November 2, 2012

Notes from the field

Filed under: Egypt, Rome — acagle @ 6:32 am

Yup, the field, not the bath house today. Actually, the field house: today is Friday, our ‘weekend’ day and most of the bunch went off to Saqqara to site-see (heh) and I stayed here to get some studying up on the bath house here done in relative solitude. We have a publication from 1976 by Cairo University that studied it. There were actually two baths here, this one is the nice one; another one that the authors say were for the “lower classes” was elsewhere. Sadly, it’s in French so I had to use an online translator to get some it readable (“I only know two languages, English and bad English”). Which brings me to an infuriating little tale:

I’ve used Bing translator at home as opposed to Babel Fish as I found it did a better job. Eh, okay, fine. Well. Bing decided that, since I’m in Egypt, the only language I’m interested in translating to is Arabic, so it defaults to the Arabic-only site. Not a single “English” button anywhere and no way that I could find anywhere online to give me the frickin’ ENGLISH PAGE. I tried turning off Firefox’s location services so it wouldn’t think I was here but, alas, it was going to say I was here in Egypt and that was that. After some fiddling even Google was bringing up up searches on their Arabic page. It.Was.Infuriating. I ended up logging into my Google account — where my primary language preference is set to English — and then at least google searches came up in all-English. Bing, still deciding that I am an Arabic speaker. And I discovered Google Translate and it works fine. So f*** you, Microsoft, even your stupid translator pissed me off eventually, like every other product you make. At least I could stop using it. . . . .

Anyway. Bath houses. I downloaded a couple of general papers on Roman baths, but I’ll read those tomorrow. I plodded through some of the text, but I wasn’t about to type in every single line. And I can’t Copy anything from the PDF of the paper because it’s protected. I’d wager even 3rd party PDF translating apps won’t work on it. But between that and studying the plans and photos I made a good bit of progress.

First, I determined the boundary walls of the whole thing, the entrance, etc. And the direction of travel! You go to the cold water bath first, then to the warm air room — no tub in there, you just go into a room with warm air blowing in — and thence to the steam room. From the steam room you pop into the hot bath and then make your way out the way you came in. I think the overall structure is what is called a ‘retraced-circle’ pattern rather than a linear or circular pattern. Its actually laid out more like the letter S: you go into the frigidarium, turn right into the tepidarium, left into the laconicum, and the right again into the caldarium, and back out the same way.

Can’t quite figure out how the boilers were situated and how they worked. I know where they are and in general how they pumped warm air through certain ducts and hot water through others, but the figures for these are baffling me. I was able to trace how the water circulated: largely from the caldarium back through to the tepidarium is downhill and there’s supposedly a drain in the tepidarium. There’s also a drain right in the entrance from the frigidarium to the tepidarium, so one might say the whole thing is built so that everything drains down toward the tepidarium.

Sadly, there has been horrendous loss of material from 1975 until today. From the photos, most of the interior walls were covered with plaster probably between 80-90% of their surfaces. Hardly any remains today, probably a loss of over 90%. Many of the upper parts of walls are gone as well, in addition to nearly all of the surviving (in 1975) roof/ceilings. Which is why I’m not at all sad to not be digging up new material: we (archaeologists generally) seem to be rather abysmal at preserving what we already have excavated. As usual, it’s only the below-ground stuff that’s stayed pretty much the same. I’d far rather spend my time evaluating this place, although I have to remove the protective sand to do so. We will probably be putting a good deal of sand back in for protection, btw. Hopefully, I can take the time to check everything against the old report, determine what’s been lost since then, what is likely to be lost in the near future, and make some good recommendations as to how to protect the building — or at least minimize damage — from future degradation.

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