Brain Food: Unlocking the Hidden Life of Ancient Pompeii

Dec 14, 2017

CAT scans are revealing more information about life in Pompeii, an ancient Italian city buried under the volcanic ash of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The findings are the focus of a new exhibit at the Arizona Science Center in Phoenix. Sari Custer is the Vice President of Curiosity. She says the scans reveal fascinating facts about the people and environment in Pompeii.

The plaster cast of victim from the 79 A.D. eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that buried the ancient Roman city of Pompeii. "Pompeii the Exhibition" is on display at the Arizona Science Center in Phoenix through May 28, 2018.
Credit Leroy Hamilton

“What we’re seeing here is a lot of the artifacts and visuals and examples from maybe a finer life, things like card tables that folded, cups, glasses, oil lamps. And you see some of the pieces that would have been used in cooking still look a lot like what we use today: skillets look like skillets at the same time. But most of us don’t have a jar for fattening mice in our kitchens these days!”

"Pompeii the Exhibition" features artifacts from the Mt. Vesuvius eruption as well as items predating the disaster.
Credit Leroy Hamilton

Using a combination of 3D laser imagery, photogrammetry and plaster casts set by archaeologists in the 1800s, researchers have learned that Pompeiians had near-perfect teeth, had a steady diet of figs, pears, oil and dormice, and that many died from head injuries when Mount Vesuvius erupted.

“It’s so emotional because these were people—it’s the mothers, children, adults, kids, pets—who were trapped, and you can see the poses that they were in, the emotions on their face, the poses of their arms as they’re reaching for one another. It is just extremely powerful to see the result of that natural disaster.”

Pompeii the Exhibition also reveals sustainable features in homes, like rainwater collection and distribution systems, as well as atriums, orchards, vineyards and elaborate gardens.