05 February 2016

The Dead of Pompeii

One of the interesting things that I learned during our guided tour of Pompeii was that of the people who died (many did manage to escape) the majority were the wealthy of the city. They refused to leave because they were afraid that their houses would be raided and treasures stolen in the chaos/aftermath of the eruption.

Amphitheater at Pompeii

Temporary memorial exhibition

As I mentioned in my previous post about Pompeii, L and I gave into morbid curiosity when we heard there was a special exhibition in the amphitheater about the dead of Pompeii and how their final moments were recovered. Who doesn't want to see plaster casts of dead people?

The temporary exhibition is housed in a wooden pyramid and features not only plaster casts but a history about how these were done. I'll admit that until more recently than I'd like I assumed these plaster casts were the ashy remnants of the dead. Which is stupid because absolutely everything organic in Pompeii was consumed by the 250 C/482 F surges of heat from the ash.

You can see some of the bones and teeth still.

It was Giuseppe Fiorelli who, in 1863 realized that the cavities in the ash containing human remains were left by decomposed bodies. He devised a technique by which liquid plaster was injected into the cavities to recreate the body. His technique is still used today although with more durable resin instead of plaster.

The result of Fiorelli's discovery and the memorial exhibition is haunting. Yes there were certainly elements of the morbidity which drew L and me, especially when we caught the gleam of bones and teeth amidst the plaster; but it was far more moving than I expected.

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