Lynne Lancaster Examines Unique Building Technique in Roman North Africa for March 16 AIA Lecture at the Nashville Parthenon

Lynne Lancaster, professor of classics and world religions at Ohio University, will address “Out of Africa: How Roman Olive Oil Production Created Architectural Innovation” in an Archaeological Institute of America lecture scheduled for Thursday, March 16, at 6 pm at the Nashville Parthenon.

Lancaster will examine a building technique used in Roman North Africa for constructing vaults by means of small hollow terracotta tubes that are inserted one into another and “glued” together with mortar. By examining this unique building technique, she demonstrates how the building industry in North Africa was intimately connected with the production of olive oil destined for Rome and how the use of these tubes ultimately resulted in the creation of new forms of vaulting not found elsewhere in the empire.

Recent field surveys have produced a wealth of new information regarding ancient agricultural technology for olive production, ceramic production for the amphoras containing the olive oil, and also fine ware production. The proliferation of the vaulting tubes was also part of this period of economic growth related to increased agricultural production. This unique construction technique eventually was adopted elsewhere in the western Mediterranean, including Rome and Ravenna, where it was used to construct the dome of the Byzantine church San Vitale. Through a series of interconnected technologies, the necessity to provide food for Rome ultimately resulted in a vaulting technique that created spectacular new architectural achievement.

Her interests include Roman architecture, construction and technology, and she has worked on many of the standing structures in Rome, including Trajan’s Markets and the Colosseum, and as architectural consultant at various locations in Italy. She has also conducted surveys of provincial vaulting techniques in Tunisia, Turkey, Egypt, Britain and Greece. Lancaster has published extensively, and her Concrete Vaulted Construction in Imperial Rome: Innovation in Context (Cambridge University Press, 2005) received the AIA’s 2007 James R. Wiseman Book Award. More recently Cambridge published Innovative Vaulting in the Architecture of the Roman Empire: 1st to 4th Centuries CE (2015), which examines six vaulting techniques employed in architecture outside of Rome.

In 2010/2011 Lancaster held the AIA Joukowsky Lecturership. She holds degrees from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (BA in architecture), Lincoln College (MA in classical archaeology), and Wolfson College, Oxford University (PhD in classical archaeology).

This lecture, free and open to the public, is cosponsored by the Archaeological Institute of America, the Vanderbilt University Program in Classical and Mediterranean Studies, and The Conservancy for the Parthenon and Centennial Park. Those who plan to attend the AIA lecture are encouraged to call the Nashville Parthenon at 615.862.8431 to reserve a seat.

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