Insula VI.I Pompeii - its glass and small finds

The excavations produced a range of evidence for both low temperature crafts and high temperature industries. Unfortunately it was not possible to study the ironwork as X-radiographic facilities were not available and so we lack information that any tools present would have provided. Also the slags and other by-products of the high temperature industries that were recovered have not been studied so it has not been possible to integrate the evidence from the small finds with the industrial residues. Despite this though, the small finds do  provide a good overview of the sorts of things being made over the centuries. The information about textile working and fishing is especially strong . First we look at other activities.

One of the more remarkable finds was a large (149 mm long) cylinder of ivory which appears to have been deliberately discarded part of the way through turning to form an artefact. There was some confusion in the records of the context it was found in, but it appears to have been found inside an amphora in a pit cut into the early terracing which pre-dated the building of the Casa del Chirurgo. The pit contained twelve Greco-Italic amphoras dating to the fourth to second centuries BC. The context is obviously an early one and so the discovery attests to ivory working in Pompeii by at least the early second century BC. Other more modest ivory rough-outs for items such as hinges attest to the continuing working of ivory into the first century AD.

Rough-out in ivory from Insula VI.1 Pompeii

Ivory rough-out from a pre Casa del Chirurgo context. (Catalogue no. 7.42). (Photo: Hilary Cool).

Fired clay mould from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
Fired clay mould from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
Fired clay mould from Insula VI.1 Pompeii

Fired clay mould fragment from an unphased context in the Bar of Acisculus. (Catalogue no. 7.44). (Photo: Mike Baxter).

Lead former from Insula VI.1 Pompeii

Lead former for a buckle frame from an unphased context in the Inn. (Catalogue no. 7.45).

Roman buckle from Insula VI.1 Pompeii

Copper alloy buckle frame of the type which would have been made by the the lead former. This one from a post earthquake context in the Inn.  (Catalogue no. 2.18).

(Photo: Mike Baxter).

Two finds point to the production of copper alloy items (see above).  One is a fragment from one valve of a two part mould. On the sides grooves had been cut to allow the two valves to be bound closely together whilst the molten metal was poured in. The other is a fragment of a lead former that would have produced a mould for the frame of a tripartite buckle of the type common on the site from the first century BC onwards. Making a former from lead alloy was a common practice. They were pressed into clay blocks to form the mould valves. The block were fired and the same former could be used again and again to create new moulds.

Stone pestle from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
stone pestle from Insula VI.1 Pompeii

     (Photo: Mike Baxter).

The activity of wall painters was also indicated within the assemblage complementing the eighteenth century evidence which consisted not only of the painted walls themselves, but also the paraphernalia of painters who had been painting the walls of the Inn Bar at the time of the eruption.  Within the recently excavated material there were not only fragments of the pigments but also the stone pestles used to grind them. One of these retained discolourations from a red pigment as well as a grey to blue one. It was found associated with a likely foundation deposit which will be considered further here.

Textile Working

Ceramic loomweights from Insula VI.1 Pompeii

A selection of fired clay loomweights from insula VI.1. The smallest on the far left is too small to have been used in weaving and was a votive.

(Photo: Mike Baxter).

The manufacture of textiles is well attested in the assemblage from the recent excavations. Well over 200 fired clay loomweights for use with a warp-weighted loom were catalogued and this is unlikely to be the complete assemblage found. Large amounts of the pottery from the insula have not been sorted and experience has shown that the loomweights were often stored with the pottery. So more are to be expected.  Loomweights were found throughout the sequence from the early pre-Sullan contexts onwards. The 1771 excavators also found a loom emplacement in the atrium of the Casa del Chirurgo using moulded lead loomweights with the message EME HABEBIS and an example of that type of loomweight was also found in the recent excavations within the Shrine.

 

The loomweights have been the subject of two articles published in 2008 and 2010 which are available for download. In these papers it was shown that  there was clear bimodality in the assemblage as shown in the plot below. It definitely appeared that the aim was to have large and small loomweights. At the time of writing those papers full phasing details were not available. The information then suggested the difference might be to do with time with small loomweights being favoured during the earlier periods. With the completion of the phasing, this could not be maintained. What does appear to be happening is that as time passed there was a desire for finer cloth with an increased number of threads per centimetre. Experimental work carried out by a Danish team has shown that if you have the weight and base measurements it is straightforward to calculate the range of threads per centimetre at different tensions. The 2010 paper discusses this.

