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Royal Purple or Pickled Fish? The use of analogy for reinterpreting the Roman “Purple Dye Factory” at Tel Dor (Israel) as a salsamenta and garum production facility


Murex-purple dye production and the production of salsamenta (salted fish) and garum (fish sauce) are two of the most common coastal industries of the Roman period. The western Mediterranean has a long history of archaeological investigation into fish-processing and dyeing facilities, with the most well-known sites concentrated around the Strait of Gibraltar. The same cannot be said for sites in the eastern Mediterranean, however, and the dearth of archaeological data on fish-processing in this region is surprising considering the importance of murex-dye, salsamenta, and garum to the Romans. In this thesis, I use an argument by analogy to test the hypothesis that a Roman coastal industrial complex at Tel Dor (Israel), currently known as the “Purple Dye Factory,” is actually a fish-processing facility. I form a positive analogy by comparing the features of the Dor complex with features at Roman fish-processing facilities (cetariae) in Baelo Claudia (Spain) and Cotta (Morocco). Next, I develop two chaîne opératoire models – for purple dye production and fish-processing – to determine what features are expected for each technological process. Finally, I demonstrate that the archaeological features at Dor match the archaeological correlates of the fish-processing chaîne opératoire and are analogous to the features found at Roman cetariae.

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