7th Experimental Archaeology Conference Abstract – Heather Hopkins et al

The influence of the dyers’ craft on experimental context: investigating the affect of metals in the dyeing industry of Pompeii

Heather Hopkins, Katrin Kania, Sabine Ringenberg

The manufacturing apparatus of Pompeii survived the volcanic eruption in AD79 in situ, allowing a reconstruction of workshops and industries. This, in turn, allows an understanding of Pompeii’s scale of manufacture and economic significance, and its place in the Roman world. The manufacturing capacity of Pompeii’s dyeing industry was calculated following research and experiments with a replica apparatus. A survey of the 40 original apparatus showed that the kettles were made from lead. This metal is weak with a low melting point and the kettles had deformed during use. A computer simulation showed that despite this, the kettles did not break. These findings formed the basis of an understanding of the dyeing industry, but questions remained, such as why lead had been used when it is physically unstable, as iron and copper were available.

Possible answers only emerged during exchange with a professional historic dyer, whose craft experience lead to a reinterpretation of the apparatus. An experiment was undertaken to investigate the effects on the wool dyeing process of iron, copper or lead when used as a kettle material. Two dyes were tested and both gave spectacular, unforeseen results that have allowed a better understanding of the Romans’ choice.

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