“Get to Know the OAC Speakers!” Series – Joey Williams (Oklahoman Archaeologists Worldwide)

The 2nd Biennial Oklahoma Archaeology Conference convenes March 1 – 3, 2018.  To learn more about the conference and register to attend, click here.

By Wynne Clark

Dr. Joey Williams is a Mediterranean archaeologist, with a focus on Roman culture and colonial encounters in Portugal. After completing his undergraduate degree at Hendrix College, he got a Masters in Classical Archaeology from the University of Arizona, before completing his PhD in Mediterranean Archaeology from the University at Buffalo, SUNY. He is currently a professor of the Department of Humanities and Philosophy at the University of Central Oklahoma. He is also the president of Western Iberia Archaeology, a nonprofit organization dedicated to “the study and preservation of the archaeological heritage of Portugal and western Spain” (http://www.wiarch.org/).

Dr. Williams has worked primarily on projects in Portugal and Italy, specializing in pottery analysis and landscape archaeology. His current projects include co-directing the archaeological excavations of Caladinho, a 1st c. B.C.E. tower enclosure in Alentejo, Portugal, and Santa Susana, a Roman villa in the same region. His most recent publication is a book titled The Archaeology of Roman Surveillance in the Central Alentejo, Portugal, a continuation of his doctoral thesis. The book examines the struggle for control over the territory of the central Alentejo, both between indigenous peoples and Rome and amongst Roman factions. It is an analysis of the function of surveillance in conquest and colonization and in control over the landscape. Williams believes that the study of these processes is significant to our understanding of empires and negotiations over territory and power between factions.



Excavation at the Caladinho watchtower

How did you come to your specific interest of study, the colonial landscapes of Roman Portugal?

I started working in Portugal after my first year of graduate school, way back in 2005. As a Mediterranean archaeologist, colonial contact has always been a major topic of study. Portugal provided fertile ground for research in the entanglement of colonial and indigenous material cultures, and I was drawn to the study of landscapes after a Portuguese colleague introduced me to a series of small, fortified towers from the early Roman colonial period. Those towers, and their ability to surveil, fostered my interest in the landscape itself as an entangled piece of colonial negotiation. For me, the study of colonialism and imperialism is cross-cultural. While my fieldwork is in Portugal, I try to draw from perspectives from world archaeology.


Introducing the villa of Santa Susana to a group of students while standing next to a Roman press weight

What do you view as your most important or significant work?

My book on Roman surveillance is my most significant contribution, I suppose. Specifically, I think I have made a substantial contribution to the archaeology of early Roman settlements in central Portugal. But my next major project, which focuses on pottery from the Roman port of Ostia, is quite a bit different.

In your book, you make heavy use of visibility analysis and landscape archaeology in discussing the surveillance role of towers, villas, and fortified indigenous settlements and their implications for the colonial contact and conflicts of Roman Portugal in the 1st B.C.E. Do you see your research as having applications in other areas of colonial research, or is it specific to Portugal or the Roman Empire?

I hope it isn’t specific to Roman Portugal! Surveillance plays an enormous role in the control of captive or subject populations under many colonial or exploitative regimes, not just the Romans. While it might be difficult to find a similar dataset, I think that the idea of surveillance as a tool for asserting control over territory and expressing power over a colonized landscape has broad application. Visibility analysis is also finding more use in archaeology too. It used to be called “a method without a theory,” but that has certainly changed in the last few years.


The storeroom and archive of the Ostia Antica excavations. 

What would you like to study most in the future? How would you proceed from your current research?

My current major project examines the coarsewares from the Constantinian Basilica of Ostia Antica. Coarseware pottery includes the common table ceramics, cooking pots, and storage jars. It is often an understudied category of material. By examining the assemblage from this excavation, we hope to develop a better understanding of the forms and fabrics of common wares produced around the city of Rome. I’m also directing two excavations in Portugal. The first is a continuation of the fieldwork on the surveillance towers. We completed our fifth season of excavation last summer after a few years off for study of the materials (you can see more about it here). The second excavation is a large field school project investigating a Roman villa called Santa Susana. I’m interested in the generation of Roman colonists after the initial colonial interaction embodied in the towers. The villa is one of dozens established after the towers were abandoned, and it represents the successful reorganization of the territory along a Roman model of settlement and agriculture (you can find this project’s website here). My role on both of these excavation is material culture analysis, so I find myself mostly dealing with the artifacts these days. Most of my recent publications have been focused on ceramics.

If you were not an archaeologist, what would you see yourself doing?

I would probably be teaching Latin somewhere. A day without Latin is a day without sunshine!

Is there anything you wish to share about yourself or your work that has not been covered so far?

If you want to excavate with me in Portugal, I’m always happy to have more people come along!


To learn more about Dr. Williams, visit his website.


Wynne Clark



Wynne Clark is an undergraduate student at the University of Oklahoma studying Anthropology and History.

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