4. Limitations imposed on the study

4.1 An insufficient finds record

Ideally, it would have been useful to incorporate the finds assemblages from each property for a more complete interpretation of the use of space among Pompeii's bars. A comprehensive study of the artefacts - from the smallest objects through to large items of movable furniture - found among many of the bars and shops might allow one at least to determine the sorts of items sold, where they were stored, and how some of the rooms may have been used. Even the complete absence of finds in a property - a situation not unknown in Pompeii because of seismic events leading up to the final eruption - would elucidate much about an establishment's (in)operation (for example, the property at I.6.8. On seismic activity at Pompeii, see Fröhlich and Jacobelli 1995). On a broader level, one could attempt comparative analyses of the types of instrumenta owned, operated, or sold in various food and drink outlets.

Penelope Allison pioneered this kind of approach to the domestic record at Pompeii. By scouring the excavation records of 30 Pompeian houses, Allison successfully demonstrated how the presence and locations of certain artefacts could help to more cautiously reconstruct - or rather deconstruct, as was often the case - the function of various types of rooms and spaces (Allison 1994; Allison 2004). Her ambitious project was successful in many ways, but perhaps its greatest legacy was to dispel the so-called 'Pompeii premise'. This phenomenon was founded on the belief that the lives of the Pompeians, as exemplified by their use of daily objects, were 'frozen in time'. This is a mythical situation that has led to misleading confidence and over-positivist claims for what Pompeii is able to teach us about Roman quotidian life (Binford 1981; Schiffer 1985). Allison's study revealed how poor the records of the 19th, and indeed the 20th-century excavators actually were. Of the moveable objects that were missed by looters in the aftermath of the eruption, those that were recovered, under what would today be considered appalling archaeological practice, have been inconsistently recorded, if at all, stolen and often lost, and rarely ever preserved. As a consequence, Allison concluded that the history of Pompeian archaeology produced a finds record that is in many ways no different from most other urban sites.

If such difficulties exist for investigating the domestic assemblage, then the situation is even more frustrating for investigating the assemblages of the many shops and bars of Pompeii. These properties were recorded with much less attention than the larger, better appointed and more academically interesting Pompeian houses. It was not uncommon for the GdSc and PAH to offer several pages of detailed information on the objects found in a house, and then take just a paragraph or two, at best, to document the adjacent food and drink outlet; some bars excavated in the presence of royalty and other dignitaries record suspiciously high numbers of finds.

In spite of the difficulties faced in producing a systematic analysis of the finds record of these establishments, an attempt was made for this study. My efforts proved, however, to be not only increasingly frustrating but, moreover, futile. At best, the finds records are either insufficient to reconstruct the use of space (the finds for many rooms are simply recorded in the excavation reports as a piece of bone, a few iron nails, or a coin), or unsurprising (such as the discovery of an amphora or loom weight, which are items found in so many urban archaeological contexts). The identification of many artefacts is sometimes dubious in that they include an interpretative label (see Allison 1999), and rarely are their find-spots recorded with any precision. Some finds that may be considered trivial, such as bells and axes, were recorded on more than one occasion, but in no such number to support any systematic or statistical interpretation. Moreover, the range of excavation dates for the 158 properties results in reports of very varied quality of data, which limits balanced comparative analyses. Because of the difficulties in analysing the assemblages of finds from these properties, such analyses have not been carried out for this study. To some extent the lack of finds analyses does not diminish the value of the current study. Wallace-Hadrill was able to articulate persuasively much about Roman society without using the Pompeian finds records (Wallace-Hadrill 1990, 187-89; repeated in Wallace-Hadrill 1994, 87-9). One of the objectives of this article is to argue that the form of a building and its installations can be used to gain an understanding of the activities that took place within that space, as will be more fully elaborated throughout section 6.


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