Pompeii Frozen in Time

Pompeii, a town in southern Italy, has been excavated for the last 256 years from piles of volcanic ash in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

A BBC documentary has been done with Dr Margaret Mountford as the presenter. The video can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ha8pRNWuet8 but just to serve as backup on occasions when the youtube video has been deleted, a summary of the content would be summarized as follows.

Plaster_Citizens_of_Pompeii_1picture taken from wikipedia

The video mainly explores the reason why casts of real human bodies were left behind preserved in Pompeii when normally archaeological sites would only be rife with human bones buried underneath the ground. Hauntingly astonishing!

On the morning of 24 August, 79 AD, just before midday, earthquake rocked Pompeii. At 1pm, Vesuvius erupted. Rock and dirt flew into the air, together with huge amounts of earth and ash forming a cloud above the volcano. The cloud was then pushed 14 km into atmosphere and flew above Pompeii and then started to rained ash unto the city. The question is why human bodies so well preserved. So the culprit shouldn’t be molten lava which would render these bodies to destruction. It was assumed that the people suffocated from the air dense with volcanic ash. This was evidenced by the a cast found near a dead mule, hence assumed to be a mulateer. But Dr Peter Bannister from Cambridge University suggested that people choking would be lying on the ground instead of crouching.

Plaster_Cast-Pompeii picture taken from lumika.org

6km from Vesuvius also destroyed by it was Herculanean which is a smaller but a wealthier town. Herculanean was a holiday resort to rich and powerful Romans. This town was also much closer to Vesuvius than Pompeii so the force was much more intense. There were much less preserved human bodies, so this led to a conjecture that they escaped. But victims in boat sheds were reduced to bones, which meant that people ran to these chambers to escape from the disasters. Clean cuts in the skulls meant that the people were exposed to high temperatures that boiled their brain and exploded their skulls.

There were no lava. But why did the disaster preserve casts in Pompeii and did little preservation to people in Herculanean? Pliny, the younger described the eruption as black ash and debris falling th sides of the volcano, instead of lava. People disregarded his words until Mount St Helens National Park, South America, in 18 May 1918, erupted with only ash, producing a pyroclastic current, which harbours high temperatures of 700 deg Celsius. When theres no gas in the magma, the volcano erupts as a lava dome. With gas, the magma is pulverized as ash and pumice. Something like melting vs sublimation.

The pyroclastic current ran out of energy when it reached Pompeii, hence the bodies were preserved instead. Pompeii is 5 km further away from Versuvius, so it cooled to 300 deg celcius. The casts still hold imprints of the clothes they wore which is strange as the heat was enough to kill but not enough to destroy clothes. But a cloth experiment in Edinburg confirms that it could.

1st pyroclastic current killed Herculanean. 2nd and 3rd pyroclastic were much stronger and reached more towards Pompeii.  ash in pompeii cleared, so many came back to collec valuables. But a 4th pyroclastic current surged and this time it could reach Pompeii! Versuvius produced 6 pyroclastic currents altogether. Ash hardened to encase bodies in a shell. Flesh inside decomposed and left a cavity, a perfect mould of the victims. Archaelogists then pumped plaster into these and produced astonishing casts

THey also used X ray technology to reconstruct faces of 2 people. The anonymous man in Pompeii and the Bella Dona in Herculanean. This was done by Richard Neef.

20130614_10151320130614_101555 a plan of Pompeii

20130614_103436 20130614_103521 20130614_103546

A pictorial Introduction

There is also a lovely website that describes Pompeii’s infrastructure and buildings. It is found here:


A pity there was no time to visit all the sites in Pompeii….nevertheless, a collation of some picture I managed to take.

Pictures of the Large Theatre


poor paranomic view at the stage of the audience seats


Seat numbers 11 and 12


Settore = sector/ area, Fila= Row


view from the back seats and you can see the stage and the dressing rooms behind the stage





20130614_105609 Row 5

There were passages for spectators to enter and these passages had walls with frescos on them


20130614_110023 a boat20130614_110028a huge phallus, blow it big if you can’t see hmm

Pictures of Thermopolium

Thermopolium is like the modern cafe or bar where you buy takeaway food, different from a ristorante where you sit.


 counters that contain terracotta vessels that hold food to sell.

Pictures of the Infrastructure

20130614_110520 20130614_110633


20130614_113725 street in middle, pavements at sides


embellishments on street


embellishment on pavement… a lil tiles…

20130614_113043 street signs on walls

Streets acted as sewers then, because they were an old city, drainage systems were not built. So streets would be filled with animal and human wastes, water, slops etc and residents could keep their feet dry by crossing the streets via stepping stones or rocks

20130614_110432 stepping rocks


Brock on the rock.20130614_110147

a stepping stone that shows evidence of wagon wheels that make forceful collisions onto these rocks


sides of streets had holes for residents to tug the ropes in and park their horses 😛

20130614_110448 water pipe and singing bird

20130614_111551 water pipe


 roman aqueduct

Pictures of Lupanar

Lupanar is like the red light district of Pompeii



20130614_112652 erotic frescoes

These serve as a menu of sexual acts. Since Pompeii was a seaport, many sailors visited Pompeii and would be able to select the sexual services from the menu, thus overcoming the language barrier.


Carving of the phallus in the streets to point the way towards the whorehouses so sailors can find their ways

20130614_112644 rock hard bed where sex is conducted.. uncomfy i suppose

Pictures of The Forum


Picture is taken from the Municipal Offices of the Forum and flanking buildings.

The Forum is the wide open space in the centre; The Basilica on the extreme left;  Temple of Apollo next to Basilica, Temple of Jupiter in the furthest perspective at the centre and Building of Eumachia on the right where the 4 columns stand.

20130614_114149 mum

20130614_114349 The Basilica

Pictures of the Gladiator Practice Fields




These Gladiator Barracks are just behind the large Theatre. The left staircase leads up to the Triangular Forum. The quardriporticus are surrounded by 74 Doric columns. And there are small dormitories around which house the prisoners aka the Gladiators.

There are also exedra next to the Barracks, filled with Fourth style frescos







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