Saturday 31 January 2009

Ethical archaeology?

Reading Miko Flohr's comment on my post of 29th January (Primo tentativo di colorazione di tessuti usando le techniche degli antichi) about the ethical use of the archaeological remains, I suddenly remembered a newspaper article that I came across a few years ago. The article dates to 1899 and was published in The Times. It describes a plan for the ruins of Pompeii. Here is an extract.

'[Chevalier Pesce, architect of the Italian Embassy in Paris] proposes to reconstitute Pompeii – not the Pompeii of the familiar ruins, but the brilliant city as it existed before the stream of fire from Vesuvius had buried it from sight. The project has been in preparation for the past two years, and the most distinguished names in France, the men most eminent in all branches of art and science, have unhesitatingly promised their support to M. Pesce. Another scheme, it true, for the reproduction of the existing ruins was recently talked of, but this latter scheme failed to receive support and encouragement from the competent specialists who had so ardently adopted the idea, as M. Pesce calls it, of Pompeii vivante. Pompeii undoubtedly is a name to conjure with, one of those magic words that have laid hold of the imagination of the world. Even in their existing state whoever has had the good fortune to visit the ruins of Pompeii has carried away an impression that nothing can efface, and has been haunted by the desire to behold once more the vanished city which the excavations of recent times have partly brought to light. The scheme of M. Pesce is almost complete realization of this dream. He proposes to restore to us the life of the forum, the camp, the gladiators, the Temple of Isis, the theatre bordering on the forum, the numerous shops and public baths, and all those houses, squares, and open spaces where formerly were concentrated the life, the activity, the pleasures, the celebrations and public spectacles which made this watering-place by the Mediterranean one of the most attractive spots in the Italian peninsula. No detail in the life of Pompeii known to archaeology in the period before the disappearance of the ancient town seems likely to be neglected in this magical evocation, and the spectator wandering across the city will find himself suddenly in the midst of that ancient life which, without this artificial aid, it would be so difficult even for the most learned imaginations to evoke. Numerous actors, in costumes archaeologically accurate, will give to the city its former animation. The forum is to be crowded with a constantly moving throng. The arena will be given up to the gladiatorial combat. The lines of shops will offer the most varied products for sale. The charlatans and hawkers will scream their wares in the streets. Chariot wheels will follow the deep-dug ruts in the stone highways. The mysteries will be celebrated in the Temple of Isis. Orators will harangue the crowd in the public squares – in fact, the whole town, re-peopled, will rise from the ashes beneath which it was buried in one of the most terrible of catastrophes.’

One of the things that interests me here is how the idea of either restoring Pompeii to its former glory, or building a replica for tourists to visit, keeps repeating. There was a newspaper report within the last ten years that reported a proposal to build a replica of the Via dell' Abbondanza (I think, but I can't find the article now) near to the excavations so that tourists could visit that and the site itself could be left to scholars. There have also been suggestions that some of the more ruinous parts of the city could be reconstructed for tourists. Although I quite like the idea of having Pompeii to myself (!), I hate the idea of a 'Pompeii-land'. Thankfully nothing ever comes of these plans ...

But concerning the experimental reconstruction of ancient dyeing techniques reported by Miko, what concerns me is that the vats were presumably reconstructed just to be used the once. What happens to them now? Are they on display to tourists, or are they just mouldering in the ruins? Has irrevocable damage been done to the site for the sake of a single experiment?

Friday 30 January 2009

Via dell' Abbondanza again

This photo of the collapsed embankment on the Via dell'Abbondanza was taken by tourists shortly after the event. See for the latest story.

Herculaneum Panoramas

I found a website called Herculaneum Panoramas -which seems to be something set up by the Herculaneum Conservation Project with the University of Auckland. The site is a fantastic collection of Quicktime VR panoramas and still images of Herculaneum (including artefacts), all related to a plan of the town.

I am very frustrated that the official Herculaneum Conservation Project website - is still 'under construction' after all the years the project has been running.

Thursday 29 January 2009

Landslide on the Via dell' Abbondanza

Yesterday there was a landslide on the Via dell' Abbondanza, near the Praedia of Julia Felix. Thankfully it happened before the site opened in the morning and no-one was injured. The day before (Tuesday) part of the roof of the House of Sallust collapsed. Excessive rain is being blamed for both incidents - as is the lack of basic maintenance to the site.

«Se fosse accaduto negli orari di visita - dice allarmato Antonio Pepe, segretario della Cisl - qualche turista o un addetto alla vigilanza a quest'ora potrebbe essere ferito gravemente, nella migliore delle ipotesi. L'abbandono totale dell'area archeologica comporta, anche, il rischio di danneggiamento ai preziosi tesori custoditi negli Scavi»

In the meantime the Sarno has also broken its banks ...

All three stories can be read here:

Vesuvius will erupt!

