Herculaneum, Italy, a time capsule from AD79
This morning, I visited Herculaneum, one of the world's top ranking archaeological sites
In the first century AD Herculaneum was a high end coastal retreat for the Roman elite which bordered the Mediterranean Sea.
Like it's sister site, Pompeii, all human and civic life came to a sudden end one day in September AD 79 when the nearby volcano, Vesuvius, exploded with the force of two atomic bombs. All human life was extinguished by a pyroclastic flow of 300 degree C hot air followed by (in case of Herculaneum) a deluge of boiling mud which covered the town up to a depth of 20m/60 feet and later solidified into rock.
Mount Vesuvius this morning. At time of 1st century explosion it was twice the height of today.
The site was rediscovered In the early 18th century and from thereon was subject to intermittent looting. However, in the 19th century, a degree of order was instituted. Later, professional archaeologists were employed in a process which continues today.
The full extent of the site was not appreciated in the early years as a consequence of which (relatively) modern housing was built over the ruins, as will be evident from some of the images herein, thus precluding further archeology in those areas.
High End Residence
Fast food outlet
Replicas of skeletons found near old shore line.
Herculaneum in foreground, modern buildings in middle distance and nemesis, Vesuvius in distance.
Three further points worthy of note:
- A concentration of human skeletons was found in buildings close to the former harbour. These people, about 300, were hoping for a rescue by sea which failed to eventuate.
- In one of the wealthy villas was a valuable library containing about 2000 scrolls. At time of the eruption these scrolls were carbonised and disintegrate if interfered with. However, a technique entailing blasting a selection of the scrolls with with intense x-rays in the hope of virtually unravelling them has been devised.. If successful this could provide a valuable insight into the literature of the ancient Greeks and Romans.
- In contrast to Pompeii, Herculaneum had its own, highly engineered, fresh water supply and sewage system.