Tuesday 31 May 2011

Herculaneum conferences

Last week I was lucky enough to go to two workshops: one at the British Museum which brought together a bunch of scholars to talk about recent work at both Pompeii and Herculaneum, and the other at Cambridge which presented the results of the Herculaneum Conservation Project. 

We’ve had a whole series of posts about Herculaneum in the last month, mostly related to the recent publication of AWH’s new book on the site. On Tuesday evening John Nicoll, the director of Frances Lincoln (the publisher of Herculaneum), told me (and I hope he doesn’t mind me repeating this) that in the two weeks since AWH’s book came out, a phenomenal 1400 copies have been sold. This clearly reflects a thirst for knowledge about this ancient site, which hopefully will now start to receive as much popular, and scholarly, attention as Pompeii. So, what really struck me first of all about the papers given at the two workshops is that there is still so much more research to be published. AWH’s book is merely the start. (Incidentally, last week I received a copy of Nicolas Monteix’s new book, Les Lieux de Métier. Boutiques et ateliers d’Herculanum, which looks really interesting – and if anyone would like to review it for Blogging Pompeii, or lead a discussion about it, they should contact me).

The second thing that – although not new – was brought home forcefully was the conservation context of the recent work at Herculaneum. The startling archaeological discoveries of the past few years (the boat on the shore, the lower stories of the House of the Telephus Relief, the wooden roof, the head of theAmazon, the wooden tripod, the dionysiac relief, and the organic and non-organic finds in the sewer beneath Cardo V) are the result of a truly multi-disciplinary project involving archaeologists, conservators, engineers, architects, GIS specialists and so on. For example, if the project engineer hadn’t been worried about the ability of the House of the Telephus Relief to support a new roof, the lower stories of this insula would not have been uncovered by archaeologists who dug a trench to examine the strength of the foundations. A further knock on effect of the discovery of these lower stories was that they provided evidence for dramatic changes of sea level in the last 100 years of the town’s life. Is this isn’t an argument for prioritising conservation on an archaeological site, I don’t know what is.

You can tell I enjoyed myself! All the papers were fascinating (and there were some great papers about Pompeii too). My only regret is that these weren’t bigger events. Herculaneum, and the work of the HCP in particular, deserves a bigger audience. 

The programme of the Cambridge workshop can be viewed here. If anyone would like to see the British Museum programme they should email me and I will send it along.

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