Roman Sundial Shaped Like a Ham is Reactivated

A small timekeeping device shaped like a chunk of prosciutto has been reanimated, though not quite in the flesh, by a team of researchers at the Museo archeologico nazionale di Napoli using 3-D printing technology.

According to the January issue of National Geographic:

While excavating an ancient Roman villa buried in volcanic ash, 18th-century workers found an unusual lump of metal small enough to fit in a coffee mug. Cleaning it revealed something both historically important and hilarious: one of the world’s oldest known examples of a portable sundial, which was made in the shape of an Italian ham.

Now the “pork clock” ticks once more. Recently re-created through 3-D printing, a high-fidelity model of the sundial is helping researchers address questions about how it was used and the information it conveyed.

The model confirms, for instance, that using the whimsical timepiece required a certain amount of finesse, says Wesleyan University’s Christopher Parslow, a professor of classical studies and Roman archaeology who made the 3-D reconstruction. All the same, “it does represent a knowledge of how the sun works, and it can be used to tell time.”

While fixed sundials were a staple of gardens and courtyards in ancient Rome, portable timepieces are rare finds, with only about 25 similar small sundials from antiquity known. Recent research in Pompeii and Herculaneum has shifted from the search for meaning in the famous mosaics and wall paintings to an appreciation of the craft involved in producing smaller, quotidian objects which were nonetheless cherished for display value in the domestic environment. Archaeologists have turned toward looking at kitchen gear, including cooking and storage vessels, and pieces of glass and ceramic wear that often bear traces of patching and repeated use. In addition for an appreciation of the durability of the objects themselves, these traces of activity offer valuable information into the practical and aesthetic choices made by the inhabitants of the wealthy vacation village.

The “pork sundial” is on display at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World in New York through 23 April.

Reference: Traci Watson. “Ancient Sundial Shaped Like Ham Was Roman Pocket Watch.” National Geographic. 19 January 2017.

Christopher Chenier, 3-D Print of Pompeii “Ham Clock,” 2017.  Photo: Christopher Parlsow.

Prosciutto Ham. Photo by Photology1971, Alamy Stock Photo.

Chemist’s scales from House of the Centenarian, Pompeii. First Century. Museo archeologico nazionale di Napoli,Nr. 10-05-02/52.

Etruscan Vanth Statuette, c. 400 BCE, found in the ruins of Pompeii. The British Museum, Nr. GR 1772.3.15 (Bronze 1449).

Chalyx with two handles from Pompeii, First Century. Museo archeologico nazionale di Napoli, Nr. 10-05-02/26.

Further Reading: Estell Lazer. Resurrecting Pompeii. New York: Routledge, 2011.

Joanne Berry. The Complete Pompeii. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2007

Posted by Jean Marie Carey

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