Ever since I studied Pompeii and Herculaneum as part of my Year 12 Ancient History core topic, I have always dreamed about travelling to Italy to visit these heavily enriched archaeological sites. I have always been fascinated by the architecture, structure, art, history, but most importantly, the people and their daily lives of these well-documented areas.
Luckily and finally, this year I’ll be heading off to Europe again after four years, and Italy will be my first stop. There will be future posts documenting my travels at Rome, Pompeii and Herculaneum later in the year.
However, I was very lucky in May 2017 to attend the ‘Escape from Pompeii: The Untold Roman Rescue’ exhibition at the Australian National Maritime Museum! Yes, that’s right, artefacts from Pompeii and Herculaneum were here in Australia!!!
The exhibition brought to Australia rare artefacts from sites from around the Bay of Naples: Pompeii, Herculaneum and lesser-known ones such as Baiae, Puteoli and Misenum. They gave insights into the lives of sailors of the Roman fleet and to the people who lived on the Bay of Naples, considered by many Romans to be the most beautiful place on earth – until the volcanic eruption of 79 AD.
Some gorgeous artefacts that we saw:
- a Roman rostrum, used to ram enemy ships
- a helmet from the Battle of the Aegates in 241 BC, which marked Rome’s entry as a maritime superpower
- sculptured reliefs celebrating Rome’s naval victories
- a military diploma bestowing Roman citizenship on a serviceman
- trade goods from Pompeii – both workaday items and luxuries – including sculptures, mosaics, frescoes, jewellery, glassware and tableware sourced from throughout the empire
- everyday objects preserved in the eruption, such as a loaf of bread and figs from Herculaneum, and items taken by the fleeing victims
The Exhibition is open until the 3rd of September 2017.
For more information: http://www.anmm.gov.au/whats-on/exhibitions/on-now/pompeii
In spite of seeing the exhibition, the one thing that I did want to mention was that I didn’t want to post any photos of the body casts of Pompeiian victims. I believe it is an ongoing ethical problem for us in contemporary society, if and how, we display human remains, especially if we are photographing the victims and insensitively uploading these images onto social media platforms just so that we can get ‘likes’ and ‘retweets’ on these victims’ final moments in time before they died. It is cruel and crude. Especially if you are smiling in front of a camera or posing with a duck face, thumbs up, or peace sign, while human remains are behind you. It’s intentionally selfish, narcissistic and insensitive. These victims and the mood surrounding their death is eerie, harrowing and haunting.
The one thing that needs to be noted was that these human remains were displayed respectfully, which the museum and other exhibitions have done and will continue to do. However, the problem still remains that some scholars believe that it is unethical to display human remains that have already been excavated, but on the other hand, there is the other held belief that the public should have access to the stories to human remains and what they have to tell us about ancient biological and cultural aspects of human populations. This is also evident with Egyptian mummies and how they are displayed and viewed at museums.
At the Naples Museum in Italy, the displayed human remains are meant to evoke thought about the time of the event, and the changing methods of archaeology. In the past, human remains have been moved from where victims had originally died, or posed differently to capture the public’s eye and gain further attraction as a tourist destination. Again, this was insensitive and disrespectful. Nobody wants their ancestors or relatives inhumanely displayed and modelled for capitalist purposes.
With that note, the continuing excavation, treatment and display of human remains will continue in the future for scholars, archaeologists and the public as it is an evolving topic.
If you have any thoughts, please share your comments below.