April 6 – Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down

Today’s Factismal: Excavations began at Pompeii 265 years ago; they were stopped in 1996 due to concerns over proper conservation of the ruins.

Perhaps the most famous eruption of all time is that of Vesuvius in 79 CE. The ash fall and lahar (a hot, glowing cloud of poisonous fumes and volcanic ash that flows downhill at 120 mph) rapidly buried the cities of Pompeii, Stabia, and Herculanum and so scarred the Romans that the area was abandoned for centuries. And Pompeii and her sister cities remained lost for nearly seventeen centuries.

A fresco in Pompeii(My camera)

A fresco in Pompeii
(My camera)

But in 1738, the King of Naples decided that he wanted a new summer palace and put it on a broad meadow above the city. As his workmen dug the foundations for the palace, they discovered Herculanum. The wonders that they discovered led to the decision to search for Pompeii. The first trench was dug on April 7, 1748, and the wonders soon poured out.

A household in Pompeii(My camera)

A household in Pompeii
(My camera)

Intricate mosaics abounded, along with scandalous and more than slightly naughty frescoes (paintings on plaster). More morbidly, the archeologists soon recognized that the hollow spaces represented places where people had been buried in ash and died, leaving behind a void as their bodies rotted away; they began making casts of these forgotten people in order to record them as well. Along with the larger artifacts, archeologists have discovered heaps of ordinary items such as combs, wine jars, and toiletries.

A silly tourist in Pompeii(My camera)

A silly tourist in Pompeii
(My camera)

Unfortunately, much of the wealth of Pompeii and her sister cities has been lost over the 265 years since the excavations started. Some of it was deliberately destroyed due to the explicit nature of the decorations (the Romans were anything but shy). But much more was stolen or moved, rendering it useless to archeologists.

A human body in Pompeii(My camera)

A human body in Pompeii
(My camera)

But Pompeii isn’t the only place where man has left a record of his presence. There are artifacts everywhere. And archeologists need your help to preserve them. If you want to conserve the past, then consider joining the Portable Antiquities Project or the Calico Early Man Site Project:

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