These buildings--the luxurious houses and the grandiose public structures--have until recently been the focus of Pompeian archaeology. Any study of industry has likewise concentrated on the striking and substantial: the bakeries with their heavy mills and spacious ovens, the textile processors with their large tanks. These are spaces that are immediately recognizable and visually accessible. But they provide only a glimpse into Pompeii's broad industrial spectrum. To them we must add the industry that is now invisible: workshops that once filled small rooms along the main roads.
Excavation not only reveals buried sherds and razed walls, but may also cause confusion. What do these sherds suggest about room function or about economy? What do these walls tell us about the shaping and reshaping of space? Why did the ancient Pompeians do this? As we puzzle over fragmentary clues, we have no answer key. We have no ancient Pompeian to confirm or deny our hypotheses, to tell us if we are "right" or "wrong." But the excitement of archaeology is tackling this confusion, grappling with the evidence, and positing new theories. If we already knew the answers, then what would be the challenge and adventure of our investigations? What new information might we learn? Continuing research and communication with other Pompeii projects help us fine-tune our theories and reach firm conclusions about who the Pompeians were and how they lived.
The next several paragraphs will raise some of the archaeological questions and issues we have been facing in our investigation of industry this season and last. Given the evidence, be the archaeologist and join us in puzzling out the lost industrial past of VI,1.
This year's excavation of VI,1,14's front room has raised further questions. The room's street entrance was widened at some point to increase access to the factory. At the same time the floor was paved with white plaster. Beneath this new floor we have found a series of destroyed walls. The large room buried by Vesuvius in A.D. 79 had at some point been a set of several small rooms. We don't yet know why the space had been reshaped, but the new arrangement may not necessarily have corresponded to a change in room function. Both the earlier and later rooms turned up bits of metal, ore, slag, and hammer scale suggesting the presence of a blacksmith in both phases. Only in the final stages was this blacksmith's shop replaced with a series of waterproofed tanks.
Many questions remain now, as does a full week of excavation. In the meantime we have one student's reflections on the "soap factory" and its many riddles.
Our working hypothesis is that the vessel served as a support for a thin metal tank. Bronze is a malleable metal that wobbles when not properly braced. This ceramic feature may perhaps have added structural reinforcement for a removable bronze vessel. Similar features have been uncovered in nearby Herculaneum. One of our students reflects on the evidence and how archaeology is done in this week's journal excerpt.
Hitting the Nail on the Head: Blacksmithing in VI,1,4
At the entrance to the inn, we have found industrial activity of a very different nature. Last season, as our excavation team dug layers predating the inn complex, several black patches began to emerge. These black patches were suggestive of a blacksmith's workshop, possibly residual matter from metalworking (slag and hammer scale). As the smith's hammer crashes down onto his anvil, sparks fly from the metal piece he is working. These sparks fall to the ground where they cool and take the form of flakes. Likewise, the sparks from a welder's flame cool into tiny balls, hardened droplets forgotten on the floor. By running magnets over this area, we were able to recover both types of metalworking byproducts. The arrangement and concentration of these enabled us to identify where the anvil would have stood two millennia ago. These tiny pieces of evidence, almost microscopic in size, enabled us to locate an industrial structure that has otherwise disappeared.
In the same area, several hand-sized hearth bottoms turned up. Iron being worked is thrust into a scorching furnace, which melts the metal and makes it more malleable. Some of the metal, and certainly the non-metal impurities within the ingot, drip off, slip through the hearth's grill, and settle on the ground below. The accumulation of this type of slag was cleared out regularly in antiquity, and the hearth bottoms we have uncovered were not found in place. So, we may not be able to position the hearth as we had positioned the anvil, but the presence of hearth bottoms assures us that furnaces existed. Most significant about these recoveries, then, is the fact that we have no anvils, no pincers, no hearth, no worked metal, and still we have these small artifacts that insist upon the very real presence of a blacksmith's workshop.
Early Tanks on the Threshold
The blacksmith's workshop pre-dates the inn, but it is not the first industrial activity in that specific area. Beneath the various bits of slag and hammer scale was a large tank, roughly one meter wide. The tank was lined with a waterproof plaster, suggesting it was used for wet industry. The floor associated with the tank was cocciopesto--utilitarian cement flooring found in well-trafficked areas. The exact function of this tank and the type of industry it served is unknown at this point, but the same structure appears in both properties immediately to the north and south.
To the north (VI,1,2) lay another tank, part of which was discovered last year in the excavation of the entrance to VI,1's northernmost bar. It sits immediately across the threshold and again showed signs of waterproof plaster. Unfortunately, today, as in A.D. 79, the tank is mostly hidden under the bar counter. Within the next week, we hope to excavate much of the tank's interior and southern edge.
To the south (VI,1,5), two more tanks were found under the A.D. 79 bar complex that is nestled within the property line of the House of the Vestals. One of the tanks sat just across the threshold, easily accessible from the street. It was built of stone and lined with waterproof plaster, and was about 1.6 meters deep. The activity was abandoned and the structures were leveled when the space was renovated into a bar. The second tank was shallower and smaller. It was also lined with mortar, but no traces of waterproof plaster have survived. It is clear that these two tanks were abandoned simultaneously. Both were filled with the same leveling deposit of garbage: rubble, wall plaster, mortar, and brick.
Between the two tanks was a very deep pit, which reached down into natural soil. When the tanks went out of use and the room was being transformed, construction workers dug this pit in search of natural soil, locally called pozzolana. This soil, rich in lime, was an essential ingredient in making the cement for the next building phase. As is the case with much Pompeian industry, our knowledge of how the workers were organized in the city has no structural or artifactual evidence. Here their presence is marked only by the void they dug.
Bulls and Bears in Pompeii: Industrial Change Over Time
All of these industrial features--the structures, the artifacts, and even the cuts for a pit--date to phases long before Pompeii's destruction in A.D. 79. (The tanks in the so-called soap factory are an exception.) They were destroyed not by Vesuvius' sudden eruption, but by new proprietors' renovations and by the changes in Pompeii's market economy. The large tanks of VI,1,2 and VI,1,5 were leveled, buried, and ultimately replaced by bars. The tank of VI,1,4 was likewise abandoned and razed, replaced by blacksmith's workshop. In the final phase, however, the blacksmith is gone. The entrance to an inn receives customers where an anvil once stood. Inside that same inn, a large open area has paved over what was once a site of industrial activity. The ceramic base filled with hard-packed earth and river rocks has, for some reason, become obsolete. By August of A.D. 79, the northern end of VI,1 has become almost exclusively a place for catching a bite or taking a snooze.
Our excavations of VI,1 have tracked the development of industry and commerce within our insula. The slow change evident in the highly limited archaeological record traces the shift in the Pompeian economy. Whatever wet industry dominated the northern half of the insula in the earliest stages of its non-residential activity no longer proved profitable. Bars and inns, on the other hand, did. The tiniest bits of hammerscale or the meter-deep threshold tanks do not tell us why this shift in the economy occurred. We cannot learn from the ceramic vessel the social processes or economic reasons why one industry overtook the other. But we can learn how space in VI,1 developed and changed over time.