the overpainted colours… applying various archaeometric techniques among which a digital optical microscope (portable) and a scanning electron microscope in Lab [3]; 2) innovative photographic techniques as the computational imaging – including the application of “reflectance transformation imaging” – to capture the sketches made before the glaze-treatment, invisible to the naked eye [4], and then to bring out the real “sequence of gestures” that led to the creation of the scenes depicted on such vases, as demonstrated by the recent research conducted by D. Elia [5].

Fig. 2 Reflectance Transformation Imaging. (a) set and instruments (after P. ARTAL ISBRAND, P. KLAUSMEYER, W. MURRAY, An Evaluation of Decorative Techniques on a Red-figure Vase from the Worcester Art Museum Using Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) and Confocal Microscopy with a Special Focus on the ‘Relief Line’, in P. B. VANDIVER, W. LI, J. L. RUVALCABA SIL (eds.), Material Issues in Art and Archaeology IX (Conference proceedings, Boston 2010), Material Research Society Symposium Proceedings 1319, Boston 2011; (b) details of the sequence of gestures between the so-called contour lines and relief lines on a red figure vase thanks to the application of RTI (after P. ARTAL ISBRAND, P. KLAUSMEYER 2015, Using Reflectance Transformation Imaging and 3D Laser Scanning Confocal Microscopy to Evaluate Relief and Contour Lines on Ancient Attic Greek Vases, in Microscopy Today 7, 2015, fig. 7)

3) dactyloscopic investigations both on clay and glazed-surface, in search of fingerprints belonging respectively to potters and painters and evaluate the possibility of better define the internal organization of some workshops (women’s attendance, involvment of pre-adults within the châine operatoire, and therefore dynamics of apprenticeship) [6]; and 4) sessions of experimental archaeology – thanks to the support of the “Laboratory for Traditional Technology” at the School of Anthropology, University of Arizona – trying to reproduce some technical procedures related to the tools used by the painters for this kind of activity ( [7].

Fig. 3 Details of kylix tondo attributed to the Antiphon Painter, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston inv. no. 01.8073, with a possible ‘linierhaar’ (after P. Artal Isbrand, P. Klausmeyer, W. Murray, An Evaluation of Decorative Techniques on a Red-figure Vase from the Worcester Art Museum Using Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) and Confocal Microscopy with a Special Focus on the ‘Relief Line’, in P. B. Vandiver, W. Li, J. L. Ruvalcaba Sil (eds.), Material Issues in Art and Archaeology IX (Conference proceedings, Boston 2010), Material Research Society Symposium Proceedings 1319, Boston 2011, fig. 28).

Fig. 4 Experimental sessions with some special brushes (the so-called ‘Linierhaar’) (after Artal Isbrand, P. Klausmeyer, W. Murray, An Evaluation of Decorative Techniques on a Red-figure Vase from the Worcester Art Museum Using Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) and Confocal Microscopy with a Special Focus on the ‘Relief Line’, in P. B. Vandiver, W. Li, J. L. Ruvalcaba Sil (eds.), Material Issues in Art and Archaeology IX (Conference proceedings, Boston 2010), Material Research Society Symposium Proceedings 1319, Boston 2011, fig. 19).

5) An important part of the research will also focus on the potential offered by Digital Humanities: an innovative approach for this field of study aimed at revising the A.D. Trendall’s and A. Cambitoglou’s catalogues (updating them with the data resulting from the most recent studies, at least with regard to the early South Italian and Sicilian productions) through the so-called “Social Network Analysis”, following the ongoing studies carried by E. Hasaki and D. Harris Cline on the lists of Attic vases provided by J.D. Beazley ( [8].


A.G.A.T.H.O.C.L.E.S. will be held between Italy – University of Turin, Department of Historical Studies (under the supervision of Prof. Diego Elia) – and the United States, in Tucson at the University of Arizona, School of Anthropology (under the supervision of Prof. Eleni Hasaki), and it will also involve the Department of Chemistry of the University of Bari (Italy) [9], especially for the archaeometric approach.




