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NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC—Modern imaging and chemical analysis of the human remains are adding depth to the picture of how Pompeii’s inhabitants lived. (3:20)
Pompeii Body Casts
The ancient Roman town of Pompeii, which was buried under 18 feet of volcanic ash in A.D. 79, is one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites since the 18th century when it was discovered. Even today scientists continue to learn from the site.
What they found amazed everyone. There were carbonized loaves of bread, fruit still retaining its flavor, and olives still swimming in their oil. But there were even more amazing discoveries.
The body casts
The volcanic ash had frozen people in the exact position they had occupied when the disaster struck. The bodies of the people decayed. As they did, they left behind hollow cavities in the hardened ash. By pouring liquid plaster into these cavities, archaeologists were able to make casts of the victims.
Some of the casts evoke an emotional response. For example,
a man struggling to prop himself up to look upon his wife and child one last time
a young mother hugging her child tightly in her arms;
a Roman sentry still at his post, standing erect fully armed. He had remained calm and faithful to his duty to the end;
a man standing upright with a sword in his hand. His foot is resting on a pile of gold and silver. Scattered about him are five bodies, probably would-be looters he had killed;
a woman wearing lots of expensive jewelry, inspiring speculation that she was a wealthy matron secretly visiting her gladiator lover at the time of Vesuvius’ eruption.
Fortunately, 75-90% of the population escaped Pompeii at the first signs of the eruption.
As amazing as the body casts are, much also can be learned from the artifacts also found at Pompeii:
"Early excavators didn’t much care where a particular statue or mosaic fragment had been found and what stories might be coaxed from them. By contrast, “Pompeii: Stories from an Eruption” [exhibit] employs archaeological techniques to link artifacts to the lives of the people who once lived with them." —Resurrecting Pompeii (Smithsonian Magazine, February 2006)
Connection to today's reading
The plaster casts illustrate in a dramatic way the two themes of today’s readings. The first theme is that of the suddenness with which the end of the world and the second coming of Jesus will take place.
Are you taking signs of crisis in your life seriously, or are you ignoring them? What will you be doing at our moment of your death? What artifacts will you leave behind? How are they linked to your life? How many layers of ash will you be buried under at the end of your life?
Twig Education — (3:19)
I've Just Seen — (4:25)
Aero One (8:39)