Monday, 31 March 2014

If you love someone, let them go: the House of Orpheus and its dataset

Old undated photograph courtesy of the
Society of Antiquaries, Fox Collection
from Pompeiiinpictures
I was initially planning to work on two examples of Pompeian buildings: the Iseum and the House of Orpheus. I find them both very interesting for different reasons, and I have for them that emotional attachment that 3D modellers develop for the buildings they have been working on.
I have seen them in Pompeii, I have taken measurements and pictures, drawn maps. However, after a more practical approach to my timetable (i.e. looking at an actual calendar), I have suddenly realised that the modelling of the Iseum alone is going to take the entire 2014. There is no really room left for a second model. It wasn’t easy to give up part of my research, but it wasn’t even a choice. Although I am not modelling the House of Orpheus, I think that the amount of data I collected so far on that building (and the related artefacts) can still play a role in my PhD.

I have recently started the very hard task of drafting my ontology for cultural heritage,  having as a main reference my own model of the Iseum. I have quickly discovered how easy it is, in such circumstances, to think of something that turns out to be very much ad hoc for one single case study. Orpheus’ dataset is a good way to double check if my categories work not just for the Iseum, but can be reasonably applied to at least one other Pompeian building (that belongs to a complete different category).

On the one hand the House of Orpheus is a fairly typical Pompeian middle sized household. On the other hand, there is quite a lot of information missing. Only the ground floor survived (while the existence of at least a second floor is strongly suggested by the remains of stairs), and, for a few spaces, there is still no agreement on their use in Roman times. 

Being a more ambiguous context than the Iseum, it points out much more clearly what is the weight of the assumptions in our way to describe (or even look at) an ancient building, and it reminds me that I should try to keep descriptions and interpretations as much separate as possible. 

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