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Pompei, Insula IX 8: Vecchi e nuovi scavi (1879–)

Pompei, Insula IX 8: Vecchi e nuovi scavi (1879–)

By Antonella Coralini (Studi e Scavi n.s. 40). Pp. 806. Ante Quem, Bologna 2017. €70. ISBN 978-88-7849-115-1 (paper).

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This volume is the second in a series that will publish 19 years of archaeological research on the insula of the Casa del Centenario (IX 8) at Pompeii by Alma Mater Studiorum – University of Bologna. It presents results deriving from both late 19th century work and the more recent excavations undertaken between 1999 and 2004 in this well-known property. More than 60 essays are integrated into the primary text by Coralini, arranged in two major parts and focused first on the original clearance of eruptive debris from the property and second on the finds produced by pre-79 C.E. subsurface excavations. As a result, the volume presents a wide variety of perspectives unified by the Casa del Centenario itself.

Brief prefaces by both the author and Giulierini, director of the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli (MANN), highlight the collaborative nature of the research. These are followed by Coralini’s introduction, which traces the development of the project and considers how the study of a full city block at Pompeii should best be undertaken. Part 1 examines the 19th-century excavations of the property and its contexts, recounts the history of the house after excavation, and recovers much of the lost context of finds from the house. Part 2 presents the artifactual, archaeobotanical, and archaeozoological data from the recent excavations, catalogued by material type and class and supplemented by analysis and interpretation of the assemblage.

In section 1.I.1, Coralini provides an overview of the Casa del Centenario, from the excavations directed by M. Ruggiero between 1879 and 1880 to its present condition. Here she also considers the overall distribution of finds in the house and potential problems generated by the contemporary celebrations of the 18th centenary of the eruption after which this house is named, and she discusses the bodies of victims recovered and traces of the ancient garden. In a tour de force of archival research, Helg (1.I.2) presents a reconstruction of the 18th-centenary celebrations themselves, including illustrations and transcription of a number of related primary documents. Coralini explores the role of the house in both academic and popular literature, from its first appearance to the present day (1.I.3). In this process, she demonstrates how errors can become accepted as “facts,” such as the mistaken attribution to the nearby Casa delle Nozze d’Argento of a mosaic with a gorgon emblema from cubiculum 12 of the Casa del Centenario. In section 1.I.4, Rispoli and Esposito provide a fascinating and detailed discussion of the house after its primary excavation, illustrated with an impressive collection of early and previously unpublished photographs and restorations. This narrative also includes assessment of the cork model in the MANN and precise details of restoration campaigns, complete with the historical context that motivated them—information of considerable value to anyone conducting excavation in the city. Covolan’s study and reconstruction of the Nocera tuff columns of the Rhodian portico (1.I.5) demonstrates not only Amedeo Maiuri’s errors in restoration, but the degree to which even large blocks of stone have tended to migrate within the site during the years after excavation. Section 1.I.6 (Coralini and Giglio) provides an overview of the GIS employed by the project, particularly its connection to data requirements of the Istituto Centrale per il Catalogo e la Documentazione, and section 1.I.7 (Guidazzoli and Liguori) considers the use of virtual and augmented reality in archaeology, regrettably treating the work undertaken for Casa del Centenario only briefly.

In section 2 of part 1, focus falls on the finds recovered in the 19th-century excavations of the house, the sources employed in recovering this information, and the interpretation of their distribution. Beginning with a discussion of the challenges of reconstructing the records of earlier excavations at Pompeii, especially in light of the experiences of recent archaeological research (e.g., P. Allisons, Pompeian Households: An Analysis of Material Culture [Los Angeles 2004]) and highlighting difficulties caused by omission of less interesting or incomplete ceramics and glass finds, Coralini ultimately concludes that such work is possible and worth the considerable effort required. This is followed by discussion of the finds from the insula as a whole and how these can be used to examine ancient production and commerce, with consideration of the coins and their contexts (Vecchietti). In section 1.II.2, Coralini presents a vital review of the archival research necessary to track down the finds from original excavations to their modern storage locations (often in the MANN), which includes a discussion of the primary sources, such as the Giornali dei Soprastanti, the Notizie degli Scavi, the Librette e i Notamenti delle Spedizioni, the Registri di Sottoconto and the Regolamento degli Scavi di Antichità, documents that may be entirely unfamiliar to some readers. Transcriptions of the entries utilized in this research are included in a series of appendices, forming a new primary record for the house and presenting a tremendous resource for anyone interested in conducting similar work. Evidence for the recataloguing and reorganization of the Granai del Foro and stores in the Terme Femminile del Foro, long after their disruption by bombing in 1943, is presented by Toniolo (1.II.3). An impressive and extensive catalogue of all traceable materials and graffiti recovered between 1879 and 1880 follows, presenting a complete examination of find contexts divided into general zones within the insula. Entries for each item include full citations, documentation history, and relevant comparanda. Most items are represented by photographs or illustrations. Statues and other notable finds receive extensive interpretive discussion. The end result is as complete a record of finds as can be produced today, an enduring contribution to the study of the city. A brief chapter by Assenti and Morsiani (1.III) details the results of the study of ceramics recovered earlier by the Soprintendenza from a circular basin in the peristyle and confirms the decommissioning of this feature in the final years of the house.

