When Mount Vesuvius blew its top in A.D. 79, life in Pompeii stopped midsentence. Choked by ash, baked by heat and crushed by toppling buildings, its residents were snuffed out.
But the ancient tragedy was modern archaeology’s gain. All that ash left Pompeii frozen in time, saving the Roman city’s streets, buildings and objects for future generations. Centuries later, researchers are still unraveling the doomed city’s secrets.
They include what seems a surprising sense of know-how for an ancient civilization.
People in Pompeii had running water. They had cranes, pumps and shockingly modern streets. That ingenuity is on display at Pompeii: The Immortal City. At the Science Museum of Virginia through Sept. 3, the Richmond exhibition focuses on the science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills of the Romans and what the trapped-in-time city reveals about a long-past age of innovation.
The exhibition, on tour after a Belgian debut, includes more than 100 artifacts, some never before seen in the United States. Visitors can view everything from fishing hooks to frescoes. Earrings, hydraulic valves, medical instruments and even a bathtub provide windows into the thriving lives of the city’s inhabitants.
Pompeiians weren’t the only people with tech at their fingertips. The finds are accompanied by high-tech multimedia and plenty of screens to flesh out the tragic stories of the city’s residents. The exhibition will travel to Spokane, Wash., then Orlando before returning to Italy in September 2020.
Can’t get to Virginia? There’s still a way to experience Pompeii as it appeared before it was leveled by Vesuvius. Pompeian Households: An On-Line Companion has information on dozens of Pompeian houses, hundreds of rooms and thousands of artifacts found there — no museum passes, or passports, required.