[1] This approach was already wished in Serino 2017, 144-155; and it can now be developed thanks to the A.G.A.T.H.O.C.L.E.S. project funded by the European Commission.

[2] G. Seiterle, Die Zeichentechnik in der rotfigurigen Vasenmalerei, in Antike Welt 7.2 6 (1976); J. Noble, The Techniques of Painted Attic Pottery, second revised edition, New York, 1988; M. Bentz, W. Geominy, J. M. Müller, TonArt. virtuosität antiker töpfertechnik, Bonn 2010, 28-34.

[3] Concernig archaeometric analysis lead by the University of Turin on the South Italian vase paintings, see P. Mirti, M. Gulmini, M. Pace, D. Elia, The Provenance of Red figure Vases from Locri Epizephiri (Southern Italy): New Evidence by Chemical Analysis, in Archaeometry 46, 2, 2004, 183-200; P. Mirti, M. Gulmini, A. Perardi, P. Davit, D. Elia, Technology of production of red figure pottery from Attic and southern Italian workshop, in Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry 380, 4, 2004, 712-718.

[4] P.E. Corbett, Preliminary Sketch in Greek Vase-Painting, in Journal of Hellenistic Studies 85 (1965), 16-28. For a more recent studies on this topic see: M. Boss, Preliminary Sketches on Attic Red-Figured Vases of the Early Fifth Century B.C., in J.H. Oakley, W.D.E. Coulson, O. Palagia (eds.), Athenian Potters and Painters: The Conference Proceedings (Athens, 1994), Oxford 1997, 345–351.

[5] On Reflectance Transformation Imaging: A. Bovero, M. Demmelbauer, D. Elia, M. Gargano, T. Poli, C. Scilabra, Studio e intervento di restauro su un cratere apulo a figure rosse, in Lo Stato dell’arte 10, Atti del X Congresso Nazionale del Gruppo Italiano dell’IGIIC International Institute for Conservation (Roma, Accademia Nazionale di San Luca, 22-24 novembre 2012), Roma 2012, pp. 181-188; D. Elia, P. Davit, S. Gobbato, M. Gulmini, M. Demmelbauer, Il cratere dalla tomba 13/1956 in contrada Lucifero a Locri Epizefiri: dallo scavo al restauro, in A. Benincasa, E. Mugione, C. Pouzadoux (eds.), Le produzioni di ceramica figurata dell’Italia meridionale e della Sicilia: problemi e prospettive di ricerca, Atti del Seminario Internazionale di Studi (Salerno, 13 December 2017). On some other recent research-studies on red-figure pottery using the RTI: P. Artal Isbrand, P. Klausmeyer, Evaluation of the Relief Line and the Contour Line on Greek Red-figure Vases Using Reflectance Transformation Imaging and Three-dimensional Laser Scanning Confocal Microscopy, in Studies in Conservation 58, 4, 338-359; D. Saunders, R. Collmann, A. Borda, Reflectance Transformation Imaging and Image: Comparing Imaging Methodologies for Cultural Heritage Artefacts, in Proocedings of EVA-Electronic Visualisation and the Arts (London, 11-13 July 2017).

[6] Some bibliographical reference on this topic: Fingering Ancient Greek Potters, Science 275, Issue 5305, 1425; K.A. Kamp, N. Timmerman, G. Lind, J. Graybill, I. Natowsky, Discovering childhood: using fin­gerprints to find children in the archaeological record, in American Antiquity, 64, 1999, 309–315; K. Branigan, Y. Papadatos, D. Winn, Fingerprints on Early Minoan Pottery: a Pilot Study, in Annual of the British School at Athens 97, 2002, 49-53; M. Králik, V. Novotny, Epidermal ridge breadth: an indicator of age and sex in paleodermatoglyphics, in Variability and Evolution 11, 2003, 5-30; V. Cracolici, Indagini dattiloscopiche sui reperti dello scarico n. 1. Il quadro archeologico, in I sostegni di fornace dal Kerameikos di Metaponto, Bari 2004, 137-174; K.D. Fowler, E. Walker, H.J. Greenfield, J. Ross, A.M. Maeir, The Identity of Potters in Early States: Determining the Age and Sex of Fingerprints on Early Bronze Age Pottery from Tell eṣ-Ṣâfi/Gath, Israel, in Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, 2019, 1-43.

