Alina Oana Streinu – BA, MA and Ph.D at the Faculty of History, University of Bucharest, currently archaeologist at the Bucharest Municipality Museum since 2016. Starting with 2008 I have participated at archaeological excavations in Romania (Tropaeum Traiani, Argamum, Caraburun, rescue excavation in Bucharest and Transylvania) and abroad (Ephessos, Labraunda), as part of diverse research teams coordinated by the University of Bucharest, National Museum of History, Agence Nationale de la Recherce (France), Louvre Musem, Österreichisches Archäologisches Institut, Institut Français d’Études Anatoliennes. During my training I specialist in the study of Roman period settlement and artefacts, with particular interest towards ceramic finds – manufacture, utility, distribution.
In the eye of the beholder: looking for meaning in the study of Roman clay lamps
The presentation is centered around the interdisciplinary study of Roman lamps, selected from the Maria and Dr. George Severeanu collection, within the Bucharest Municipality Museum. The research has followed the same patterns used over and over again in literature: typology, origin, iconography, dating. Issues mainly arise when dealing with the first three. In the case of typology, like other categories of artefacts, there are major referenced types, based mainly on the first identification and publication of particular pieces. Does using these typologies make out work easier? Yes and no. Yes, because it is easier to reference a particular piece and no because unless the pieces are identical, than their backstory is different and context altogether. This is obvious when dealing with the origin of the pieces and their workshops. Whereas there are numerous potter’s marks, only some have been attributed to a center, following archaeological excavations. Things are a bit murkier when the lamps are not marked and specialist have only to rely of morphological and fabric analysis. Here is where archaeometric studies come in to fill the gaps, not without difficulty. The study of clay fabrics entails the identification of the clay source and a database that allows comparisons among the products of various workshops. This is rarely the case. However, most specialists rely on personal experience in identifying and publishing regional productions, both in the case of lamps as in the case of other ceramic fids. The study of stamps or iconographic patterns that often decorate the discs of lamps is closely related to art history and sometimes regional trends, and several questions arise: Where these images significant to the lives of the artisans and their clients or purely decorative? Where they part of a general trend and blindly reproduced by artisans? Did the images have hidden meanings? In trying to gain more information, I was made aware by a colleague of a photographic technique previously used for papyri and epigraphy. As part of a joint experiment, we began employing it on lamps and there were some notable results, from seeing worn out iconographical details, marks and even a graffito naming a potter. This also facilitated obtaining a better image of the scenes decorating the lamps. Although most of the research is done in what we call a classical manner, with its pros and cons, there is room for new methods to be employed. However, using them depends on the needs they come to fulfill and not just for the sake of getting in line because everyone else is doing it. In this case, the Severeanu lamps, the needs were identifying production sites and marks and patterns less visible to the naked eye. This presentation aims to show and discuss the benefits and limitations of the methods used and contribute to the broader discussion on how we approach multidisciplinary collaborations in the study of artifacts.