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Catherine Teitz, 2012 Fellow Dig Blog at The Pompeii Quadriporticus Project, Italy

Catherine Teitz is finishing her second year as an undergraduate at Brown University, majoring in Classical Archaeology and Classics (Latin). She is interested in combining questions of archaeology, architecture, planning, and history to see how different fields influence each other and what unique perspectives come from combining disciplines. She will be working on the Pompeii Quadriporticus Project team for the summer of 2012, following a summer with the Binchester-Vinovia project in northern Britain. Catherine is currently researching the neighborhood structure of Pompeii with future plans to explore urban development along Roman frontiers.

Excavation: The Pompeii Quadriporticus Project, Italy

Co-directors, Eric Poehler (University of Massachusetts Amherst) and Steven Ellis (University of Cincinnati)

The Pompeii Quadriporticus Project focuses on both the physical material and urban setting of a long neglected structure, the Quadriporticus. This project aims to combine architectural and archaeological analysis, using cutting edge technology as well as traditional methods. The project's goal is to investigate the history and technique of the site's construction, as well as how the Quadriporticus served the city’s needs for infrastructure and movement.

Week 1

Greetings from Pompeii! This season I’m joining the Pompeii Quadriporticus Project (PQP), directed by Eric Poehler of University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Steven Ellis of University of Cincinnati, which is researching the construction history of the Quad for insights into its various structural phases and many uses across its history. The building itself has a colonnade on four sides of a central courtyard, with rooms around the edge (see plans, images, and Google Maps Street view here). On the southern side, where I’ve been working this week, the second story and roof have been reconstructed to give visitors a better sense of the ancient building. Many of the rooms have been modified for bathrooms or storage, but we can still read much of the history of the building in its walls.

We’re an unusual project in that we are neither digging things up nor recording our results on paper. Rather, the average day has us standing at a wall face, peering into cracks, testing the mortar with our trowels, and trying to determine the phases in which each wall was built and how it relates to those around it. We’re looking for changes in the mortar and construction style to determine whether something was built or updated in ancient times or has been repaired or replaced in modern ones. With a building like this, particularly on the southern end, it’s not unusual to see one or two different ancient phases and three to four modern ones.

My partner Sara, a PhD student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and I began by looking at the excedra, which is now the main gate for the Quad (see photo at left). At first glance the space appears entirely modern, but vestiges of ancient construction peek through. The original foundation and quoining supports the corners, and some of the ancient opus incertum is still a part of the wall in the lower section. Above it sits an early modern reconstruction, with later patches, changes, and additions. The numerous modifications reflect the fact that Quad’s construction history is nearly as long after its excavation as before it was buried.

Much to the curiosity of tourists who pass by, we record our data on iPads, completely digitizing the process (technology in use by the PQP). Note taking, database entry, Harris matrices, and drawings are all done without paper, at least until running low on battery. Working with the iPad has some wonderful advantages—the ability to access every other record for the project and to read notes on the wall faces surrounding the one in question provides great context and limits the times we run around the building to make comparisons—much appreciated with the heat here.

After our day in the Quad ends, I stay on site until it closes to work on my own research project. In a seminar class on Pompeii I began to study what defined the neighborhood spaces of the city. I narrowed the physical characteristics I was tracking to three major categories: public fountains, street shrines to the Lares Compitales (gods of the crossroads), and tabernae serving food. At school I plotted the all locations of each type on a map and looked at their geographical relationship. While I’m here, I aim to visit what remains of each of the fountains and shrines, and as many tabernae as possible (there are 127 on my list), documenting them and getting a better sense of the landscape of the city. It’s difficult to convey all the qualities of a street or an area with only a plan; each day I wander a new part of the city, looking at the types of buildings and the topography of the land, trying to understand the neighborhoods from the perspective of someone living there rather than as only an intersection on a map.

It’s been an excellent first week, and the next one promise to be even more exciting! PQP will push to finish entering every wall in the Quad to the database and I will continue trying to walk every street in the city, checking locations off my 5-page list and exploring the neighborhoods.

Week 2

We’re now two-thirds of the way through our season here on the Quad, and we made a massive amount of progress in the last week! One of the goals for the week was to have all the wall faces documented in the database, which we’re very close to accomplishing. There should only be a few left for next week before we launch into the next phase of the project: linking the individual wall faces and their SUs (stratigraphic units, the individual areas of construction on each wall) together to form a larger picture. More on that once it begins.

In the meantime, we’ve been catching up on one of the most distinctive elements of the Quad that we haven’t documented until now—the colonnade. Creating a process for documenting columns took some time and experimentation since they’re rather different from wall faces. For walls, we break the whole face down into smaller areas, assigning SUs to the construction styles and later patches. We needed a way to completely describe the columns, given the challenges of their cylindrical shape and unusual history. Also, the columns in the Quad were taken apart and rebuilt in the 1980s, which explains why the drums don’t always fit together smoothly and some of the flutes are misaligned. Although it’s difficult to trust that any of the columns were reassembled in their original order, we’re still recording the individual features of each one, looking for patterns in the height and placement of holes to indicate if anything may have been suspended from them.

