Cities of Vesuvius - Pompeii and Herculaneum

- Syllabus Content -

Changing interpretations: impact of new research and technologies


Developments in 2nd half of 20th Century.
Little new excavation within Pompeii. Need to preserve and document what has already been excavated.
New answers provided by sampling and probing beneath excavated areas.
New scientific and archaeological techniques and specialists from other areas, e.g., Applied Research Laboratory est. 1994. See Fig. 11.5 p.180 - specialists who contribute to archaeology.

Documentation of Existing Finds

Italian Central Institute for Cataloguing and Documentation: 18,000 photographs of painted walls and mosaic floors (less than 20% of all finds).

New Research


For each of the following projects answer these questions:
  • Who is running the project? (Person / Organisation)
  • Where is the project?
  • What is the purpose of the project?
  • What has the project achieved?
  • Other information, e.g. when the project began; duration of the project; funding for the project

Many of these projects are aimed to fill the gaps left by inadequate recording of the original excavations, through archival research, analysis of the existing remains and excavation below the AD 79 level. The extent of deterioration of the remains can also be studied.


‘The Houses in Pompeii’ project

See p.181 of text.
1977 - German Archaeological Institute. Aim to investigate and record houses which had not been fully documented when first excavated. An Australian and New Zealand team under Jean-Paul Descoeudres studied the House of the Ancient Hunt and the House of the Painted Capitals. from 1978 to 1986. See Pompeii Revisited in the school library.

House of the Painted Capitals

‘The Insula of Menander’ project

See p.181-3 of text.
A whole city block - I.10 - to be analysed and documented from 1978. First stage published in 1997 - provided new understandings and interpretations of the insula. See a review of the book here. (Volume 2 is only US$350 from Amazon)

‘The Pompeian Forum’ project

See pp.183-4 of text.

Insula VI.1 Pompeii

Begun in 1988 under John Dobbins (University of Virginia).

Anglo-American Project at Pompeii

See pp.184-6 of text.
Since 1994 has been investigating VI.1. Pompeii Trust established in 2002.
The project website and that of the Pompeii Trust no longer exist. There is still some record of the project on the web at Archaeology Magazine website:

Insula VI.1 Pompeii

The British School at Rome's Pompeii Project

The BSR project aims to take a small slice of the city, a single block of houses or insula, excavated first half a century ago, yet never published, and to see what can be said about it now to cast light on the city, its history and its life. Its three main components are archival research into the original excavation of 1952-3, the artefacts then excavated, recording and analysis of the standing remains, and the excavation of levels below that sealed by the eruption of AD 79.

Have a look at some of the following sites:
Projects under the auspices of the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompei:

The Swedish Pompeii Project - a study by the Swedish Institute in Rome begun in 2000. The aim of the project is to "record and analyse a full Pompeian city-block, Insula V.1".
Where is Regio V Insula 1?

One of the houses under study in the Swedish Pompeii Project is the Casa del Torello di Bronzo (House of the Little Bull) V.1.7. Below are some photographs of the house, and of the Swedish archaeologist responsible for the study, Thomas Staub. There are also seven pages of photos of this house at Pompeii in Pictures.
Entrance from the street

Fauces from the atrium (with Patrizia and Estelle)

Marble impluvium in the atrium


Thomas Staub - Swedish archaeologist
Estelle and Thomas and a room off the atrium
The tablinum through to the peristyle


Water feature in the peristyle
Part of the peristyle water feature
Lead underground water distribution system

Thomas Staub's on-site office

Damaged plaster work on a wall

Damaged fresco

A fading fresco

Swedish Pompeii Project Autumn campaign 2007 team

The work of some individual archaeologists

Wilhelmina Jashemski (1910-2007)
See text “Animal and plant remains” p.58; “The wine and oil industries” p.90

Sarah Bisel
See text “The skeletons of Herculaneum” pp.54-56

Some Australian archaeologists

Resurrecting_Pompeii_cover.jpgEstelle Lazer
See text “Bones and casts from Pompeii” p57

Estelle spent five seasons studying skeletal remains in Pompeii. Most remains had been gathered in one of the bath houses, the Sarno Baths (VIII.2.17).

