Institute of Archaeology


RAC/TRAC Session 38: RAC General Session 1

Details of the RAC/TRAC Conference session 'RAC General Session 1.'

Conference Sessions and Abstracts - Saturday 13 April 2024

38. RAC General Session 1

Session schedule 

Saturday 13 April (AM)              Room 7 - C3.15 (Level 3)
09:30Community art and public engagement on Hadrian’s Wall (Andrew Roberts)
09:50Le tesserae ‘Vota Publica’ del IV sec. d.C (Christian Mondello)
10:10Signacula as Reusable Type in the Roman Empire (Elizabeth Robinson)
10:30Modelling Textile Production and Consumption in the Roman Republic: A Novel Approach (Fenella Palanca)
10:50                                               BREAK
11:20Absence of Evidence is Evidence… of a Vineyard (Simeon D. Ehrlich)
11:40“Soft stone, most human stone” in Roman architecture (Daniel P. Diffendale)


 Community art and public engagement on Hadrian’s Wall
Andrew Roberts – English Heritage

In the Summer of 2023, English Heritage commissioned a community art installation, The Future Belongs To What Was As Much As What Is led by the artist Morag Myerscough at Housesteads Roman Fort along Hadrian’s Wall. The work reimagined the fort’s northern gateway, and was clad with brightly coloured, textured placards inspired by Roman archaeological collections. These were created by community volunteers and inscribed with words and phrases created through workshops in conjunction with the artist, a poet, and English Heritage subject specialists. The result was a contemporary statement of what the Wall and its associated collections meant to the communities of Hadrian’s Wall. This paper will discuss how the art installation was used to encourage engagement with archaeological collections and remains through the evaluation of extensive audience questionnaires and surveys. It will show the how the artwork moved the demographic and psychographic profile of the site’s visitorship, and conveyed learning outcomes that were distinct from those of the traditional on-site interpretation. The installation emphatically recreated a ‘lost’ aspect of Hadrian’s Wall as an invasive and shocking presence in the landscape. It also changed the narrative emphasis of Housesteads away from the fort being a functional part of a military frontier to that of an ancient and contemporary community.

 Le tesserae ‘Vota Publica’ del IV sec. d.C 
Christian Mondello – Università degli Studi di Messina

L’obiettivo di questa comunicazione è quello di ridiscutere la speciale categoria di tesserae tardo-romane ‘Vota Publica’, realizzate in bronzo e in ottone, le quali recano i ritratti di imperatori romani da Diocleziano (284-305 d.C.) a Valentiniano II (375-392 d.C.) in combinazione con iconografie isiache ed egiziane. Comunemente noti come ‘Festival of Isis coins’ in letteratura e sul mercato, questi manufatti sono stati messi in relazione da A. Alföldi (A Festival of Isis in Rome under the Christian Emperors of the IVth Century, Budapest 1937) con il festival romano del Navigium Isidis, nel cui ambito essi sarebbero serviti da mezzi di ‘propaganda pagana’, su apparente iniziativa di circoli senatori reazionari di Roma. Il ritrovamento di nuovi esemplari, alcuni dei quali provenienti da contesti archeologici, nonché la rivisitazione della cronologia e dei modelli di produzione consentono di avanzare nuove riflessioni relative a questa serie di tesserae tardo-romane, la cui ratio costituisce ancora oggi una irrisolta vexata quaestio. 

 Signacula as Reusable Type in the Roman Empire
Elizabeth Robinson – University of Dallas

Signacula are a type of instrumenta domestica (tools intended for everyday use) that were used in the production and labeling of items within the Roman economy. This paper focuses on the subset of signacula used for branding or impressing various materials, including wooden barrels, and their role as reusable type on the outskirts of the Roman Empire. The signacula were meant to be used repeatedly, and they often bore the initials of individuals representing tria nomina or duo nomina, although some referred to military legions. The general consensus is that these markers were used by producers, merchants, and administrators, and perhaps even to indicate ownership. The creation and use of these tools was thus a fundamental part of the manufacturing chain, yet this type of technology seems to have been confined only to certain regions of the Empire. This paper explores the ways that the production and use of these signacula relate to Roman views of identity, ownership, and production. It also relates these observations to considerations of how other examples of reusable type may have functioned in the broader Roman economy.

 Modelling Textile Production and Consumption in the Roman Republic: A Novel Approach
Fenella Palanca – University of Melbourne

Textile production must have comprised a significant portion of the Republican economy, but the actual scale and complexity of this industry is often unclear, owing to an ostensible lack of consistent evidence for textile manufacture in this period. However, recent developments in experimental archaeology have made it possible to produce plausible estimates for the labour and material requirements of creating textiles, particularly for the primary manufacturing processes of spinning and weaving. This paper will first use such estimates to propose several quantitative models of hypothetical textile production and consumption from the third to first centuries BCE. Next, the extant literary and archaeological evidence will be employed to further substantiate these models, yielding a more holistic picture of the textile industry. The magnitude of labour hours alone required to produce fabric for Roman Italy reflects the considerable scale of this economy, and the evidence, while not always consistent, suggests that several modes of production were utilised to meet this high level of demand. Overall, it will be argued that the Republican textile economy operated at a higher level of intensity and complexity than scholars have sometimes assumed, owing to the (often invisible) economic contributions of slaves and women to this industry.

 Absence of Evidence is Evidence… of a Vineyard 
Simeon D. Ehrlich – Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Material evidence of wine production abounds – notably winepresses and transport amphorae – but identifying evidence of vine cultivation archaeologically is more challenging. Ancient vineyards would not necessarily yield artifacts that would survive in the archaeological record, nor would they yield botanical or palynological remains that would survive in situ in a vineyard itself. So what remains to serve as evidence? And how securely can this identify a vineyard? Excavation at Ascalon (Ashkelon, Israel) from 2013-2016 yielded a series of late antique soil disturbances cut into a Philistine cemetery at regular intervals. There were no material or plant remains found that could offer clear evidence of viticultural activity. Rather, irregularities and inconsistencies in the stratigraphy suggested depositional processes at work consistent with ancient agricultural treatises’ descriptions of the operations necessary to establish and maintain a vineyard. This paper argues that such stratigraphy alone, in the absence of corroborating material evidence, is sufficient basis to identify the area as a vineyard. Excavated vineyards from sites outside the Levant offer notable comparanda, but none match the exact agricultural methods employed at Ashkelon. Hence, its vineyard and the interpretive framework necessary to identify it deepen our understanding of vine cultivation in the Romano-Byzantine Near East.

 “Soft stone, most human stone” in Roman architecture
Daniel P. Diffendale – Scuola Superiore Meridionale

Not all stones are created equal: this contribution aims to problematize the binary division of Roman architecture as either stone-built or not. Taking cues from Vitruvius’ lapides molles and the numerous types of pietra dolce in early modern Italy, and considering physico-mechanical characteristics deriving from geological composition, I suggest that “soft stone” is a category that is both meaningful historically over the longue durée and useful for archaeological analyses. Its physical properties mean that the permanence of soft stone is not assured (and, even if it is a less likely target for the limekiln, it is nonethelss susceptible to fragmentation for reuse), while the labor and tools required for its quarrying and working are not comparable to those for hard limestones or marble; its energetics economies at times tend closer to those of “perishable” materials than to those of hard-stone masonries. While my focus is on the various types of soft volcanic tuff found in Latium and Campania that were exploited for ashlary masonry during the Roman Republican and early Imperial periods, the analysis is applicable much more broadly, mutatis mutandis, to tuffs found elsewhere in the empire or to myriad sandstones and soft limestones.