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Liquid industry, blacksmithing, and rented accommodations. Students excavate an area at the front of the inn.
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Pompeii's clothing and shoe shops are the only stores we have not been able to identify archaeologically. This wall fresco from the Via Abondanza offers us a glimpse into an industry otherwise lost in the archaeological record. It shows two pairs of men preparing fabrics in large, moveable basins, and a furnace in the center of the image. Textiles decompose fairly easily, and the metal basins may have corroded or been melted down for reuse; only the would have been likely to survive the 2,000 years from its interment to excavation.
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Nice and tidy? Amy McCabe (Indiana University) investigates one of the tanks at the back of the so-called soap factory. The function of this industrial space in its final phase remains unclear.
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Confused but not dazed. A puzzling ceramic feature welcomes the interpretation of Crystal-Anne Parsons (UC-Berkeley) and Martin Marx (Johns Hopkins University).
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Looking for the smith: Kristen Baldwin (Bryan College) samples for metalworking residue at the entrance to the inn (VI,1,4). After the season is completed, a specialist in the labs at University of Bradford will measure the concentration of iron slag per gram of sample taken from each square. Such data will allow us to hypothesize where the blacksmith's forge once sat.
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Liminal liquid industry. The first large-scale industrial activity in VI,1 involved these tanks (top and bottom). The larger tank (at bottom) sat just inside the workshop's threshold from the street. It was lined with a waterproof plaster, suggesting the presence of some wet industry. Construction workers, in pursuit of natural soil, dug the pit in the middle after the tanks had been abandoned and destroyed.
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Katie McEnaney (Harvard University) and Taylor Neff (Connecticut College) excavate the front room of the "soap factory." This front room was once several (note the excavated walls behind Neff), and the presence of metalworking residues suggests that this space was once used for smithing. Five waterproofed tanks in the back room are the source of the factory's traditional name.
Photos courtesy of the AAPP.
by Lisa Marie Mignone, Rick Jones, Damian Robinson, and Jarrett Lobell

July 30, 2001

Pompeii's Complex Economy
Pompeii had a full range of commerce and industry. Sizeable ovens and two-meter-high stone mills leave tangible reminders of once thriving bakeries. Large tanks indicate large-scale fulling, dying, and laundering. Fullers, dyers, bakers, metalworkers, tanners, and jewelers. Shops vending vegetables, ceramics, wine, oil, and fish. By studying production and consumption, we begin to understand how the city functioned and how the people in the city lived: how they got bread on their table and from which bakery they bought it. A study of Pompeian economy is also an investigation into the source of wealth that fueled the construction and maintenance of many of the city's most impressive buildings and decoration.

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.

Reading Pompeian Industry: Seeing the Invisible
Pompeii had a diverse economy. This diversity existed even on the local level. In the immediate neighborhood of VI,1 for example, there are several bars, a bakery, blacksmiths, and a number of shops--all mixed in with modest and extravagant houses. Within VI,1 itself, there was a broad range of industry; but evidence of it is not easy to recovery. Most of the industrial processes occurred above ground and are lost to us today. The initial clearance of VI,1, over two centuries ago, removed any artifacts that may have survived, such as tools, machinery, tripods, or cauldrons. Any wooden structures or textile goods would have decomposed in the millennium and a half prior to their excavation. The structural remains that do survive are fragmentary at best. Without artifacts and clear structures, we may not be able to learn what went on in these various spaces.

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.

"The Soap Factory" (VI,1,14)
VI,1,14 has been traditionally identified as a soap factory. There is little to justify this name, given in the eighteenth century; but in the backroom of the complex, there are small shallow tanks, which are lined with a waterproof plaster. Some sort of liquid, or at least wet, industry took place here, but no one knows what it was. The tanks are too small to have been used for tanning or fulling, and properties elsewhere in the ancient city provide little comparison.

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.

The Mysterious Ceramic Feature (VI,1,4)
At the opposite end of our insula, tucked inside the inn, a very puzzling feature has surfaced just next to the base of a brick pillar. The feature is a large round vessel, nearly a meter in diameter and made of local clay. Its working surface may have been lost, perhaps hacked off when the vessel went out of use and the pillar was built above it. The vessel itself lay sunk into the ground with fragments of common-ware pottery mortared against it. This outer ring of pottery may have buttressed the large central vessel. Inside were several large pieces of very hard-packed earth. Some clods of this earth appeared to line the sides of the vessel, others simply lay within. Also found inside were large river rocks and smooth pebbles, both of which are not commonly found in Pompeian deposits. In the layer immediately above the vessel and its packed earth were bands of very corroded iron. These bands were of uniform width and had holes punched through them. Perhaps they served as metal reinforcement for the ceramic vessel. We don't know, but we do know that these deposits show no signs of heating. The structure was not a hearth.

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.

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