On August 24, AD 79, Mount Vesuvius erupted, burying the ancient Roman city of Pompeii under volcanic ash for over 1,700 years. On Sunday, October 2, 2011, visitors to the Museum of Science
, Boston will explore the life and death of this thriving city in A Day in Pompeii. The 13,000-square-foot touring exhibit immerses visitors in the richness of one of the greatest archaeological treasures ever unearthed.
On exhibit October 2, 2011 - February 12, 2012, A Day in Pompeii features over 250 priceless artifacts. They include 13 wall-sized frescoes, over a dozen pieces of gold jewelry, marble and bronze statuary, gold coins, and other dazzling examples of ancient Roman artistry. Other artifacts from frying pans, fishhooks, and merchants' scales to ceramics, oil lamps, graffiti stones, and carbonized bread capture aspects of daily life. Visitors can also experience the power of volcanoes from interactive displays and learn about their victims by exploring the body casts that have immortalized them.
"Few ancient cities have been found so unchanged," says Paul Fontaine, Museum of Science vice president of education. "Our visitors will discover that what a volcano destroys it can also save. The clues that scientists and archeologists have uncovered, while helping establish modern archeology, also offer a glimpse of ancient life, from art and architecture to water engineering and entertainment, revealing remarkable ties between ancient and modern cultures. And in a very personal way, the body casts connect us directly to human beings who lived 2,000 years ago."
Walk Through A Day in Pompeii
A marble statue of Venus, the goddess of love and one of Pompeii's patron gods, welcomes visitors to the exhibit. Pompeii's homes and gardens come to life in richly colored frescoes, mosaic tiles, statues, furniture, ovens, everyday plates, bowls, spoons, wine jugs, and amphoras.
A computer-generated video flyover of the city's buildings shows bathhouses, laundries, and marketplaces as they might have looked in AD 79. A time-lapsed multimedia presentation re-creates the sights, sounds, and then silence of that doomed city's final 24 hours. The blast from Vesuvius has been estimated as being ten times more powerful than that of Mount Saint Helens in 1980.
A Day in Pompeii includes at least ten body casts made of polyester resin from the original molds of citizens and animals in their final moments. Perhaps one of the most moving casts is of a man reaching out to a woman, as they lie together. Others include a crouching man, a slave, a pair of young women, and a dog. Archaeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli, who oversaw the excavation of the city from 1860 to 1875, had made the amazing discovery that the bodies of people and animals smothered by ash had disintegrated, leaving cavities in the hardened ash. Fiorelli and his team poured liquid plaster into these voids, creating incredibly detailed casts of people in their last moments.
Nearby is a large cast of over 30 skeletal remains found in Herculaneum, a town northwest of Pompeii. Most of its citizens evacuated before the blast, but those fleeing to the waterfront were killed by superheated volcanic debris. The soft tissue of their bodies burned away, leaving only skeletal remains, which became the first Roman remains available for scientific study.
Next, visitors investigate Pompeii's trading, fishing, and agriculture through such artifacts as coins, fishhooks, and bronze merchant scales. Nearby, a shrine for household deities, statues from Greek and Roman myths, cremation urns, and objects from tombs evoke the religious and burial customs of Pompeii's citizens. Necklaces, bracelets, and dice reveal their love of jewelry and games of chance, while a bronze helmet and shield point to gladiators who fought each other in the city's amphitheater.
At interactive stations, visitors explore the geology of volcanoes, the art of mosaics, the science of archaeology, and ancient construction techniques. Relics of Roman water engineering in the form of pipes, valves, and spouts remind visitors of the advanced technological achievements of the first century.