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Locating energy in the archaeological record: A ceramic case study from Pompeii, Italy

Gina Tibbott

Temple University

In the study of ancient ceramic production, the analysis of organic remains emerging from kiln contexts has long provided a crucial link between firing practices and the consumable materials that fuel the process. Through environmental, flotation, and charcoal analysis, researchers can identify the source of organic remains used in firings. At various kiln sites, this has revealed the wide variety of organic materials used as kiln fuel, which, in turn, can help to build a better picture of resource exploitation, environmental impact, and connection to related economies such as agriculture.

However, this material analysis does little to shed light on the quantities of fuel that this high-energy process required. This paper argues that a more comprehensive knowledge of the fuel quantities necessary to fire a kiln will help researchers better connect ancient ceramic production to fuel sources. Because determining likely fuel use requires a holistic analysis that includes consideration of kiln and wares, a multi-pronged methodology is presented here. By connecting kiln specifications and the material limits of associated fired wares, an estimated top firing range and scale can be determined; energy modeling within these paradigms then suggests a likely energetic input required for a complete firing. This model allows for organic remains recovered from a kiln to be translated into an energy contribution as well as a material quantity; in the event that excavation has not recovered deposits affiliated with kiln firing, this model also allows for hypothetical energy source projections.

Because ceramic production is pervasive in the archaeological record, this initial modeling effort focuses on evidence emerging from sites featuring cylindrical updraft kilns. Presenting a case study from a kiln site located in insula I.1 in Pompeii, Italy, this project seeks to clarify the energetic costs of one significant step of ceramic production, and the degree to which outside economic and ecologic exchange may have been enacted based on estimated fuel quantities. This allows for a deeper exploration of the ceramic industry’s relationships with purveyors of agricultural refuse such as olive oil pressing waste, grape seeds, and chaff, as well as fuel suppliers sourcing hard wood outside city limits. Executed in the pursuit of energy literacy, it is a goal of this project to develop stronger connections between durable archaeological elements and consumable materials that contributed to their manufacture.

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Systems of Knowledge and Strategic Planning in Ancient Industries

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