The Mediterranean has long played host to unusually intense patterns of maritime-led exchange, involving both products made beyond the basin and local, culturally distinctive goods such as oils and wines that continue to be well-known markers of the region's economies and lifestyles today. Protecting these commodities, and sometimes highly emblematic of them, have been specialized physical packages, of which clay amphoras are perhaps the most well-known early examples. In contrast, modern steel shipping containers, occurring in unusual densities at the Mediterranean pinch points of globalized trade, represent only a latest phase of this cultural tradition. Mediterranean containers therefore have a continuous history spanning at least 5,000 years, one that, worldwide, offers a uniquely long, continuous, and detailed record of economic specialization. It is remarkable, then, that there has been as yet so little consideration of this tradition over its full time span. This paper makes the case for developing a more strongly longitudinal, comparative, and evolutionary perspective on these highly iconic material forms.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)387-418
Number of pages32
JournalCurrent Anthropology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2014


  • ECONOMIC specialization
  • SHIPPING containers


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