Apparently there is a 27% chance that Vesuvius will erupt explosively in the next 100 years ... See

Primo tentativo di colorazione di tessuti usando le techniche degli antichi

Does anyone know anything more about this?:

'Italia, Pompeii - è avvenuto il primo tentativo di colorazione di tessuti usando le techniche degli antichi
A Pompei, Il 15 novembre del 2008 si è sperimentata per la prima volta la tintura di tessuti utilizzando le tecniche antiche. La caldaia usata è stata ricostruita apposta dal Centro studi Jean Berard, dove gli studiosi si sono basati alle caldaie originali d’epoca romana che si sono conservate integre in certe tintorie della parte antica della città.' (Martina Calogero, ArcheoRivista, 12 January 2009)

19 Stunden in der Hölle

This was in Der Spiegel yesterday -,1518,602458,00.html - a reconstruction of the final hours of life of the victims whose bodies were found in the House of Julius Polybius. The article describes the work of Neapolitans Claudio Scarpati and Marilena Cipollaro. Scarpati studied how the walls collapsed in different phases of the eruption. Using microchrondial DNA, Cipollaro was able to establish that the bodies consisted by three men, one between 25 and 30 years old, and three women between the ages of 16 and 18, four young boys and one girl. Cipollaro claims that the group represent a married couple with their children and a cousin with his young wife and two slaves.

The thing is, I don't think any of this is new ... Wasn't there a BBC programme on exactly this topic a few years ago? I'm sure the whole gist of the programme was to reconstruct the last hours of this particular group of victims. Does anyone know if Scarpati and Cipollaro have published their findings?

Wednesday 28 January 2009

Herculaneum Amazon

On the theme of Amazons from Herculaneum, a painted marble bust - thought to represent a wounded Amazon - was found by the Herculaneum Conservation Project. Scientists at the University of Warwick WMG have used rapid prototyping to create a physical 3D model of the head that records small details. The next step is to 'apply techniques to the computer model to exactly reproduce the lighting and environmental conditions under which the painted statue would have originally been created and displayed. This visualisation will provide archaeologists with an otherwise impossible view of how the original statue may have looked in context, and allow them to experiment with alternative hypotheses.'

Original 3D model
The photos are from Warwick WMG: There is also a video explaining the process at this site.

Ercolano. Tre secoli di scoperte

There is currently a spectacular exhibition of all the sculpture found at Herculaneum in different archaeological eras at the Museo Nazionale Archeologico di Napoli. The exhibition includes all the old-favourites from the Villa of the Papyri, the Basilica Noniana and the Augusteum, and more recent discoveries such as the statue of an Amazon, found in the early 2000s. There is also a display of organic materials recovered from the site, particularly clothes, and another of the so-called epigraphic Alba of the Augustales.

The exhibition is set to run until 13th April 2009, although hopefully it will be extended. However, for those of you who won't make it to Naples on time, here are some links to a description of the exhibition:,ev&idevento=55445 and There is also an exhibition catalogue, edited by Maria Paola Guidobaldi and published by Electa.

Tuesday 27 January 2009

MAV Ercolano

Has anybody visited the Museo Archeologico Virtuale in Ercolano? It opened last summer, I believe, and it looks remarkable.

I would be really interested to know if anyone has visited the museum and what they think of it.

P.S. I also found a really cool plan of the Bay of Naples on the museum website:

Sunday 25 January 2009

Bars and brothels

This one from Rogue Classicism:

'According to Clare Kelley Bazeby, there is material evidence that the Ancient Greeks may have been opening up bars and brothels in their private residences to supplement their income. She looked at items dating from the period 475 B.C. down to 323 B.C. from sites as diverse as the Villa of Good Fortune at Olynthus to Building Z in Athens. Bazeby dixit:

“This has a real impact on how we view the economy in classical Greece … A lot of trade and industry was based within the home.”

“If you look at the remains coming from ancient Greek homes, it seems very clear to me that these buildings had another function, that some areas were used for commercial purposes … It’s amazing how entrenched people in the field are. We are trying to change archaeologists’ minds by pointing out that houses could be used economically as well being residences.”

“There was nothing to stop part of a house being utilized for commercial gain by using a room fronting onto the street as a shop, or indeed from using the household courtyard for business transactions.”

“My research shows that a lot of trade was embedded within the domestic walls. It also changes our perception of who was drinking wine, and where they were doing it. Women, slaves and foreigners as well as ordinary Greeks, would all have enjoyed time and wine in a classical tavern …”

Added Allison Glazebrook:

“There is no evidence of any purpose-built brothels for ancient Greece. We should not expect brothel spaces to look that different from houses in the material record because girls lived in brothels in which they worked.”

See Rogue Classicism for links to newspaper articles about the papers.

