4.2 Masonry analysis

4.2.1 The history of masonry analysis

This basic stratigraphic strategy for examining architecture is most often termed masonry analysis. This method of analysis has a history of over-reliance on the creation and adherence to masonry typologies. Unsurprisingly, this is exemplified at Pompeii, where the high level of preservation on an urban scale has resulted in some of the earliest considerations of masonry types (e.g. Fiorelli 1873; Nissen 1877; Mau 1879). August Mau's chronology for masonry at Pompeii became the standard that was followed, nearly unquestioningly, for more than a century (Mau 1879). His method was based on an informal stylistic seriation of construction types, but largely ignored stratigraphic relationships between specific walls. Marion Blake's three volumes on Roman construction in Italy, while useful, are essentially concerned with the internal construction chronologies of individual buildings but not the relationships between adjacent structures (Blake 1947; 1959; 1973). The 1990s, however, produced several works that have carefully considered not just wall types, but also the relationship between individual walls and buildings (Ball 1994; 2003; Dobbins 1994; Ling 1997). Dobbins and Ling investigated structures at Pompeii while Ball studied the Domus Aurea in Rome. This very brief bibliographic sketch, limited in scope for the purposes of the present article, summarises that the majority of such studies have been carried out for Roman Italy and, moreover, for well-preserved structures. Beyond Roman Italy, some very good contributions have been made in the field of Minoan architecture, notably by Donald Sanders and Clairy Palyvou (Sanders 1990; Palyvou 2005).

For classical archaeology, there is no unanimous agreement as to how best to capture information in the field for masonry analysis, to use this information to generate phase plans, or to relate it to other kinds of data, especially those in the form of non-digital excavation and archival records. Also, many of the systems for organising evidence from masonry analysis are not well integrated with the process used to collect that evidence. As a result, subsequent database records often constitute a reduction of the original field records, excluding important observations that have not previously been quantified or categorised. The general difficulties faced in incorporating evidence from other sources with one's own investigations, such as legacy data from old excavations or even data from more recently digitised excavations, then become compounded, and their resolution made even more intractable by such inconsistencies between the original records and the resulting databases. Our approach to the East Field, therefore, had to overcome not only the problems involved in interpreting the labyrinthine nature of the excavated structural remains, in integrating these legacy data from previous excavations, and in comprehending the recording methods used by previous campaigns, but also the difficulties that are inherent in current strategies for masonry analysis.


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