After finishing the back walls I started last week, I joined Daniel, a University of Massachusetts, Amherst, graduate who has been working on the columns since recording began earlier in the week (see me documenting columns, at right). Together we formed a team of one assessor wielding a tape measure from a ladder and one recorder taking notes on the iPad spreadsheet. We break each column down first by drum, measuring lengths and keeping track of total heights. Once we’ve taken basic information on the columns, along with recording which sections are reconstructed and whether or not there is any ancient plaster remaining, we move on to recording the holes. For each hole we measure the distance from the column base to the bottom edge, the length of the hole, and the width. We also look at the shape and any filling, noting if it has modern mortar or ancient plaster. The columns usually have at least fifteen holes, often many more; to keep track of location we break each column down into clock faces, with 12 always to the north. Between clock face, drum number, and exact measurements, we have a very good idea of where the holes are in relationship to one another. The placement patterns can be analyzed back at home, but Daniel and I have already found one (with great relief)—the columns along the south portico have very few holes on the north side, which spares us balancing the ladder in the drainage ditch that runs along the inside edge of the portico.

I’ve continued to work on my own project of neighborhoods after work. Through walking nearly every street in the city and photographing almost all the shrines and fountains (there are a few in closed areas I couldn’t see), I have a much better sense of what remains of each type as well as the landscape of the city. Since there are only a few shrines with portions of frescoes and fountains with their original heads, my large-scale survey plan won’t yield the information I was looking for. While it’s frustrating to have research not go as planned, it’s a good lesson and I’m going to try something new next week. I’ll choose an area where I think there should be neighborhood boundaries and look for the transitions between sections—changes in building style, structural use, and topography. Walking all over the city for two weeks has given me a great general picture and I’m excited to really know a specific area (outside the Quad) in the last week.


Aerial view of the Quad.

Week 3

The Pompeii Quadriporticus Project closed an incredibly successful season this week, with more than 99.6% of all the walls possible to record entered into the database and one of the largest data-sets on the life-cycle of columns ever created. My week focused primarily on columns as I worked to collect more information and to begin creating links between them.

Monday we had an unusual occurrence for sunny southern Italy—large black storm clouds. They created great conditions for photographs, and I spent the morning taking pictures of each column from four different angles. Balancing a ranging rod exactly vertical against a rough column on uneven ground can be challenging, and I think I spent more time running back to replace it than anything else. The afternoon started with a few drops of rain here and there which soon developed into a full-fledged downpour. I can now say that I’ve skipped around the Quad through sheets of rain and crossed the river that is the Via Stabia’s south end (one of the lowest points in the city). Besides giving us a quiet afternoon for drawing and recording notes, the rain also washed away the dust, making it easier to see the colors of the stones for masonry analysis.

After I finished the first part of column work I moved back to the south-eastern corner of the Quad. Sitting on the second floor balcony I looked out over the waves of visitors while examining the reconstruction of the upper story. A small amount of ancient construction was visible behind many layers of modern repair and consolidation. Since the records of repair in Pompeii are difficult to access, when they exist at all, the process of modern development can be as puzzling as the ancient one.

I finished my week with the columns—this time looking for relationships between the holes cut into them. We know that the columns have fallen, been repaired, pulled down, and reassembled, circumstances that lessen our chances of finding truly original data, but patterns between them may show which ones were reconstructed accurately. One of the difficult parts of column analysis is that there is no set methodology, so I had the opportunity to experiment. After trying a variety of systems, some too specific, others too general and discussing the question with Eric, I started looking for two specific occurrences: holes drilled through the plaster and holes on the interior (i.e. toward the palaestra) face of the columns. We noticed that many of the holes had at least some plaster filling, implying that one phase of decorative stucco came later and may have removed some inter-columnal fencing or decorations. If there is a pattern of holes through plaster versus ones covered, it could suggest the multiple phases of the columns in the Quad, giving us more detail on its various uses. Holes facing the interior, on the other hand, tell more about the modern life of the colonnade. It seems unlikely that there would be holes for structural reasons on that side, given the uses of the central space. Finding columns with holes there could indicate a mistake in their reconstruction. After working my way around the Quad I recorded my findings on a large paper plan, which makes it much easier to visualize the relationships and trends.

Three weeks of living and working in Pompeii have been an amazing experience. I’ve come to know the city through walking it every day and I’m just starting to see the neighborhood relationships, although I have a lot more research to do once I’m home. My time with PQP has taught me a great deal—I pause to look at bricks walls far more, now trying to find blocked doorways and later additions. Buildings will reveal their history if you know how to look and the Quadriporticus is a great place to start learning.

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