I know this is not 'Roman', but I've got to say that the idea of the house being used habitually for commercial gain fits with my own views on domestic space. All sorts of craft and trade activities could have taken place within the house (all types of houses, too, big and small) on a normal day-to-day basis, without this being anything noteworthy or unusual. I haven't really considered that bars or brothels might have been opened up inside houses, but perhaps this is something worth thinking about. Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

Comune versus street hawkers

There's a storm brewing at Herculaneum. The Comune are attempting to evict the street stalls that have been set up in the car park of the excavations. See Apparently the stalls - which are basically permanent structures - take up the space of between 50 - 60 coaches. Naturally the stall owners are protesting, but the Comune is standing firm. The mayor has declared: 'Le strutture vanno spostate, la protesta è insensata. Bisogna garantire la sicurezza dei visitatori. In qualità di primo cittadino, devo rispettare e far rispettare la legge e per questo i provvedimenti saranno applicati'.

Friday 23 January 2009

Populating Pompeii

How did Pompeians move through their city? A company called "Procedural," which seems to be based in Switzerland, has marshaled their expertise in urban modeling and computer programming to attempt an answer.

In their own words:
Pompeii was a Roman city, destroyed and completely buried during an eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius. We have revived its past by creating a 3D model of its previous appearance and populated it with crowds of Virtual Romans. In this paper, we detail the process, based on archaeological data, to simulate ancient Pompeii life in real time. In a first step, an annotated city model is generated using procedural modelling. These annotations contain semantic data, such as land usage, building age, and window/door labels. In a second phase, the semantics are automatically interpreted to populate the scene and trigger special behaviors in the crowd, depending on the location of the characters. Finally, we describe the system pipeline, which allows for the simulation of thousands of Virtual Romans in real time.

Check out their work on you tube:

You can read their paper as well:

An interesting idea, I think, but one that raises more questions than it answers. Some immediate ones: Where are the kids? Why is everyone walking alone? Why is everyone walking in the first place (as opposed to riding, leading animals, pushing something, etc.)? I'm curious about others' thoughts.

What I want to know!

I have two questions today (having spent the morning in an undisciplined fashion, perusing the shelves of the AA with no particular aim!), and would be very grateful to anyone who either knows the answer or can point me in the direction of relevant bibliography ...

1. What is the current thinking about the Augustan Suburban District - is it one district or are there more than one? Or do we just not know?

2. Have there been any stratigraphic excavations in the Central Baths? Do we know what was destroyed for the baths to be built? Presumably it wasn't an empty space.

Thursday 22 January 2009

Seminars at the University of Reading

There is a series of Pompeii - and Herculaneum - themed seminars in the Department of Classics at the University of Reading (UK) in February and March.

4 February 2009, Wednesday, 4 p.m. Professor Michael Fulford (Reading): “Pompeii: Recent Excavations in the House of Amarantus”.

11 February 2009, Wednesday, 4 p.m. Professor Henrik Mouritsen (King’s College London): “Writing and space in the Roman house”.

25 February 2009, Wednesday, 4 p.m. Virginia L. Campbell (Reading):“Words, Words, Words: A Look at Pompeian Funerary Inscriptions” and Dave Newsome (Birmingham): “Pompeii’s imperial forum: Rome’s logica chiusa”.

4 March 2009, Wednesday, 4 p.m. Professor Robert Fowler (Bristol): “Herculaneum: Challenges and Prospects for Future Development”.

For further information, see the department website,

Dobbins and Foss, World of Pompeii review

A review of The World of Pompeii was published yesterday in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review (2009.1.21). See

It is also reviewed in the latest Journal of Roman Archaeology (vol. 21, 2008), as is The Complete Pompeii.

Symposium: National Gallery

There will be an open-to-the-public symposium at the National Gallery in Washington DC in March. Here is the information about it :

Roman Art and Culture on the Bay of Naples
Illustrated lectures by noted scholars, including John Bodel, Lucilla Burn, Faya Causey, John R. Clarke, Bjorn Ewald, Natalie Kampen, Barbara Kellum, Miranda Marvin, Rebecca Molholt, John Pollini, and Hérica Valladares

March 20 11:00am-5:00pm, East Building Auditorium
March 21 1:00-5:00pm, East Building Auditorium

Molly Swetnam-Burland

Wednesday 21 January 2009

Oebalus 3, 2008

Informo gli amici del blog che oggi è stato pubblicato il 'Oebalus' 3, 2008, che contiene anche alcuni articoli di argomento 'pompeiano'


Monday 19 January 2009

Boscoreale silver

Another article: Renato Profili and co have approached the Italian ambassador to UNESCO about producing copies of the Boscoreale silver, found in the Pisanella Villa in 1897, and putting them on display in the Antiquarium of Boscoreale.

I can't honestly say that I would approve (although it's unlikely anything will come of the idea) ... Few enough tourists get out to the Antiquarium as it is. I would rather the money be spent on improving facilities at Pompeii. More loos, for example! Or more custodians and more open houses. A functioning restaurant would be nice too.


See for a report about new work financed by the comune to smarten up the parts of modern Ercolano that overlook the excavations of Herculaneum. There is a reference to future plans: "il nostro prossimo obiettivo sarà portare alla luce un’insula di Herculaneum e, con il programma Più Europa, anche l’antica basilica di Nono Balbio".
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