A current research study related to the dactyloscopyc analysis in archaeology is lead by L. Cavassa in Pompeii (Aix-Marseille Univ, CNRS-Centre Camille Jullian) and it is entitled “Pots and imprints project”: see L. Cavassa, C. Grifa, A. Lambert, A. Desmarais 2019, […] lagvncvlaria nvnc facis […]: être potier à Pompéi en 79 apr. J.-C., in Actes du congrès de Maubeuge-Bavay (30 mai – 2 juin 2019) de la SFECAG, Marseille 2019, 155-164 (

[7] One of the most recent project of experimental archaeology on red-figure pottery is that of the John Hopkins Archaeological Museum ( For some other important experimental sessions, see: L.C. Kahn and J.C. Wissinger, Recreating and Firing a Greek Kiln in K. Lapatin (ed.) Papers on Special Techniques in Athenian Vases, Los Angeles 2008, 129-138. Sull’attrezzatura utilizzata all’interno di una bottega ceramica: M. Bentz, W. Geominy, J. M. Müller, TonArt. virtuosität antiker töpfertechnik, Bonn 2010, pp. 28-34; D. Kourkoumélis, S. Démesticha, Les outils de potier de l’atelier de Figaretto à Corfou, in BCH 121, 1997, pp. 553-571; A. Segbers, La cassetta portattrezzi del vasaio: strumenti di lavorazione e scarti di officina come indicatori di produzione, in M. Denti, M. Villette (eds.), Archéologie des espaces artisanaux. Fouiller et comprendre les gestes des potiers, Actes du Colloqye International de Rennes (27-28 novembre 2014), Lattes 2019, pp. 89-97.

[8] See E. Hasaki, D. Harris Cline, Social Network Analysis and Connoisseurship in the Study of Athenian Potters’ Communities, in E. Hasaki, M. Bentz (eds.), Archaeology and Economy in the Ancient World. Reconstructing Scales of Production in the Ancient Greek World: Producers, Processes, Products, People, Proceedings of the 19th International Congress of Classical Archaeology, Panel 3.4 (Cologne/Bonn, 22-26 May 2018), vol. 8, Heidelberg 2020, 59-80. For a general overview on the methodological questions see C. Knappett, An Archaeology of Interaction. Network Perspectives on Material Culture and Society, Oxford 2011; C. Knappett (ed.), Network Analysis in Archaeology. New Approaches to Regional Interaction, Oxford 2013; B.J. Mills, Social Network Analysis in Archaeology, in Annual Review of Anthropology 17, 2017, 379-397.

[9] A. Mangone, L.C. Giannossa, A. Ciancio, R. Laviano and A. Traini, Technological features of Apulian red-figured pottery, in Journal of Archaeological Science 35 (6), 2008, 1533-1541; L.C. Giannossa, I.M. Muntoni, R. Laviano, F. Mastrorocco, M.C. Caggiani, A. Mangone, Indagini archeometriche sui vasi della collezione Intesa Sanpaolo, in F. Giacobello (a cura di), Savoir-faire antichi e moderni. Pittori e officine ceramiche nell’Apulia di V e IV sec. a.C., Atti della giornata di studi (Vicenza, 28 marzo 2015), pp. 131-145; A. Mangone, R. Laviano, L.C. Giannossa, I.M. Muntoni, Archeometria di due restauri, in F. Giacobello, C. Pouzadoux (eds.), Savoir-faire antichi e moderni tra Ruvo di Puglia e Napoli: il cratere dell’Amazzonomachia e la loutrophoros con il mito di Niobe, Ricerche sulla ceramica italiota 2, Cahiers du Centre Jean Bérard 26, Napoli 2020, 95-110.

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Marco Serino (20 mars 2021). AGATHOCLES, the Archaeology of Gesture | Project presentation. Klinai. Consulté le 19 juillet 2024 à l’adresse

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