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Astrid Van Oyen

Assistant Professor

Astrid Van Oyen

Goldwin Smith Hall


Astrid Van Oyen is a Roman archaeologist with a special interest in material culture, which she explores both empirically and theoretically. She has worked on material sources as varied as terra sigillata pottery in France, grain silos in Spain, and Vesuvian houses in Italy, and has written about questions of postcolonial archaeology, material agency, typology, and morality. She joined Cornell in 2016 after holding a Junior Research Fellowship at Homerton College, University of Cambridge.

Her first monograph, How Things Make History: The Roman Empire and its Terra Sigillata Pottery was published in 2016 by Amsterdam University Press. With Martin Pitts (University of Exeter), she has co-edited Materialising Roman Histories (Oxbow, 2017), a volume that scrutinizes how Roman archaeology marries the detail of artefact studies with big historical narratives. She is PI of the Marzuolo Archaeological Project – in collaboration with Gijs Tol (University of Melbourne) and Rhodora Vennarucci (University of Arkansas) – excavating the multi-craft rural site of Marzuolo (Tuscany, Italy) to explore innovation and craftsmanship in a rural community. Her second book project Storage and Empire traces the mental and practical reverberations of storage in the Roman world, an agrarian empire. See


  • Archaeology Program
  • Classics
  • Religious Studies Program


Astrid Van Oyen’s research seeks to change the way material culture is used in historical narratives, in particular in relation to the economy and society of the Roman Empire. Her first monograph, How Things Make History. The Roman Empire and Its Terra Sigillata Pottery (Amsterdam University Press, 2016), re-evaluated Roman archaeology’s most emblematic artefact category: the omnipresent bright red terra sigillata pots. It traced how standardized terra sigillata pottery became a category – the ‘Coca Cola’ of the Roman world – and how this created particular consequences for its trade and consumption.

Terra sigillata pottery will continue to be of interest to Astrid as she directs the excavation of an as yet unknown rural production site in the Marzuolo Archaeological Project, in collaboration with Gijs Tol (University of Melbourne) and Rhodora Vennarucci (University of Arkansas). The fieldwork component opens up questions on product innovation that Astrid will explore in a wider cross-craft setting in her new book project. 

Astrid’s recent focus has been on storage in a selection of imperial Roman contexts, as a point of joint redefinition of objects and their social relations. This analytical entry point has led to novel observations on Italian villas and elite morality (JRA), time and imperialism, and Roman models of trade, which will be the focus of her second monograph (in preparation) Storage and Empire. In addition, she has co-edited Materialising Roman Histories (Oxbow, 2017) with Martin Pitts (University of Exeter), a volume that scrutinizes how Roman archaeology marries the detail of artefact studies with big historical narratives.

Astrid’s research has been supported by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Homerton College, a Cambridge Humanities Research Grant, a Cotsen Excavation Grant from the Archaeological Institute of America, the Einaudi Center for International Studies at Cornell, the President's Council for Cornell Women, and the Loeb Classical Library Foundation. Her PhD dissertation (Cambridge, 2013) has won the Hare Prize. 

For more information and publications, see Astrid’s personal webpage at




  • How Things Make History. The Roman Empire and its Terra Sigillata Pottery.  Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. 2016

Edited volume:

  • Materialising Roman Histories.  Ed. with Pitts, Martin.  Oxford: Oxbow. 2017

Academic Articles:

  • Agents and commodities: a response to Brughmans and Poblome (2016) on modelling the Roman economy.  Antiquity 91: 1356-1363. 2017
  • Historicising material agency: from relations to relational constellations.  Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory.  23: 354-378. 2016
  • Actor-Network Theory’s take on archaeological types: becoming, material agency, and historical explanation.  Cambridge Archaeological Journal.  25: 63-78. 2015
  • Deconstructing and reassembling the Romanization debate through the lens of postcolonial theory: from global to local and back?.  Terra Incognita.  5: 205-226. 2015
  • The Roman city as articulated through terra sigillata.  Oxford Journal of Archaeology.  34: 279-299. 2015
  • The moral architecture of villa storage in Italy in the 1st c. B.C.  Journal of Roman Archaeology.  28: 97-124. 2015
  • Les acteurs-réseaux en archéologie: état de la question et perspectives futures.  Les Nouvelles de l’archéologie 135: 14-21. 2014
  • Towards a postcolonial artifact analysis.  Archaeological Dialogues 20: 79-105. 2013


  • Material agency. In The Encyclopedia of Archaeological Sciences, ed. S.L. López-Varela. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. 2018
  • (with R.G. Vennarucci and G.W. Tol) Una comunità artigianale nella Toscana rurale: Il sito di Marzuolo. In Antico e non antico. Scritti multidisciplinari offerti a Giuseppe Pucci, eds. V. Nizzo and A. Pizzo. Sesto San Giovanni: Mimesis Edizioni, 589-597. 2018
  • Material culture and mobility: A brief history of archaeological thought. In Mobility and Pottery Production, eds. Heitz, Caroline and Regine Stapfer. Leiden: Sidestone Press, 53-65. 2018
  • Material culture in the Romanization debate. In The Diversity of Classical Archaeology. Studies in Classical Archaeology 1, eds. Lichtenberger, Achim and Rubina Raja. Turnhout: Brepols, 287-300. 2017
  • (with M. Pitts) What did objects do in the Roman world? Beyond representation. In Materialising Roman Histories, eds. Van Oyen, Astrid and Martin Pitts. Oxford: Oxbow, 3-19. 2017
  • Finding the material in ‘material culture’: form and matter in Roman concrete. In Materialising Roman Histories, eds. Van Oyen, Astrid and Martin Pitts. Oxford: Oxbow, 133-152. 2017
  • Networks or work-nets? Actor-Network Theory and multiple social topologies in the production of Roman terra sigillata.  In The Connected Past. Network Studies in Archaeology and History. Eds. Brughmans, Tom, Anna Collar, and Fiona Coward.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press. 35-56. 2016
  • Knowledge systems in the production of terra sigillata. Moving beyond the local/global paradox.  In TRAC 2011. Proceedings of the Twenty First Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference, Newcastle 2011. Ed. Duggan, M.  Oxford: Oxbow. 2012


  • Globalisation and material culture: the road ahead, review of M. Pitts and M.J. Versluys (eds) (2015) Globalisation and the Roman World. World History, Connectivity, and Material Culture, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Journal of Roman Archaeology 28, 641-646. 2015
  • Review of C. Orton and M. Hughes (2013) Pottery in Archaeology. Second Edition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Journal of Roman Studies 104, 261-262. 2014
  • Review of C. Knappett (2011) An Archaeology of Interaction. Network Perspectives on Material Culture and Society, Oxford: Oxford University Press, Archaeological Review from Cambridge 27 (2), 220-228. 2012


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