Herculaneum exhibition in Naples

(ANSA) – Naples, October 15 – (the original article has one photo)

Some of the greatest
discoveries pulled from the ruins of the ancient Vesuvian
town of Herculaneum have been reunited under one roof for the
first time for a major new exhibition that opens here today.

Statues, skeletons, artefacts and textiles go on show
from the small seaside town south of Naples, which was
destroyed in the same eruption that buried Pompeii on August
24, 79 AD.

”It’s an extraordinary collection of 150 works that
restores to the world the richest existing testimony of the
classical age,” said Campania President Antonio Bassolino at
the show’s inauguration.

While Pompeii was covered by hot ash and lava, its less
famous neighbour disappeared under an avalanche of molten
rock, which mingled with mud and earth and solidified,
allowing fragile organic matter like wood, fabrics, wax
tablets and papyrus rolls to survive.

Archaeologists began digging at the site at the
beginning of the 1700s and continue to make discoveries
Among the highlights of the show are sacks, little bags,
and pieces of material thought to have belonged to tunics and
cloaks that were dug from the town and which form part of the
museum’s little-known collection of 180 ancient Roman fabrics
– the largest in the world.

On display for the first time ever is fabric from a mass
of organic material discovered in July 2007 on what was once
the terrace of a large thermal bath complex.
A fragment of cloth made from hemp was among the
material, discovered alongside a leather bag, carbonised wood
belonging to a boat and a fishing net with lead weights.

The biggest crowd-puller is likely to be the skeletons
of ancient Romans in the act of fleeing the town – one of the
most extraordinary archaeological discoveries of the last few

Men, women and children were fleeing to the ancient
beach when the first volcanic surge hit.

While at Pompeii bodies decomposed in the ash (allowing
archaeologists to make plaster casts of the spaces left by
the bodies), Herculaneum’s solidified mud preserved the
skeletons intact, providing a rare treat for researchers
because of how frequently ancient Romans cremated their dead.

The exhibition is divided into three sections, focusing
first on the magnificent statues of gods, heroes and emperors
found among the ruins.

The second section is dedicated to the noble Herculaneum
families such as that of the proconsul Marcus Nonius Balbus,
one of the town’s main benefactors, and showcases many
statues found at the Villa of the Papyri.

The villa, the largest and most sumptuous found outside
Rome, is thought to have belonged to Lucius Calpurnius Piso,
father of Calpurnia, Julius Caesar’s wife.

Only partially excavated, the villa has so far yielded
1,800 papyri, half of which have been deciphered to reveal
Epicurean philosophy, and some experts say there may still be
lost literary treasures of antiquity hidden in the ruins.

In the third section, the skeletons of fleeing
townspeople are on show with other objects putting the daily
life of the common people under the microscope, while fabrics
go on display in the final section.

Herculaneum: Three Centuries of Discoveries runs at the
Naples Archaeological Museum until April 2009.

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