The wonderful documentary Pompeiis Final Hours with host Bettany Hughes, filmed last year, is being replayed on SBS. It features the CT scanning and research undertaken by Estelle and the team at the local hospital in Pompeii in 2017. Watch online here: www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/program/pompeiis-final-hours-new-evidence
Update from: Dianne Harper, Chifley College Senior Campus
Chifley College Senior Campus is excited to announce that we have partnered with Chester Hill High School and Sydney University, including Dr Estelle Lazer and Associate Professor Kathryn Welch, to better understand the human victims of the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in AD79. The Pompeii Cast Project sets out to challenge the myths about the lives and personalities of these victims of a mass disaster, and use the latest developments in digital imaging and scientific analysis to discover what can actually be known about these victims.
Terri Katsikaros and Dianne Harper are passionate and experienced teachers of Ancient History, with a particular interest in widening participation opportunities for students from low socio economic backgrounds.
Watch a short video ‘Radiology Beyond Medicine’, produced by Roberto Canigliua of Philpis Italy, demonstrating their involvement in our work. We thank Roberto for making it available and for his enthusiastic support of our project. The video shows the work of the Pompeii Archaeological Park (especially the expert restorers who had to move the casts and the Director General, Professor Massimo Osanna) and medical staff of Maria Rosaria Casa di Cura (Hospital) Pompeii who assisted in the making of the 2015 documentary for Lion Television and the 2017 documentary for Voltage Television. There is a short glimpse of Estelle as she watches the casts being scanned in the local hospital.
Some help with the Italian:
Update from: Assc. Prof. Kathryn Welch, Historian and Facilitator, Pompeii Cast Project
Following the signing of our Memorandum of Agreement with the Parco Archeologico di Pompei in 2017, our team is pleased to announce that the University of Sydney awarded us a sum of money from the Industry and Community Engagement Fund to begin our systematic investigation of the casts. Our partners are Chifley College Senior Campus and Chester Hill High School and we would like to take this opportunity to thank both schools, their principals, leading Ancient History teachers, and students for their enthusiastic support.
Our aim was to X-ray a group of nine casts made from lime cement in 1991 that are currently off limits to the general public. The lime cement presents a particular challenge as the casts are extremely fragile. They are impossible to move, so CT-scanning is not an option. In order to capture any images of bones and teeth we knew we had to use digital X-ray, but lime cement is almost radio-opaque.
Because we were very uncertain that we would achieve ANY results with this group, we decided to include only our digital X-ray engineer, Mr Stijn Luyck, to Pompeii and not the whole team. Fortunately, he introduced us to his good friend and colleague, Dr Julia Ridder, an equine vet and who shares his passion for archaeology. She and her husband Jeremy joined us for the short time we were in Pompeii and we were very grateful for their assistance. Those of you who have been following Estelle’s story of discovery will know that she encountered Stijn and his expertise while assisting with a BBC documentary in 2012, and, as a consequence, they worked together on a second documentary in 2015. I can now personally attest that his skills are amazing.
Our quest to gain some results even through this difficult material was assisted by the person responsible for this group of casts. Professor Antonio De Simone generously provided us with as much information as possible about the original process, including the formula for the mixture he used to enable Stijn undertake do some experiments in advance. The results of his initial work were not encouraging. And we were not confident that we would find anything. Moreover, on arrival we also learned that the site had recently been vandalized, and at least one victim had suffered the indignity of having their bones disturbed. The remains of another, a small child, had been removed to the laboratory because it was exposed and had been suffering weather damage. Our colleagues at the Archaeological Park assured us that we would be able to study the remains during our next field season.
The first X-rays revealed that we could actually see some bones through the cement. Jubilation. However, it was also clear that getting good enough images to enable interpretation of the skeletal material was going to be difficult. We persevered for the morning, and, while pleased that our efforts were not wasted, are now even more aware of the challenges that this group presents. Lesson: don’t use lime cement as a casting material! Nevertheless, we will return in January in a better position to assess exactly what we can do to unlock the information that this set of bones offers.
Despite the difficulty, the group is unique in that Professor de Simone attempted a new style of display by casting the debris of the buildings and leaving each victim in the place where s/he died. This authenticity is immediately apparent in the positions of the victims and the presence in cast of brick tiles and beams. For once, the mountain created the tableau rather than any human intervention. It is a great pity that the fragility of the material and the difficulty of protecting the entire site means that the visiting public cannot see this evocative evidence of human suffering and we felt particularly privileged to be able to study it.
