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Faculty Re-Create Ancient Roman “Pork Clock” at Wesleyan

A model of the "pork clock" sundial shows the time as 9 a.m. (Photo by Christopher Parslow. 3-D print by Christopher Chenier)

A model of the prosciutto sundial shows the time as 9 a.m. (Photo by Christopher Parslow. 3-D print by Christopher Chenier)

The Ancient Romans relied on a curious object to tell time: a sundial in the shape of an Italian ham.

National Geographic has featured the work of Wesleyan’s Christopher Parslow to re-create this ancient “pork clock” through 3-D printing, which is helping researchers to better understand how it was used and what information it conveyed.

“It does represent a knowledge of how the sun works, and it can be used to tell time,” said Parslow, professor and chair of Classical studies, professor of archaeology, professor of art history.

The small, portable prosciutto sundial —the “pocket watch of its day,” according to the article—was first excavated in the 1760s from the ruins of a grand country house in the Roman town of Herculaneum, which was destroyed by the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79.

Chris Chenier, digital design technologist and visiting assistant professor of art, printed the sundial on 3-D printers at Wesleyan, and Bill Herbst, the John Monroe Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy assisted with the research. Parslow first presented his initial findings at a presentation in Wesleyan’s Wasch Center last December.

According to the article:

After Parslow was asked about the pork clock, he was inspired to build a 3-D model. He took dozens of photos of the timepiece at its home institution, Italy’s National Archaeological Museum of Naples. A 3-D printer at his university churned out the model—in plastic rather than the original silver-coated bronze—in a matter of hours.

Like the original, Parslow’s model bears a dial, in the form of a slightly distorted grid, on one side. The vertical lines are marked for the months of the year. The horizontal lines indicate the number of hours past sunrise or before sunset.

The original clock is missing its gnomon, the part of a sundial that casts a shadow, but an 18th-century museum curator described it having one in the shape of a pig’s tail, so Parslow re-created that, too.

Parslow then experimented with the sundial outdoors. The clock is hung from a string so that the sun falls on its left side, allowing the attached pig’s tail to cast a shadow across the grid.

The user aligns the clock so that the tip of the tail’s shadow falls on the vertical line for the current month. Finally, the user counts the number of horizontal lines from the top horizontal line to the horizontal line closest to the tip of the shadow. That indicates the number of hours after sunrise or before sunset.

Roman Archaeologist Parslow Receives Residency at Institute for Advanced Study

Christopher Parslow, professor and chair of the Classical Studies Department, professor of archaeology, has been selected as a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., for the 2013 fall term. Parslow, a Roman archaeologist specializing in the ancient sites buried by the eruption of Vesuvius, will spend his semester-long residency working on a book on the Praedia (Properties) of Julia Felix in Pompeii.

He was chosen on the recommendation of the faculty of the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study, one of the world’s leading centers for theoretical research and intellectual inquiry. Each year, about a quarter of the nearly 200 scholars from dozens of countries studying at the Institute receive appointments to the School of Historical Studies. The visiting scholars, known as members and visitors, interact with fellow scholars within and across disciplines and conduct research unencumbered by teaching and administrative obligations.

Parslow has been a member of the Wesleyan faculty since 1991. As a Samuel H. Kress Fellow in Classical Art and Archaeology, he spent two years at the American Academy in Rome. His first book was Rediscovering Antiquity: Karl Weber and the Excavations of Herculaneum, Pompeii and Stabiae (Cambridge 1995), a biography of Karl Weber, the Swiss military engineer who sought to establish a more scientific approach to the study of the earliest excavations at those cities. His most recent article, “The Sacrarium of Isis in the Praedia Iuliae Felicis in Pompeii in its Archaeological and Historical Contexts,” was published this year in the volume Rediscovering the Ancient World on the Bay of Naples of the series Studies in the History of Art of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. His other publications include articles on the history of the early excavations in the Vesuvian landscape and on the results of his own excavations, on which Wesleyan students have participated.

Founded in 1930, the Institute for Advanced Study is a private, independent academic institution. Past faculty members have included Albert Einstein, who remained at the institute until his death in 1955, and distinguished scientists and scholars such as Kurt Gödel, J. Robert Oppenheimer and George Kennan. It has no formal links to other educational institutions but enjoys close, collaborative ties with Princeton University and other nearby institutions.