YDHS Friday Talk March 2023
Jane Olsson—Digging for Treasure: the rediscovery of Pompeii and Herculaneum
Dr Jane Olsson gave an absorbing illustrated talk about the rediscovery of Pompeii and Herculaneum, towns destroyed by the volcanic eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79AD. Jane spent four years completing a her PhD thesis on the topic, working with a large team documenting several houses in a particular section of Pompeii which had not previously been explored with correct archaeological methods.
We are fortunate to know a great deal about the eruption and subsequent events, because Pliny the Younger was an eyewitness and recorded what happened. His record was published by the historian Tacitus and passed on to Emperor Titus who appointed senators to report on it. Unfortunately nothing was done at the time, and the towns were forgotten until the early 18th century, when artefacts were uncovered during the building of wells and canals. Large scale looting occurred as the ‘treasures’ were sold and hidden away in private villas. Over the years, political upheavals and corruption hampered government and individual attempts to preserve the sites.
Jane discussed the evolution of the discipline of archaeology from the mere collecting of artefacts to scientific methods of documentation and conservation used in the 20th century. The present day challenge is how to preserve these sites given that Pompeii is one kilometer across and Herculaneum lies below the town of Resina. Funding for conservation has been secured from UNESCO and the EU, but the challenges faced are enormous: weathering, earthquakes, weeds, thieving and the constant flow of numerous tourists.