As a lover of all things archaeological, a recent segment on the BBC News snatched my attention away from my TV dinner. Plaster casts of the remains of those killed over 2,000 years ago by Mount Vesuvius’s belching out of ash, heat, and pumice stone are on display together for the first time at L’Antiquarium di Boscoreale, just a five-minute drive from the site of Pompeii itself.
Archaeologists have made plaster casts of the skeletal remains discovered at the site since the 19th-century, but never before have they been exhibited together: Man, woman, child, wild boar, and dog, among nearly 100 others.
The figures, provocative in their detail, had previously been dispersed throughout the site or were on display in museums around the world. Archaeologists decided to exhibit the figures as a group to set the record straight, as many visitors to the site assumed the figures were merely works of art and not the remains of real people who were killed when the volcano erupted on August 24th, 79 A.D.
Once the skeletal remains are found, a special plaster mix is poured into the skeleton’s cavity and left to harden for 48 hours. Mrs. Stefani Giudici, an archaeologist at the site, told the BBC’s Duncan Kennedy that scientists don’t know what type of skeleton they’ve unearthed until the liquid plaster has hardened (check out a snippet of their interview here). Some of the surprising details brought to light through this painstaking process include the creases of a scarf held close to a suffocating victim’s mouth and the grotesquely contorted legs of a dog in its final moments. Mrs. Giudici says their work goes beyond archaeology and is about the human history of Pompeii.
The exhibit is open until the end of the year and makes for a perfect day trip from Positano, home base for our writer Elizabeth Berg when she attended a cooking school there, as detailed (scrumptiously, we may add) in her April 2010 feature story, “Amalfi Coast: A Moveable Feast.”
Plus, this summer, the ancient city has even more to offer visitors. The 2010 “Pompeii Viva” program of events includes a rich array of interactive workshops, guided tours, and artistic programs including:
- This month they’ll begin offering guided night walks through the ruins;
- A holographic representation of Giulio Polibio will welcome you into his famous home as he tells you about the habits of daily life in Pompeii;
- Small-children can walk among the ruins during a special two-hour tour beginning in May; The tour includes learning “laboratories” where they can model clay an participate in a simulated archaeological dig;
- Travel back in time through your palate at the “archaeo-restaurant” set to open in June at Casina dell’Aguila (Eagle’s Lodge), featuring gourmet recipes from the Roman period;
- Enjoy a dramatic program at the Great Theatre whose summer season runs June through September;
- Rent a bike at the site and trek about the ruins on four kilometers of pathways;
- Spend the night stargazing at the Pompeii Forum on August 10th, the night of San Lorenzo.
Visit the National Geographic Ancient Mysteries page on Pompeii to read more about the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius and people who perished.
Photo: A cast of a pig found at the Pompeii site, L’Antiquarium di Boscoreale