Skip to comments.Pompeii Pottery May Rewrite History
Posted on 11/08/2004 11:40:27 AM PST by blam
Pompeii pottery may rewrite history
ABC Science Online
Monday, 8 November 2004
A broken plate is one of the pieces in the puzzle of how ancient cultures traded (Image: Jaye Pont)
Archaeologists may need to change their view of Pompeii's role in trade and commerce, after a ceramics expert's recent discovery.
Australian researcher Jaye Pont from the Museum of Ancient Cultures at Sydney's Macquarie University says people who lived in Pompeii bought their pottery locally and didn't import it.
Pont said the find could "make waves" among archaeologists looking at trade in the Mediterranean.
And she said researchers may have to rethink shelves of museum pottery once thought to be from the eastern Roman Empire.
Pont looked at a particular type of red pottery from a city block in Pompeii that had been buried beneath rubble from the Mount Vesuvius eruption in 79 AD.
The city block had been inhabited since the 4th century BC. And an international group of researchers, known as the Anglo American Project in Pompeii, found thousands of samples of red slip pottery there.
This type of pottery was made by dipping a partly dried plate or bowl into a water-and-clay mix called slip. The vessel would then be fired to give it a red, shiny colour.
Previously, archaeologists had thought much of this pottery was imported from the eastern Roman Empire based at Constantinople, with the rest coming from northern Italy and Gallic France.
But Pont, who is doing her PhD on the pottery and is a potter, has found that all the "imported" pottery was local.
Who did Pompeii trade with?
Pont said her research would "turn upside down" old notions of commerce and trade between Pompeii and the eastern Roman Empire.
Inhabitants of Pompeii and other areas such as northern Africa, where the pottery is also found, were thought to have traded extensively with the eastern Roman Empire.
"The fact that I have not found one piece that has been imported I think will have quite large implications for trade and commerce in that area," Pont told ABC Science Online.
A red slip bowl (Image: Jennifer Stephens, Anglo American Project in Pompeii)
Pont and Macquarie University geologist Dr Patrick Conaghan examined 200 thin sections of the pottery under a microscope and looked at tiny flecks in the clay.
The flecks, which contained the mineral leucite, were identical in composition and unique to the Bay of Naples region, where Mount Vesuvius is found.
Most scientific analysis has been done chemically but not through thin section analysis, Pont said. But she said thin section analysis was "very clear cut": either the pottery is from the area or it isn't.
Pont said archaeologists made the mistake of thinking the pottery was imported because there was a lot of variation in the colour and quality of the local pottery compared to the pottery from northern Italy.
And archaeologists had based their classification of the pottery on these variations, she said.
"As a potter, perhaps I could see things archaeologists couldn't," said Pont. "In general archaeologists don't understand how [pottery] is made. They can't identify manufacturing techniques within a vessel."
She said archaeologists rely a lot on colour to differentiate vessels.
"I could understand that even in one kiln, what you get at the top and at the bottom of the kiln can be very different in colour."
Pottery is also classified by form, yet pottery "isn't an exact science", said Pont.
"But whole assemblages have been grouped by rim shape ... When I looked at [the pottery] I couldn't see the difference. It turns out there wasn't a difference."
She said the red slip pottery, known as terra sigillata, was also differentiated on the condition of the slip that coloured the vessel.
"It is read as gospel that eastern sigillata didn't have a slip that worked well. But if you have a potter with greasy fingers, that slip will peel off," she said.
Pont said although she has only excavated one city block, the fact that she was yet to find one piece that has been imported could make archaeologists reconsider shelves of museum pottery.
Makes sense. The archaeologists are not looking at the good china.
Here in Las Vegas yesterday I was at the Venitian and had the chance to see a tv show as part of audience research.
It's cool - they give you popcorn and stuff like mugs, t-shirts, anywhere from $2 to $15, etc, for about an hour of your time to sit there, watch the show, rate the content by a dial 'boring to interesting,' and answer some questions.
Anyway yesterday I saw a show called 'Supervolcano,' from the looks of it to be seen on Discovery channel. It was a new idea they have - dramatazations of disasters etc peppered with a lot of scientific info, a new 'dramatic' way to do a documentary, I guess.
It was hideously bad - about the volcano under old faithful erupting and causing the end of the world. Just poorly done.
Anyway, they ran a trailer for a show, "Pompeii: The Last Day' based on some new info and research. It was a drama also but it looked AWESOME! I was bummed that they didn't show us that, instead!
Keep an eye out on cable for the 'Pompeii' special!
Thanks, I will. I'm more interested in super-volcanos though.
I have seen documentaries on Super Volcanos in the past and share your interest (I think I also read something in Natural History magazine, I think, a couple of years ago).
It;s just that the production stunk - it was an odd way to do a drama-documentary. The acting wasn't good, and it just wasn't compelling.
Keep an eye out for both, though, and I hope you enjoy them!
Please FREEPMAIL me if you want on, off, or alter the "Gods, Graves, Glyphs" PING list --
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Another thing that bothers me about this -- the Romans (and even the Etruscans) had a lot of sculpture that was knocked off from Greek originals. Sooo, the styles were imported (of the dishes and other stuff) via the importation of craftsmen, or via the copying of a single example that was imported.
I do a variety of archaeology at my house. There's an old garbage pile at the bottom of a drainage that silted up over the years. I deflect winter runoff through it in various ways to expose the stuff. It's mostly bottles from the '40s so far, but the place has been occupied for about 100 years, so I'm hoping for more interesting stuff as the pile wears down.
A name for the ages....
"Keep an eye out on cable for the 'Pompeii' special!"
Will do. Thanks.
Doesn't surprise me about Pompeii doing trade with Eastern Roman empire and North Africa.
Hey, you've just described my living room. ;') On a lesser note, my mom had some old cans and bottles with various paints and so forth. We took them over to the waste handling shack the county maintains out there. I pulled two of them out -- one was an old-fashioned brown glass "Roman Cleanser" gallon jug, with (I think) turpentine inside, the other a Listerine bottle with (perhaps) really old Listerine inside. Those old bottles are cool (not just due to their scarcity), with those raised letters. That kind of thing is mostly unheard of today, except perhaps for $5 - $6 jars of spaghettis sauce or somethin'.
Oooh. Don't tell her what I've said about her...
INTAMM ^ | 1997 | Xavier S. Thani Nayagam
Posted on 09/11/2004 8:07:01 PM PDT by SunkenCiv
Please FREEPMAIL me if you want on or off the
"Gods, Graves, Glyphs" PING list or GGG weekly digest
-- Archaeology/Anthropology/Ancient Cultures/Artifacts/Antiquities, etc.
Gods, Graves, Glyphs (alpha order)
I've never seen TV folks anytime I've been to the V, and I've been several times. Where do they hang out?
Wow, that's detailed. We didn't walk through the Canal last month, but I know exactly where you are talking about. Sounds like a cheap date, my husband would like that.