The remainder of the volume (part 2) is dedicated to the new excavations undertaken between 1999 and 2004, emphasizing finds and their analysis. Sassi provides a brief discussion of the objectives and methodology of the research (2.I.1) that is notably without any explicit description of the recovery methods employed, followed by paragraph-long summaries of each of the 21 trenches within the Casa del Centenario (2.I.2) and an overview of the phases identified (2.I.3). Since these are not generally accompanied by plans, photographs, or other illustrations, it can be difficult to appreciate the full significance of these results. One must turn instead to the preliminary report (S. Santoro, et al., “Progetto Insula del Centenario (IX, 8),” RStPomp 16 [2005] 211–56) or await the next volume, which hopefully will provide more detail. Mazzeo (2.II) provides an overview of the finds and considers their role in understanding the chronology of the house, production and trade, and the ancient environment, while a chapter by Toniolo (2.III) highlights how close examination of the fabrics of pottery recovered from the city reveals a number of small production groups that, while rarely attested with respect to local production, can nevertheless enrich social and political interpretations of consumption patterns and, ultimately, suggest an archaeology of taste.

The detailed and comprehensive catalogue of finds that follows is divided into sections by type, ware, and material—pottery, glass and glass paste, worked coral, braziers and ceramic elements, metals, coins, inscribed materials, worked bone, worked stone, archaeobotanical and zooarchaelogical finds, and fish residues—each section authored by its associated specialists (Mazzeo, Gaucci, Assenti, Morsiani, Romano, Sassoli, Rigato, Mongardi, Mazzeo, Carra, Maini, Curci, Albertini). Even the ceramic wares and classes that produced few finds (Etrusco-Corinthian, Ionic, possible Attic, Hellenistic, red-figure, Eastern Sigillata A, African terra sigillata, and unguentaria) receive full treatment. Catalogue entries for wares that were recovered more extensively (Bucchero and archaic impasto, black-gloss, Italian sigillata, internal red-slipped, and thin-walled) are introduced by valuable reviews of related scholarship. Coarse ware, African cookware, and amphoras also receive extensive discussion, as do ceramic lamps and other terracotta elements such as braziers. Glass and glass paste, coins, worked bone, and worked stone, which were rare finds in these excavations, are fully catalogued, and recovered inscriptions of all types are explored extensively. Exceptional finds, such as a worked coral phallus pendant and an Eneolithic greenstone axe interpreted as a Roman ritual deposit, each receives its own section, while analysis of metals is restricted to identifiable objects. Each section is filled with a wealth of scaled illustrations and photographs. Specific stratigraphic information on these finds is downloadable from a table of excavated materials on the publisher’s website. The volume is brought to a conclusion by three chapters on the archaeobotanical remains, including pollen, carpological finds and charcoal, animal bones, and the remains of fish sauce from two amphoras.

Taken as a whole, the volume provides an exemplary model of archaeological publication, releasing a wealth of primary data that will be of use to specialists and other researchers. Division into numerous small sections can make the text somewhat repetitive, but it does ensure that each element stands independently. This publication does not by itself present the full results of the archaeological research undertaken and leaves a number of tantalizing observations unexplored (such as the conclusion that the Casa del Centenario was not, in fact, a private property during the final years of the city but rather was some manner of public space). As such, the volume serves to complement the geophysical and archaeometric results (S. Santoro, ed., Pompei, Insula del Centenario [IX, 8]. Vol. 1, Indagini diagnostiche geofisiche e analisi archeometriche. Studi e Scavi n.s. 16 [Bologna 2007]), while anticipating the detailed narrative of the development of the block and its wall painting that is promised to follow.

Michael A. Anderson
Department of Classics
San Francisco State University

Book Review of Pompei, Insula IX 8: Vecchi e nuovi scavi (1879–), by Antonella Coralini

Reviewed by Michael A. Anderson

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 123, No. 4 (October 2019)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1234.Anderson

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