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Invisible Circularity from the Roman Period to the Middle Ages

Conference organised by Irene Bavuso (UrbNet, Aarhus University), Guido Furlan (UrbNet, Aarhus University), Emanuele E. Intagliata (Università degli Studi di Milano) and Julia Steding (UrbNet, Aarhus University)

Date: 7-8 September 2022

Venue: Moesgaard Museum, Moesgård Allé 15, DK-8270 Højbjerg, Building 4240, room 301


Economic circularity is the ability of a society to reduce waste by recycling, reusing, and repairing raw material and finished products. The concept has received momentum in academia due to contemporary environmental concerns. Despite the recent surge of interest, economic circularity has not been fully addressed as a macrophenomenon by historical and archaeological studies. Some aspects of reuse have been studied as isolated phenomena but remain to be included in a wider theoretical framework such as that provided by the concept of circular economy. Research at UrbNet and the Circular Economy and Urban Sustainability in Antiquity Project is addressing this gap, trying to build a more complex understanding of ancient circularity as a driving force for the development of urban centres and networks.

The limitations of data and the relatively new formulation of targeted research questions means that several processes and agents involved in circular economies are still invisible to the eye of modern scholarship. Examples include forms of curation, maintenance and repair which must have had an influence on the economic systems but are rarely accounted for. The people behind these processes, for example collectors and scavengers, are also rarely investigated and poorly understood. Even better studied mechanisms, like reuse and recycling, are not explored to their full potential within the broader picture of ancient urban economies. Moreover, recycling is not necessarily limited to local communities, but may include processes such as the deconstruction of buildings or burials for materials to be passed on into trading systems. To make these circular processes visible, it is crucial to address them with an interdisciplinary perspective and a bottom-up approach.

This conference aims to investigate the invisible aspects of circularity in the archaeological record and in textual sources, to contribute to a more holistic picture of ancient economies. Although circularity is a global phenomenon, the main focus of this event will fall on urban societies from the Roman period to the Middle Ages in Europe, according to the framework of current research on circularity conducted at UrbNet. The proceedings of this conference will be proposed to Oxbow.

The main research questions we would like to address in this conference are:

  1. Can we look back at past published material culture to reassess their significance as items within a circular economy system?

  2. How can invisible processes or agents in a circular economy system be studied in more detail and more comprehensively?

  3. What can be said about the perception of circular economy in scholarship and what perception did past societies have of circular processes?

  4. How can archaeoscience and other new methodologies contribute to our understanding of invisible circularity in the past?


  • Alexis Wilkin (Université Libre de Bruxelles) & Line Van Wersch (Université de Liège) 
  • Allyson McDavid (The New School, Parsons School of Design, New York)
  • Cristina Boschetti (Aarhus University and Center National De La Recherche Scientifique)
  • Emanuele E. Intagliata (Università degli Studi di Milano) - organiser
  • Guido Furlan (Aarhus University) - organiser
  • Irene Bavuso (Aarhus University) - organiser
  • Jon Frey, (Michigan State University)
  • Jonathan R. Wood (University College London) 
  • Julia Steding (Aarhus University) - organiser
  • Margarita Gleba (Università degli Studi di Padova) & Maria Stella Busana (Università degli Studi di Padova)
  • Rubina Raja (Aarhus University)
  • Simon J. Barker (Universität Heidelberg)
  • Thomas Birch (Moesgaard Museum)

Information for speakers


Please book your own travel to Aarhus, and we will reimburse you after your stay. Please note that we can only reimburse economy-class tickets booked directly through an airline and not via a search engine.

As soon as you have organised your travel, please forward your itinerary to Christina Levisen (levisen@cas.au.dk), so that the hotel booking can be confirmed.

After the event, you will receive a link to AU’s online travel reimbursement form. It is important that you keep your receipts, as you will need to provide documentation for expenses.


Hotel Scandic The Mayor
Banegårdspladsen 14
DK-8000 Aarhus C

Phone: +45 87 32 01 00


We will host a dinner for speakers 7 September, and we will of course cater for you during the conference. For sustainability reasons, we strive to serve mainly vegetarian meals.  

NOTE: If you have any dietary restrictions (incl. allergies), please let Christina Levisen (levisen@cas.au.dk) know by 26 August, so that the restaurant and caterers can be notified.