Escaping the Shadow of PompeiiHERCULANEUM, Italy — They are poignant snapshots of sudden death: huddled clusters of skeletal remains in what were once beachfront warehouses, immortalized for eternity when Mount Vesuvius smothered this ancient Roman town in A.D. 79.
"They died of thermal shock as they were waiting to be saved via the sea,” Domenico Camardo, an archaeologist, said recently as he surveyed dozens of modern-day skeletal casts of long-ago denizens. They carried with them jewelry, coins, even “20 keys, because they were hoping to return home,” Mr. Camardo added. “They didn’t understand that it was all about to end.”
First excavated by archaeologists some 30 years ago, the warehouses were recently outfitted with walkways and gates to provide access to these chilling tableaus and will soon be open to the public on special occasions.
Reviving history for a modern audience “is one of the beautiful things we get to do,” said Mr. Camardo, the lead archaeologist with the Herculaneum Conservation Project, a joint initiative of the Packard Humanities Institute, of Los Altos, Calif.; the local artistic heritage authority; and the British School at Rome. The project, an unusual public-private venture, has effectively managed the site for more than a decade and made it possible to complete tasks like the walkways to the skeleton casts.
Compared with its better-known Vesuvian neighbor, Pompeii, where local officials, constrained by inadequate and mismanaged government funds, have long struggled in their efforts to conserve and protect the sprawling open-air site — and even to prevent the periodic and well publicized collapse of walls — Herculaneum has become a textbook case of successful archaeological conservation.