After lunch we moved to the series of four casts near the Porta Nocera. Amadeo Maiuri cast these victims in plaster in the second half of the 1950s. One is apparently still in situ. It must be said that while we discovered more bones, it was still a challenge to obtain good results because the victims are also close to the ground and even our wonderful portable equipment could not easily slide into the available cracks and crevices. The last victim we X-rayed clearly has his/her skeleton intact and we really look forward to examining the material – and gaining more! Just as we were rejoicing on some excellent outcomes, the diminishing light and rapidly-fading laptop battery convinced us to call it a day.
And we retired happy. It will take time to process the results and we look forward to a second opportunity for more research in January which will build on what we were able to do this time. It’s a case of “stay tuned”.
As always, we would like to thank the Parco Archeologico di Pompei for their collaboration and assistance and look forward to returning to Pompeii as soon as possible.
An update from Estelle...
A fab photo of co-director Kathryn Welch in the field this year, camera in hand documenting the team's in situ x-ray.
Our resources page is full of links to news articles, documentaries, lectures and more. Revisit this stellar lecture by Dr Estelle Lazer on last year's field work, brought to you by Sydney Ideas podcast archive on Soundcloud
Our resources page is full of the latest media coverage of the work our tean gets up to in the field and how it connects to our colleagues working across the archaeological park. Documentaries, Publications and Radio Interviews are just some of the ways in which we are able to get the latest insights and research out to you.
In April 2018 , Dr Estelle Lazer joined colleagues Dr Eric Poehler, Dr Gillian Shepherd, Dr Steven Ellis on ABC's Radio National to discuss the latest archaeological research across the site. You can download the audio or read the transcript via the ABC website.
The Pompeii cast Project features in the 2018 documentary Pompeii's Final Hours: New Evidence. Watch Estelle and the team take Bettany Hughes through all the latest evidence revealed by the project on Voltage TV
About the Documentary
For centuries, a third of the Roman city of Pompeii was left untouched. This meant that hundreds of shops, homes, streets and bodies laid unseen beneath ash and rubble for 2000 years – exactly as they were on the day of the eruption. For the very first time, this untouched part of the ancient town underwent new archaeological digs – Pompeii’s Final Hours: New Evidence captured these ground-breaking works. Over three episodes, Bettany Hughes, Raksha Dave and John Sergeant bring this ancient city back to life.
In October Director General Massimo Osanna (Parco Arceologico di Pompei) was presented with his very own LEGO mini-fig at the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding for our Pompeii Cast Project between the University of Sydney and the Pompeii Archaeological Park.
Made by Liam Jensen of Lego Classicists (Sydney) and co-ordinated by the Nicholson Museum, Dr Estelle Lazer had the pleasure of presenting LEGO Osanna to Director Ossana. We are thrilled that the mini-fig was well received and was announced by Director Osanna on twitter.
The Italian press joined in on the fun, widely reporting on the LEGO Osanna and the Nicholson Museum's exhibtion. Including: La Repubblica Napoli, Il Mattino, Corriere Del Mezzogiorno, Madeinpompeii.it and Ecampania
Before making his long journey to Italy, LEGO Osanna was taken on a guided tour through LEGO Pompeii at the Nicholson Museum, where he climbed the heights of the Amphitheatre, met with tourists enjoying the LEGO sites and even joined LEGO Estelle in her work on the skeletal remains.
LEGO photography by Dr Craig Barker at the Nicholson Museum.
The exhibition of LEGO Pompeii and the Nicholson Museum at the University of Sydney is open to the public from Monday to Friday 10am-4.30pm and the first Saturday of every month 12-4pm and is completely free.
We are so pleased to welcome you to the Pompeii Cast Project's website! Here you will find the latest news and research from the project, all of our resources including past lectures, podcasts, interviews, a full list of our publications and content specifically for teaching ancient Roman history and archaeology.
Over the course of the project we will use this blog to share our research, methodologies and field practices, as well as insights into the ethics of investigating human remains and stories from behind the scenes.
Archaeologists, historians, forensic scientists and uni students all contribute their expertise to the blog. Find out more about our team here.
To leave a comment on the blog, or read what others have said, click on Comments link in blue at the top or bottom of each post. Then leave your reply in the form supplied.