2023 Author: Bryan Walter | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-05-21 22:24
We continue to follow the current excavation season in Pompeii. This time, the story will focus on the stratigraphy of the city, buried under volcanic eruptions in 79 AD, as well as on the work to restore the appearance of ancient city structures. By Yuli Uletova, author of the Pompeii website: step by step.
To begin with, I want to draw attention to what Pompeii is covered with. In the photograph already known to us with electoral inscriptions, strange large "sand" is clearly visible.
In fact, this is not sand, but the so-called "lapilli" (in Italian lapilli, "pebbles"), formed by the solidification of lava in the air. They are small - from 20 millimeters to 5 centimeters (what is smaller is considered volcanic ash, more is volcanic bombs), porous and light. Lapilli with a higher iron content are brown-red in color, they are heavier and, accordingly, fell near the volcano. White Pompeian lapilli contain almost no iron, they were carried away by the wind quite far from the volcano - from Pompeii to Vesuvius in a straight line for almost ten kilometers.
The director of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii took excellent photographs, where one can see the "flakiness" of the volcanic products that fell asleep in the city. Such layering is called in archeology (and other sciences) stratigraphy, it allows you to establish the phases of a volcanic eruption, because it clearly shows the order of passage of lava flows, "rain" from lapilli and pyroclastic waves.
Plaster casts and antique doors
In general, the average thickness of volcanic emissions over Pompeii is about six meters versus 30 meters above Herculaneum. All these layers have reliably sealed the ancient cities to our time. And although the organic matter, due to the peculiarities of the eruption in Pompeii, was not preserved as well as in Herculaneum, archaeologists nevertheless found a way to return at least the prints of what was lost. It turned out that organic matter, decaying, leaves voids in the soil, completely preserving the contour of the disappeared one. If the cavity is not destroyed, but, having made holes in it, is filled with plaster, then an impression will be obtained, repeating the volumetric contour of the lost object.
Everyone now knows about the method of plaster casting, invented by the archaeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli, who served as governor of Pompeii in the second half of the 19th century. Recently, according to this principle, the first cast of a horse in the entire history of excavations of the city was made. The photographs show how first two holes were made in the ground, where gypsum was poured, and then the gypsum casting was released. Even the decayed leather straps of the bridle were well imprinted on the cast.
What kind of casts were made using the same technology during the excavation period of Pompeii: dead people, animals, furniture, structural parts of houses, and so on. By the way, about the houses. On the city's main street of Plenty (via dell'Abbondanza) there are several plaster casts of shop doors, such as this one, made a hundred years ago:
But, as new excavations have shown, it happens in another way.
In the quarter opposite the House of the Silver Wedding - according to the address tradition of Pompeii, it has number V.2 - archaeologists continue to work. Near the corner where the electoral inscriptions we know are located, a doorway is open. Judging by its size, this is not a rich domus, but an ordinary taberna or thermopoly.
Taberna - from the word "tabula", a board - was a small dwelling, which served the owner as a house and a workshop and shop for selling his products. The taberna could be two-story. There were very few rooms in such a dwelling - one or two on each floor.
Tabern in Pompeii was enough. Usually they consisted of two small rooms on the first floor of a house (and practically any - even the owners of wealthy estates rented out the premises overlooking the street to small shopkeepers) and a residential attic, or mezzanine, or the second floor. The front wall facing the street at such a shop was usually absent - at the end of the day, the tenant shopkeeper closed the opening with a sliding door, locked it and went up to his second floor (by the way, the stairs there could be located both inside and outside the house).
The usual door for such a shop consisted of several canvases held together by hinges. It moved in a rut carved into the stone threshold (such can be seen in many tabernas of the city), and folded like an accordion. Now similar doors are called “accordion doors” or “book doors”.
Thermopolius was the same tabernaya, but the room always had a concrete counter with large pots embedded in it. Hot food was stored in them during the day, intended for sale both to take away and for consumption here, in the thermopoly.
Many visitors to Pompeii, far from antiquity, wondered: why were such large empty rooms along the streets needed? If this is a room, then why such an opening? And if this is not housing, then what? Here, in the new excavations of the V region, the volcano has preserved for us the imprint of the most real Pompeian door.
Garden along the new street and alley of Balconies
Until recently, the street from Via di Nola to the Silver Wedding Lane (vicolo delle Nozze d'Argento) had no name. Actually, there was no street as such - it was filled with lava, covered with lapilli and soil from other excavations. Now it has been excavated and has its own name - the lane of the Balconies (vicolo dei Balconi).
There is a large empty space on the east side of this street. Presumably, this is the inner garden of a large, still undiscovered house. In the center, after clearing lapilli, an impromptu table was unexpectedly found, built of a fluted pilaster and a marble slab, which was placed on top. The slab appears to have previously been part of the marble trim of a labrum, a small basin, or a water bowl.
Such small tables-cartibules, which originate from the altar, usually stood in the atriums of wealthy houses, and sometimes in peristyle gardens, as here.
On the north side of the garden, a portico with columns is gradually opened. In the garden itself, it was possible to successfully make plaster casts of the voids remaining from the roots of the trees growing in it. This can help in identifying their species.
Another major discovery is the balconies that collapsed under the weight of lapilli.
It is already known that houses in Pompeii and Herculaneum had at least two floors. Of course, the weight of volcanic products severely damaged the upper parts of the houses - not a single whole roof has reached our time (what we see in Pompeii now is a reconstruction), the walls were destroyed at a height of two to three meters. However, the city has preserved and restored upper floors and balconies. And here is a new find, interesting in addition to the fact that, together with the balconies, their contents, as well as the roof tiles, are open.
It turns out that at the time of the eruption of Vesuvius, on one of the balconies, there was a considerable number of amphorae. Unfortunately, most of them are damaged. In addition, they are not sealed and were most likely stored upside down on the balcony, for example, for drying. But modern science works wonders, so perhaps we can learn a lot even from these empty pots.
The balconies were saved from complete destruction by a rather thick layer of lapilli on the street, which by that time had filled the entire alley. He played the role of a "pillow". In this regard, the plans of the management of the archaeological park came up with an idea to restore the balconies, but this is a work of more than one year. But the lane is already named after them - vicolo dei Balconi.