Pompeii Archaeology and History
Pompeii is undoubtedly one of the world's best known archaeological sites. Its fame comes from its dramatic destruction and extraordinary preservation as a result of an eruption of Mount Vesuvius. For over 200 years now, we have been able to revisit the same moment in Pompeii's history, the moment it was fossilized as an archaeological site. Year after year, visitors have meandered through its alleys and moseyed through its buildings, but have always been tourists stuck in A.D. 79. Excavation below the level of the destruction has enabled us to move across time and throughout our insula's history--from that late August day in A.D. 79 back through the ages to the fourth century B.C. Perhaps even earlier. What were these bars before they were bars? When was this workshop built? Was this house here in the first century B.C.? In the second century B.C.? In the third? What did it look like? Excavation below the A.D. 79 level allows us to travel back in time and understand the whole history of VI,1 from that final August doomsday to the insula's first instance of human activity.
Published on: Mar 4, 2016
Transcripts - Pompeii Archaeology and History
A Historical Reconstruction
Hasan Mohammad & Imam Al-Taiff
“It can be very moving
handling these remains
when we apply the
plaster,” said Stefania
Giudice, “Even though it
happened 2,000 years ago,
it could be a boy, a mother
or a family. It’s human
Archaeology of Pompeii
19th & 20th Century Archaeology
From 1860 – 1960, Pompeii
archaeology came under the
leadership of such men as Giuseppe
Fiorelli, Spinazzola and Maiuri. All
served to create a more systematic
and scientific approach to excavation
No longer was it acceptable for
archaeologists to focus only on
precious objects and beautiful
paintings (treasure hunting).
Most important discovery –
recognition of the significance of
cavities in the deposits of
hardened ash as impression of the
victim’s bodies > process of casting
still used today in an updated form.
Fiorelli poured liquid plaster into
the body-shape cavities from the
ash/pumice of the volcano and left
it to set > eventually, he then
chipped away the lava to reveal an
accurate plaster cast of what had
been buried beneath the volcanic
material – capturing the moment
of death and burial.
Archaeological Methods: Fiorelli
Modern Developments in Casting
Archaeologists have looked at other ways of recreating the
appearance of Pompeii’s dead. In 1984 at Oplontis, a skeleton
was cast using resin rather than plaster. Wax was injected into
the void around the victim’s skeleton, left to harden, and then
coated in plaster. Once the ‘plaster cast’ had set, the wax was
melted out and replaced with liquid epoxy resin- to produce a
durable, transparent cast, which allowed the victim’s jewellery
and hairpin to be viewed in situ on the body.
In a 2010 interview with the BBC, Stefania Giudice, a
conservator from Naples national archaeological Museum
described how modern preservers cast new finds. The
process is by no means simple. Plaster has to be mixed to an
exact consistency; thick enough to support the skeletal frame
but not so thick it obliterates the fine details of the cast. It then
needs to be carefully poured. ‘The bones are very
brittle,’ explained Giudice, ‘so when we pour in the plaster we
have to be very careful, otherwise we might damage the
remains and they would be lost to us forever.’
As a bonus, the visual information from the external features
of the casts can now be supplemented by other means.
“nowadays we can better adopt X-ray techniques like 3D-CT
scan to investigate the human content of plaster
casts.” said Pier Paolo Petrone.
Historical Information Artefacts Provide (1)
Pompeii Human Remains:
Since 1986 Estelle Lazer worked on a sample of
over 300 individuals – skeletons stored in the female
section of the Forum baths.
The techniques of forensic medicine and physical
anthropology were used to determine sex, age-at-
death, height, health and population affinities of the
victims – shedding light on many aspects of
Pompeian life. The use of x-ray technology has also
been introduced – first used in Australia 1994.
Specifically, used to examine the female skeleton,
the Lady of Oplontis. This examination
demonstrated the value of this technology – allowing
for careful extraction of details and the minimizing of
destruction of human remains.
Historical Information Artefacts Provide (2)
The Skeletons of Herculaneum
Sara Bisel closely examined the 139 skeletons
from the beachfront since 1982. She concluded
Low birth rate – believe abortion may have been
There was a wide diverse genetic inheritance of
this population Evidence for childhood malnutrition
and gum disease.
Widespread lead poisoning – due to use of lead in
everyday objects eg. Cups.
A very detailed study of 162 skeletons from
Herculaneum was published in 2001 by Lugi
Capasso > showed that the people of Pompeii
were in good health during their bone growth
period. The human skeletal remains from
Herculaneum are in a much better state of
preservation then those of Pompeii because they
were more carefully excavated and documented.
Recent study has shown that the people died from
exposure to extreme heat, rather than
asphyxiation. Impact of new technology
• Pompeii is located at the base of Mount
Vesuvius on the central west coast of Italy
• The land was called Campania and due to
its prime location and natural resources it
was a prize to be won.
• The volcanic soil was
highly fertile and the
resources and easy
Historical Evidence for the Modern World
About 3/4 of Pompeii's 165 acres have been excavated,
and some 1,150 bodies have been discovered out of an
estimated 2,000 thought to have died in the city when it
was destroyed. This means that the vast majority of the city
of 20,000 fled at the first signs of the volcanic activity. The
plaster casts of the men, women, children, and animals of
Pompeii were primarily made in the mid 1800s. The
building they were originally housed in suffered extensive
damage in WWII, and they are now located in several
places around the city.
The Garden of the Fugitives holds the largest number of
victims found in one place, where thirteen people sought
refuge in a fruit orchard. Nine sets of remains were found
at the House of Mysteries, where the roof collapsed
trapping them inside. One plaster cast can be seen inside
the Caupona Pherusa tavern.
The Stabian Thermal baths and the Macellum (fish market)
both house two plaster casts, and the Horrea (granary) and
Olitorium (market) holds several more, including a pig, and
what may be the most famous cast of all, of a small dog in
a collar, writhing on its back.
The casts are reportedly no longer made as they destroy
the delicate skeletons within.
The Buried City and Ruins
Pompeii is well known for the preserved body
castings found among the ruins.
The falling ash from the eruption created castings of
bodies both human and animal, garments and other
The architecture that remains today is an eclectic
mix of the conquering empires that ruled Pompeii at