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The Pompeii Artifact Life History Project: conceptual background and first season’s results

Lecture: ARF Brownbag | January 30 | 12-1 p.m. | 101 2251 College (Archaeological Research Facility)


Ted Pena, Classics, UC Berkeley

Archaeological Research Facility


This talk presents the results of the first field season of the Pompeii Artifact Life History Project (PALHIP), a long-term research project aimed at elucidating the life history of portable material culture at the Roman city of Pompeii through the detailed analysis of sets of previously-excavated materials from selected archaeological contexts. The goal of the project, being carried out under the auspices of the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei, is to collect evidence regarding the acquisition, use, storage, maintenance, reuse, recycling, and discard of craft goods at Pompeii, advancing our understanding of how information of this kind can be employed to investigate synchronic and diachronic patterns of consumption in the Roman world.

A four-person research team conducted a pilot season during June and July, 2012, focusing on the development of the methodology to be employed in the long-term project. This involved the analysis of the artifact assemblage recovered at the Villa Regina a Boscoreale, a modest farmhouse located 1.4 km to the northeast of Pompeii that was excavated in its entirety during the period 1978-1983. The materials examined came for the most part from three contexts: a storeroom that contained a large number of intact, in-use objects arranged on shelving and on the floor, a large ash layer deposited on the floor of the villa’s kitchen that contained whole and fragmentary objects in primary discard, and the surface soil of the vineyards that surrounded the villa, which contained mostly fragmentary objects in secondary discard. The objects examined included pottery, ceramic lamps, glass vessels, bronze vessels, iron implements, stone objects, and objects in bone. These were characterized for their material and manufacturing technique, for alterations caused by use, including abrasion, chipping, and breakage, for the presence of incrustations and sooting, and for the presence of repairs and other modifications. This involved the use of traditional techniques, such as examination by naked eye and weighing, as well as examination under ultraviolet light and examination under a digital microscope. The results shed light on the techniques employed for the manufacture of many of the objects, the specific ways in which many of the objects were utilized, and the types and degrees of wear and breakage displayed by objects still in use and those subject to discard.

J. Theodore (Ted) Peña obtained a BA in Classics and Archaeology from Wesleyan University and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology at the University of Michigan. Before joining the faculty of the Department of Classics at the University of California, Berkeley in 2009 he served on the faculty of the University at Albany, SUNY, and University at Buffalo, SUNY, where he served as chair of the Department of Classics and was the founding director of the Institute for European and Mediterranean Archaeology. He currently serves as acting chair of the Graduate Group in Ancient History and Mediterranean Archaeology at UC Berkeley. His areas of interest include the archaeology of Roman and pre-Roman Italy, the Roman economy, ceramic analysis, and material culture studies.


Faculty, Staff, Students - Graduate, Students - Undergraduate

All Audiences


twyrick@berkeley.edu