Her aim was to examine the bones to see whether they reflect any age or gender bias. On the basis of her work they remains appear to reflect a reasonably random sample of the population.

Some of the conclusions Estelle has drawn from her study are:
  • She disputes the view that the victims were the women, children, elderly and infirm.
  • Poor teeth: doesn't reflect social status. Worn teeth as result of volcanic grit in bread from the millstones.
  • 10%: post-menopausal syndrome - hyperostasis frontalis. Led to obesity, tumours, facial hair.
  • Generally, the victims were in good health.

Estelle also studied the skeletal remain which had been found by Maiuri in the House of Menander. She found that these had been ‘improved’.

(Watch Estelle on ABC's Big Ideas, 23 February 2010)

Jaye McKenzie-Clark (nee Pont)

jaye_mckenzie_clark.jpgWorked with Anglo-American project in Pompeii which aimed to study below the AD 79 level. Studied red-slip pottery from Insula VI.1 using petrological thin-section analysis to establish the source of the pottery. Came to new conclusions about the origins of pottery in Pompeii: that most was locally manufactured and there was a great variety in quality reflecting the different abilities of various workshops in the Vesuvius area. Her work has challenged the previous assumption that most pottery was imported from the east.

Penelope Allison

Penelope_Allison.jpgWorked with the Australian team in the Houses in Pompeii Project recording paintings in the House of the Ancient Hunt.

Her main contribution has been a detailed study of the contents of 30 houses in Pompeii which had first been excavated by Fiorelli. These houses had better excavation records though there were still gaps in the recording. Her study has led to a better understanding of room use in Pompeii.

Vitruvius cannot be relied upon to provide an accurate idea of how rooms were named and used.

Pompeii was not frozen just as it had been in life. A number of factors have distorted the remaining material evidence, particularly that many important objects were taken from the houses by the occupants as they fled. Also there appears evidence that the remains have been disturbed in places, probably by people returning after the eruption to retrieve goods.

These factors make the site a more complex place to study than had previously been thought.

Her work has been published as Pompeian Households: An Analysis of the Material Culture, with an accompanying on-line database of the contents of the houses studied.

Some new technologies

Lady of Oplontis
Lady of Oplontis

This is an example of new technology being used in the study of human remains.

A cast of one of the 75 victims found at Oplontis (near Pompeii) in the 1980s was made from epoxy resin rather than plaster. Resin casting allows bones and jewellery to be seen.

In 1994 the body was brought to Australia as part of an exhibition at the Australian Museum. The Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompeii gave permission for the body to undergo an MRI scan, the results of which were studied by
Estelle Lazer and medical specialists, revealing new information about her age, height, health and associated artefacts she was wearing or holding (e.g. a money purse).

Philodemus Project

The carbonised papyrus scrolls found in the Villa dei Papyri at Herculaneum contain mainly the work of an ancient philosopher, Philodemus. In their charred state, they are very difficult to decipher. Using multi-spectral imaging it is possible to isolate the writing from the charred background.

The Philodemus Text and Translation Project centred at UCLA, with an international team of scholars, aims to translate the scrolls into English, to be made available to a wide audience for further study.

See the Philodemus Project at the UCLA website.

Use of CAD and three-dimensional imaging and model making

A number of the projects in Pompeii are using CAD to make accurate diagrams of specific areas of the site. Also three-dimension imaging allows models to be made which give a better understanding of the site and the buildings.
  • This had been used by the British School at Rome’s Pompeii Project – study of Insula I.9. 3-D images have been made of the whole insula, of the individual houses in the insula (e.g. House of the Beautiful Impluvium and House of the Orchard), and of objects found in the insula. These images are available online (see links above).
  • The Via dell’Abbondanza Project is creating a digital record of the buildings fronting the whole length of the street: “State-of-the-art surveying, photographic and computer equipment are used to create photomosaics that document the current condition of the structures.”
  • Archival photographs, electronic surveying and CAD programs are being used by the Pompeii Forum Project to create accurate architectural plans of the Forum and surrounding buildings to allow for greater understanding of the urban design of Pompeii.

Via dell'Abbondanza Project