Reconstructing the past to prevent future loss: The dyeing industry of Pompeii


The industrial dyeing apparatus excavated in Pompeii have been preserved and remain in situ. To understand Pompeii’s economy, and its place in the Roman world, it is necessary to first understand the capabilities of a single industry. Before this study, the size of the dyeing industry was calculated by applying theory to a superficial measurement of the remains. This study was the first to realise that to understand an industry it was necessary to reconstruct and use the relevant parts.

The most comprehensive survey of the apparatus was undertaken. A full-scale physical replica was constructed from materials that physically and thermally matched the originals. This study was the first to define the dyeing cycle time, temperatures reached and fuel type and quantity required. Finite Element Analysis (FEA) was used to model a virtual replica to show the effect of external influences on the materials during use. The lead metal data did not exist before this study. This was the first use of FEA to model an archaeological apparatus or artefact of more than one material. The dyeing industry had been far smaller than originally thought.

Archaeological virtual replications tend to be aesthetic. This study produced a rare physical replication. When this is combined with data from the original survey and physical replicas each apparatus is now ‘preserved by record’ and may be recreated. Some of the apparatus in Pompeii have been amended in an attempt to reconstruct and preserve them. This study has shown that the amendments are incorrect and potentially misleading.

Prior to this study the size of the industry was a controversial ‘unanswerable’ question. This study provided a solid foundation that answered the question and illustrated a new approach, through a method that provided a means of preserving the apparatus for the future.

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Hopkins, H.J. Reconstructing the past to prevent future loss: The dyeing industry of Pompeii. MRS Online Proceedings Library 1319, 803 (2011).

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