The roof had been swept off by the force of the eruption when Vesuvius blew its top in AD 79, landing upside-down four floors below its original position on what was once the beach below (see CWA #42 and #51). The air-tight seal created by the volcanic ash created an ideal environment in which to preserve the timber.
The House of the Telephus Relief, a grandiose residence, is believed to have been built for Marcus Nonius Balbus, the Roman governor of Crete and an area that today forms part of Libya.
Its extravagant decorations make it one of the most prestigious houses in the city, and one that once would have enjoyed spectacular views across the Bay of Naples. On the top floor, the sumptuous dining room with marble wall and floors, was surrounded by a terrace and topped by the multicoloured and gilded wooden ceiling.
Herculaneum Conservation Project archaeologists led by Domenico Camardo and Ascanio D’Andrea have now virtually reassembled the 250 or so pieces of the roof and reconstructed the elaborating decorated ceiling panels – ‘it will be the first-ever full reconstruction of the timberwork of a Roman roof,’ said Project Director Andrew Wallace-Hadrill.