The Bathtub Research Project (BRP) is conducted by Dr. Laura Mazow, Department of Anthropology at East Carolina University, in collaboration with Susanne Grieve, Department of History, and Dr. Anthony Kennedy, Department of Chemistry. This multi-faceted research project investigates technology transfer and the impact of technological change in textile production on the Late Bronze and Iron Age (1400-500 BCE) economies of the Near East and East Mediterranean.
"Bathtubs" appear in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean basin beginning in the 14th to 12th centuries BCE and in Mesopotamia at the end of the 2nd millennium BCE. Typically "bathtubs" are interpreted as bathing or purification vessels. Their find-spots, however, are often in industrial areas or in secondary use in burial contexts (Mazow in submission). Mazow (2008, 2010) has proposed that "bathtubs" were used for textile processing, possibly for fulling wool.
The fulling process mats the woolen textile fibers creating a stronger woven fabric. References to professional fullers are found in Ur III and Linear B texts, yet no Bronze Age fulling establishment has ever been recognized in the archaeological record. Fulling establishments have been identified in the classical world, but the fuller and his craft are virtually unknown in earlier contexts. Based on contextual evidence (e.g. an association between weaving equipment and bathtubs, and similarities between building layouts and Roman fulleries), Mazow has suggested that bathtubs found in Bronze and Iron Age domestic and industrial contexts were used for fulling wool.
The Bathtub Research Project is currently testing this hypothesis by using organic residue analysis to identify a signature of wool fulling and comparing this signature with residue samples collected from Bronze and Iron Age "bathtubs".