Are the Pompeii casts real? No, but they are plausible: here's how they were made

THE casts of the victims of theeruption of 79 AD Of Pompeiiare one of the most testimonials dramatic of the last moments experienced by the people affected by this tragedy of almost 2000 years ago. Many people don't know that though the casts are not realbut they were created artificially by exploiting the empty left by the decomposition of the bodies of the victims (and also of animals and plants) starting from nineteenth century. That is, we are not talking about petrified bodies, but about chalk prints (containing the bones inside). The people who lost their lives during the eruption were found in the same positions they had assumed shortly before dying and the casts resumed these positions. In some cases, however, especially for the casts made in the 19th century, some poses or expressions have been slightly modified because of restorations or to enhance its drama.

During the excavations in Pompeii, which began already in 18th centurythe remains of more than one were found thousand victims of the volcanic event. From these they were obtained one hundred of casts. During the eruption, the bodies of these people were buried by a thick layer of pumice and ash, which allowed the remains of the city to be preserved up to the present day. The best known casts are those of loversperhaps a couple who remained close in the last moments, and those of fugitives13 people, adults and children, who thought they had found shelter in a garden.

How the casts were made

The bodies of the victims, after being buried, slowly decayed decomposedleaving a empty within the layer of ash and pumice which had compacted in the meantime. Consequently, with the disappearance of the soft tissues, only the bones remained of these individuals inside an empty shell, a sort of negative print. These footprints, not only of the victims, have also made it possible to trace the shape of many material objects perishablesuch as furniture and furnishings.

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When the archeologists they intercepted one empty space during the excavations, they threw a stone inside the cavity casting composed of a mixture of water and plaster. Once the cast had dried, the activity could proceed excavationhighlighting the negative shape of the object or body that had left the imprint in the layer of ash and pumice.

Pompeian casts

This method was invented by Giuseppe Fiorelliarchaeologist who worked in Pompeii from 1847 to the 1870, managing the site both during the Bourbon domination of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and with united Italy. The plaster casting method made it possible to visualize in a rather dramatic way the last moments of the people who lost their lives during the volcanic event.

Some casts, especially those made in the 19th century, have undergone damage modifications. At the beginning of the excavations in Pompeii, some casts were made with less precision and detail due to the limitations of the techniques available in Fiorelli's time. Furthermore, over the years, some casts may have taken place deteriorated or have suffered damage due to environmental factors or mismanagement. For example, many of these have been destroyed or ruined due to bombings of 1943During the Second World War.

Pompeian casts not real

To improve precision and aesthetic appearance (adding details like the lips or nose) of these casts, artists And restorers they occasionally applied additional plaster, carved elements or repaired damaged areas. These changes were generally made with the aim of better representing theoriginal aspect of the individual or capture the nuances of its final moments, and for this reason they should not be considered falsifications.

Today, thanks to new technologies not invasiveit is possible to perform anthropological analyses on bone contained within the casts. In this way, individuals are assigned a sex and age at death, but it also opens up perspectives for the study of pathologies And diet.

The casts of Pompeii: Post-depositional methodological insights Further information: the casts