"A Day in Pompeii" Recounts Fatal Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius

USA TODAY, June 2008 | Go to article overview

"A Day in Pompeii" Recounts Fatal Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius


Visitors are transported back 2,000 years in time to experience life and death in ancient Rome thanks to the exhibition, "A Day in Pompeii," which reveals daily life in a city steeped in legend and mystery. Pompeii and its neighboring cities were buried--and frozen in time--after the fateful eruption of Mt. Vesuvius on Aug. 24, 79 A.D. After being forgotten for nearly 1,700 years, the city accidentally was rediscovered by well-digging shepherds in 1748. Since then, its excavation has yielded extraordinary artifacts--from the rarest of art objects to the most common trinkets of daily use--and provided a comprehensive portrait of the life of a city at the height of the Roman Empire.

Archaeologists have been able to piece together the final moments of the people of Pompeii. By pouring plaster into cavities in the volcanic ash left by the victims' bodies, scientists created molds of the last seconds of life in this once-thriving seaport, as these figures are caught shielding their faces and clinging to each other. Even a dog impression was preserved. "A Day in Pompeii" features more than 250 artifacts uncovered from beneath 30 feet of volcanic material in this cosmopolitan city.

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"Rarely do we see such stark and dramatic evidence of people's final moments, but the exhibition goes far beyond that. The casts of human bodies certainly provide a personal connection with the victims of this natural disaster," says Jim Stone, vice president of public programs at the San Diego Natural History Museum. "However, the startling level of preservation of the objects in the exhibition transports the visitor almost two millennia back in time and captures the essence of daily life in ancient Pompeii. It's absolutely remarkable.

"These artifacts were preserved in a virtual time capsule beneath the layers of volcanic ash that covered Pompeii. Museum visitors will see the jewelry that the women wore, the beautiful frescoes and statuary they commissioned, the gold coins they used as currency. They'll even see a cast of a loaf of bread that had been baking at the time of the eruption. It's startling evidence that the city was frozen in a moment in time.

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"What's really beautiful, though, is that these different objects, which are amazing on their own, also work together to paint a very rich portrait of what life was like in ancient Italy 2,000 years ago."

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The exhibition takes visitors through an average day in Pompeii; individuals can walk a Pompeian street complete with storefronts and ambient sound, step into a tavern and examine samples of food items carbonized by the eruption, explore a home and garden setting, and see how the people of the city expressed their spirituality.

In addition to an extensive variety of artifacts--from beds to lanterns to hairpins to an exquisitely preserved 15' garden fresco from the House of the Gold Bracelet--"A Day in Pompeii" features hands-on build-a-mosaic and build-a-Roman-arch activities.

Besides rare and precious artifacts, the exhibition gives onlookers an opportunity to learn about volcanoes from around the globe. …

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