Investigating the devestating eruption of Mount Versuvius that snubbed out all life in Pompeii…
Until recently, Pompeian archaeologists spent most of their time clearing volcanic debris to expose extensive areas of the city or trying to classify the architecture, frescoes and artefacts uncovered. Now all that is changing. Only small areas are excavated at one time, but the idea is to dig deep, going below the AD 79 level to see a sequence of layers and tell the story of the city from its origins. At the same time, house layout and interior design are being analysed to reconstruct the city's social and cultural life. In the hands of a new generation of researchers, ancient Pompeii is returning to life as never before.
First, though, we report new thinking about the eruption itself. The old idea that most people died under a rain of pumice has gone. Now vulcanologists believe most survived the 'air-fall' but were killed by the searing heat of 'pyroclastic ground-surges' during the last and most terrible phase of the eruption.
Then we review Reading University's five-year excavation of the House of Amarantus. Beneath the house destroyed in AD 79 excavators have found evidence for buildings on the same alignment dating from the sixth century BC. So was Pompeii originally an Etruscan new town? They have also found a grand house converted to a seedy bar by the time of the city's destruction - with empty amphorae dumped in a disused garden.
Next we discover that Bradford University, working on the other side of the city, have been digging up one the smartest houses in the city: the House of the Vestals. This elite residence gobbled up neighbouring properties and then piped in water from the new city aqueduct to create a spectacle of gushing fountains set against colonnades and frescoes. Thus we reveal Pompeii's culture of conspicuous consumption under the early emperors.
But is the picture accurate? CWA editor-in-chief Andrew Selkirk challenges the 'greed is good' interpretation of Pompeii and offers an alternative: a city where a wide range of society benefited from the prolonged economic boom in the two centuries before the eruption. (Let us know what you think.)
Rick Jones, Bradford's leading Pompeii archaeologist, then brings us up to date on new excavations at the House of the Surgeon, and new international efforts to rescue Pompeii's crumbling remains.
Our next article reveals that Pompeii was threatened by traffic gridlock but for a one-way system enforced by the local council. Then, from the congestion and noise of the city streets, we first accept an invitation to dinner at the House of the Chaste Lovers, and then get an introduction to interior design and lifestyle choice in the ancient city.
We open the magazine with a look at a very different culture: the Maya of the Roaring Creek valley of western Belize. A whole landscape comes under the spotlight as we uncover a middle range settlement, with houses set round plazuelas rather than plazas, with the remains of numerous houses and feasting halls.