 

A complete spindle with its whorl was found in the Inn, and bone and ivory spindle whorls were also recovered. These show a different chronological distribution being absent from the early contexts and only numerous in the mid first century AD contexts. It is curious that the tools for making thread and those for weaving cloth have such different chronological trajectories in the assemblage. This is discussed more fully in the main report where it is suggested that this may well be an aspect of how women were projecting aspects of their identities and social status. In Antiquity the production of textiles was very much women's work with their identities often being defined by it. Aspects of this in a wider context are considered in a paper available here.

Kernel Density Estimate for loomweight size from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
Stone spindle and whorl from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
Stone spindle and whorl from Insula VI.1 Pompeii

A complete but rare spindle with its whorl found in a cistern in the Inn open at the time of the eruption. The encrustations on the surface suggest it may have been in the cistern for some time.   Unusually it is made of stone. (Catalogue no. 7.1). (Photo: Hilary Cool).

Left. A Kernel Density Estimate of the weight of the complete VI.1 fired clay loomweights. Note the division between large and small  examples. (For Kernel Density Estimates see here).

Fishing

Fishing is an activity that is well attested throughout the chronological sequence and across all of the plots. It can certainly be identified by fishing hooks and net weights. It is also possible that some of the largest loomweights were in fact net weights.  Fired clay ‘loomweights’ are sometimes found on shipwrecks associated with other fishing gear, and it seems unlikely the sailors would have been weaving cloth in their spare time.

Roman copper alloy fish hook from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
Roman copper alloy fish hook from Insula VI.1 Pompeii

Fish hook from an Augusto-Tiberian context in the inn. (Catalogue no. 7.53). (Photo: Mike Baxter).

There is also evidence of net fishing in the form of lead sheets that have been bent to form tubes. The size and shape of them suggest very strongly that most were used for cast nets. On these the lead line of the net is not a working line so the cord within it does not have to have a high breaking strength and its diameter can be as small as 1 mm. On seine nets which hang down into the sea, and which are gathered in like a bag with the fish inside, the lead line has a cord of much larger diameter. As can be seen on the picture of no. 7.60 to the right, many of the VI.1 weights give the appearance of having  just the ends pinched together. The gaping in the middle part is typical of a cast net as the soft lead gradually deforms through repeated use.

 

Fish hooks regularly feature in the exhibitions of life within the Campanian sites destroyed by Vesuvius, but I have not found any published net weights. This probably reflects the fact that artefacts made of lead alloy are very much the Cinderellas of finds study, often overlooked. If there was a systematic study of those that, no doubt, exist unrecognised in the stores and excavation archives, a lot could be learnt about the type of fishing the people of Pompeii were conducting.

The fish hooks were made of copper alloy wire bent to shape. One end was clenched back to form a barbed tip, the other end was hammered to form a small expanded plate varying from a circular to a square outline. None of these plates appear to have been perforated, so in modern parlance they would be described as spade-ended. The important aspect about a fish hook is the size of the gap between the barbed tip and the shank as that governs the type of fish that can be caught with them. A good introduction to fish hook sizing can be seen here. The size of most of the ones from VI.1 would lie between the modern sizes 2 and 2/0 which would have been appropriate for catching flat fish and round fish such as bass. Large fish hooks of the size appropriate for swordfish and the like have been found at Pompeii, but are not present at VI.1.

Romanm ead weight from fishing net from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
Roman lead weight from fishing net from Insula VI.1 Pompeii

Lead alloy weights for fishing nets. Left Catalogue no.7.60 showing the typical gape from repeated use, right catalogue no. 7.83 that possibly had not been used so much. No. 7.60 was found in the Workshop in a post-earthquake context and no. 7.83 in the Vestals Bar in an Augusto-Tiberian context. (Photo: Mike Baxter).

Contents copyright H.E.M. Cool and M.J. Baxter 2016

Rough-out in ivory from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
Fired clay mould from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
Fired clay mould from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
Fired clay mould from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
Lead former from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
Roman buckle from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
Stone pestle from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
stone pestle from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
Ceramic loomweights from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
Stone spindle and whorl from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
Stone spindle and whorl from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
Kernel Density Estimate for loomweight size from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
Roman copper alloy fish hook from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
Roman copper alloy fish hook from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
Romanm ead weight from fishing net from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
Roman lead weight from fishing net from Insula VI.1 Pompeii