Really, really old stuff… and dead people.




So this is my very first blog. I’m not exactly what you would call tech savvy so I’m not sure whether this will work… but lets give it a shot ey? Bear with me guys…

Shall we begin with the amazing exhibition I went to see last Friday at the British Museum; “Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum”? This exhibition shows the artifacts that were uncovered upon the re-discovering of the two towns in Southern Italy that were buried under ash in AD 79; a tragedy caused by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. I know, I know; boring right? For non-artistic types, or people who aren’t complete geeks like me, it may not sound exciting. Trust me. At least till I get to the good bit anyway.

I wanted to see this because I was meant to be going to Italy this week; however, due to my incompetence and fantastic procrastination skills it didn’t quite work out. Hence, if you can’t go to Rome… bring Rome to you right? Or, in this case, go to London!

The queues to get in this temporary exhibition set the scene for a certain feeling of awe, like you’re waiting to go and see something incredibly important. (Then you realise you have to queue for everything in the British Museum… toilets, coffee, a glimpse of the Egyptian mummies without a camera being waved behind your head… everything.) Once inside, and suitably set up with an audio guide if you’re sad enough to pay for one like I was, you enter the actual exhibit.

The whole exhibit is laid out like a typical Roman house, which does add something to all the various artifacts on show. After all, the things were discovered in their rightful places; it would seem almost disrespectful to de-contextualize them by placing them in another order, by aesthetics, or chronology, for instance. You move through the rooms, slowly I might add, and gradually build up a picture of the towns that were lost so many years ago. Everything from tables conserved by intense heat to wall art, jewellery and chamber pots.

Trying to get lost in the thought of how amazingly old this stuff is, and the awful event that lead to their preservation, is rather difficult with the swarms of people fighting to see everything (mainly tourists and older people – I did stick out a tinsy bit). The audio guides help with this slightly, if you can work them. I finally gave up trying up to concentrate on the  ‘second style’ of Pompeian wall painting and tapped the elderly gentleman stood next to me on the shoulder to offer my help; I just couldn’t concentrate whilst I felt so sorry for him and the obvious difficulties he was having trying to understand the touch screen!

One thing that did take me by surprise, so perhaps I should mention it, was the marble statue of the God pan making love to a she-goat. Yes it was as explicit as it sounds. Apparently the reaction when it was discovered in the eighteenth century was one of surprise also, and it was subsequently hidden from view. Whether it was actually meant to be erotic, or simply humorous, is still unknown; but I must admit it made me smile slightly.

Before I finish, I left the best, or worst, till last; the casts of the dead. When the towns were rediscovered some bright spark figured out something of significance: when the ash hardened around the dead bodies all those years ago it would have eventually left a void when the actual body inside decayed. They thus poured plaster of Paris into these voids, and then chipped away the outer layers of ash revealing near-perfect casts of the body that lay inside. The exhibition has a few of these casts; including a couple of women, and even a dog, which I have to admit is pretty cool (Sad obviously, but still cool).

The last thing you see in the exhibit is the casts of a family of four; mother, father and two children. One child kneels on its mother’s knee and appears to be scraping the walls, the other lays some distance, clothes and facial expression can still be seen. It really does hit you when see this – this family is nearly two thousand years old and you are witnessing their very last, excruciating, moment. Amazing. Even the non-geeks of you out there may be awed by this bit. Honestly.

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