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The New Pompeii Volume 50 Number 6, November/December 1997
by Andrew L. Slayman

[image] One of three excavations beneath the A.D. 79 layer is that in regio I, insula 9. Here archaeologists have found evidence that opus quadratum and opera a telaio, kinds of masonry long thought to date from discrete phases, were in use at the same time. (Courtesy Giovanni Lattanzi) [LARGER IMAGE]

Pompeii is the world's oldest archaeological dig. Few archaeologists, however, have searched beneath the city's mosaic floors. Excavators are now digging large areas below the A.D.79 level. It is already clear that no building can be dated by the method of its construction, and that many details of the old chronology demand revision.

Over the past few years several projects have been working to answer chronology questions. One of these is a joint effort of the British School at Rome, the University of Reading (England), and the Università di Suor Orsola Benincasa in Naples. They are looking at regio I, insula 9. Dated according to the traditional chronology, the insula's House of Amarantus, which is built of limestone opus quadratum and opera a telaio, should belong to the third century B.C. or earlier. But in its foundation layers excavators found sherds of a kind of pottery that came into use only in the late first century B.C., indicating that such dating of the two kinds of masonry is wrong.

A Università di Roma team has excavated several squares under the Doric Portico, which runs part way around the Triangular Forum, east of the main Forum, and is usually dated to ca. 200 B.C. Beneath the portico's foundations they uncovered a votive deposit with a series of finds dating between the sixth and the end of the second centuries B.C. Pending the final results, it would seem that the portico is at least 100 years later than commonly assumed. The results of these projects suggest that construction in Sarno limestone date to the second century B.C. rather than the fourth or third.

"What is perhaps most important is the methodological insistence on dating walls by their associated materials [e.g., ceramics and other artifacts from foundation trenches], not by construction technique. If this were applied systematically throughout Italy, a lot of old certainties would crumble," says Andrew Wallace-Hadrill of the British School at Rome.

According to John J. Dobbins of the University of Virginia, the evidence "points to a comprehensive post-earthquake (i.e., post-62) plan for the east side of the forum." It appears also that the Imperial Cult Building, thought by some to antedate the 62 quake, was actually erected afterward. This past summer, Dobbin's team conducted three small excavations to date the Sanctuary of Apollo, on the western side of the Forum. Amedeo Maiuri investigated this complex in the 1930s, pronouncing the present sanctuary of second-century date. Ceramics recovered from these digs point to a date in the second half of the first century B.C., perhaps 150 years later than Maiuri thought.

Andrew L. Slayman is an associate editor of ARCHAEOLOGY.

© 1997 by the Archaeological Institute of America