Field work 2010

The members of EPUH headed to Pompeii again in May after receiving a three year grant from the Emil Aaltonen Foundation. In those three years, the aim is to finish the buildings archaeological work in the central and eastern parts of the insula as well as wall painting documentation. The work plan for each of the three field seasons is quite ambitious and in the first year, the plan was to finish analyzing 26 rooms in eight houses in the western and southern parts of the insula. Wall painting documentation concentrated in the bakery IX 3,19–20 in the southeast corner of the insula. In addition, the numerous fragments of wall paintings found during the project’s excavations were studied.

The houses in the western part of the insula are mostly small one- or two-room shops or combinations of shops, workshops and/or apartments. The street running on the western side of the insula is the main north-south street in Pompeii and consequently, it is not surprising that commercial activities are so dominant there. At first glance, the houses seem uninteresting: no wall paintings, no visible floors and walls consist of monotonous rubble work. However, clearance of floor level and analysis of walls revealed interesting details in almost every house. The shop in house IX 3,3 (room 37) had a plaster and lava floor which was even decorated. The back room (room 39) had a large window straight into the kitchen of the adjacent House of Marcus Lucretius. A previously unknown cistern head was found by the partition wall. The upper floor over the back room in house IX 3,4 (room 38) has a nice little toilet possibly connected to the large cesspit in the House of Marcus Lucretius.

The shop IX 3,6 (rooms 35 and 40) had previously been connected with the House of Marcus Lucretius as shown by two blocked doors to rooms 2 and 4. A linear structure usually interpreted as a base for stairs turned out to be the remains of a partition wall with a door northwards. It had been almost completely razed in antiquity. House IX 3,7 used to have only one room, but after the clearance revealed the remains of a partition wall, it must now be regarded as a two-room house. In addition, remains of a possible cistern and toilet were found. A small room had existed in the eastern part of the house, but the partition wall had been razed already in ancient times. The cistern or well head in the rear part of house IX 3,8 was not completely dug during the 19th century excavations and removal of the pumice gravel revealed a surprising layer of soot and charcoal. Drain channels as well as a possible toilet were found in the same house. House IX 3,9 was one of the few spaces which did not offer any surprises!

A bakery and shop (house IX 3,10–12) is located in the southwestern corner of the insula. Behind the bakery there are also two nicely decorated rooms and a small garden. The shop (room 59) is in the corner of insula and it was known that three large storage vessels should be found along its north wall. All three were indeed found as well as two smaller vessels, all dug into the ground. The large central space in the bakery with four mills and a baking oven (room 61) featured strange floor levels: in the south side the lava blocks around the mills were at the same level as the floors in the rooms to the north (rooms 64 and 66), but in the northern part of room 65 the floor seemed to be half a meter lower. An underground masonry cistern with a cistern head was found in room 65. Water was used also in room 64 since a pipe line connected it with the garden (room 68). The garden featured a cistern head and east of it, a small and low masonry pool was found. Two small channels started from it and ran towards the center of the garden. The function of this channel remains still unknown.

The last house to be studied (IX 3,13) is a combination of a shop and dwelling. The shop (room 69) opens to the busy shopping street south of the insula – both sides of the street are flanked with commercial spaces. The atrium (room 70) in the central part of the house seemed to be a classic case with an impluvium pool in the middle and a cistern head next to it. The pool did gather rainwater, but it was apparently directed straight to the street since the connecting channel to the cistern was firmly blocked. Removal of the pumice gravel from the cistern revealed another surprise: a soil layer very similar to that excavated in the latrine (room 13) of the House of Marcus Lucretius. The other features in the room are connected with cooking and apparently the food preparation waste was thrown into the abandoned cistern. A small light well (room 73) shared by surrounding houses was found in the back part of the house flanked by a toilet (room 72).

The ambitious plan was successfully carried out and the results provide a glimpse into the commercial side of the insula as well as into the daily life of Pompeians. The basic comforts of a town house seem familiar even modern city dweller: a good source of water and an indoor toilet. A cistern – usually previously unknown – as well as a toilet has been found in almost all the houses studied so far. Work in the southern part of the insula continues in 2011.