2nd Experimental Archaeology Conference Abstract – Heather Hopkins

From the 2nd Experimental Archaeology Conference, Exeter, 2007.

Using Experimental Archaeology to answer the unanswerable: A case study using Roman Dyeing

Heather Hopkins MA,

Bradford University, Bradford, England

The scale of manufacture in Roman Pompeii has been subject to fierce debate. Moeller (1976) concluded that the dyeing industry had created a surplus for export. Jongman (1988) concluded that Pompeii relied on imports. Previous studies relied on theoretical assumptions. This study used a new approach: the relevant parts of the dyeing industry were reconstructed to determine the parameters of the apparatus and to gauge its capacity.

This study began with the construction of a full-scale replica dyeing apparatus, copied from remains in situ in Pompeii, to establish the operating parameters of an apparatus. A determination of cycle time, fuel type and requirement was made. A full survey, the fullest to date, of the standing remains of the dyeing industry was undertaken in Pompeii. The skeletal data of Herculaneum was matched to a modern population and an ergonomic assessment of each dyeing apparatus was made. The replica was amended to allow exploration of the effects of a change in design and ventilation. A computer simulation using Finite Element Analysis was undertaken. The design, cycle times and temperatures were taken from the excavated remains and experimental findings. The FE Analysis allowed the determination of physical changes in materials during heating, the mode of failure of the apparatus and the time span within which this occurred.

The approach and findings of this study are both novel and new. The study is sequential, taking a theoretical classics problem through replicative experimental archaeology into Finite Element modelling. It allows the problem to be understood and explored by those from differing disciplines. Each answer must withstand scrutiny from each discipline. While this study answers specific questions about the size of the dyeing industry, it may be used in the abstract to illustrate the application of a technique to answer ‘unanswerable’ questions.

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