A Plaster Cast of a Man Who Died in Pompeii, 79 AD

Pompeii's Plaster Casts

I came across this photo today and it reminded me of how awesome of an artefact this is. This is a plaster cast of a man who died in Pompeii in 79AD.

When Vesuvius erupted and covered the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, the lava and ash covered and hardened over the bodies of those who died.  Their bodies degraded and decomposed, but the hardened lava still left a mould-like imprint of their body.  When archaeologists were doing excavations, they kept coming across holes and they soon realized what they were.  Plaster casts were made during the archaeological excavations and they are surprisingly realistic.  When you are studying ancient times, there are no photos to help you relate to the humans you are studying, but this is pretty darn close.

The source for the photo above is Walter Rawlings/Robert Harding / Rex Features found in the Telegraph.  The photo below is by Stephen Korte, taken at the site of the archaeological park at Pompeii.


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9 Responses to A Plaster Cast of a Man Who Died in Pompeii, 79 AD

  1. That is fascinating. I am going to the Pompeii exhibition at the British Museum in 2 weeks time. I can’t wait!

  2. I am so jealous!! 🙂 The British Museum has secured an amazing amount of loans from Italy of some very famous pieces. You’re definitely going to enjoy it!

  3. alicelucie says:

    What an absolutely incredible historical object! But also one that gives me the creeps… And tragic too. Thanks for sharing nonetheless!

    • I completely agree about being creeped out!! I saw the plaster cast in the second photo in person and you can’t help but be horrified when looking at the impression of this man twisted in agony. There also exists a plaster cast of a child (about the age of a toddler) and another of a pregnant woman that are just tragic. I find it funny that I found looking at Egyptian mummies (which are actual human remains) easier than looking at these plaster casts (which aren’t human remains) – the real one seems so fake, and the fake one seems so real!

      • alicelucie says:

        Wow – I suppose it’s because they look so recognisable. Sometimes I find it hard to imagine people from history as actual people who really existed, I just kind of picture them as slightly 2D or as they have been represented in contemporary art (like the famous painting of Henry VIII for example) – but these casts do really look like people, terrifyingly, but so powerful too!

      • I guess so, huh. I agree – it’s hard sometimes to empathize or identify with history because it seems so far removed from my life. I wasn’t a king, soldier, rich person, philosopher or writer. But it’s amazing how when an artefact seems more human it has an incredible effect. I felt the same way when I wrote about the famous photo of the woman and her children from the Great Depression a few weeks ago – I’ve looked at the photo hundreds of times and never really noticed it. But this year I noticed that I’m now the same age as she was in the photo – 32. And bam – for the first time I REALLY looked at the photo and felt empathy for her.

  4. If I may make a suggestion, visiting these places (Pompei and Herculaneum) is incredibly exciting and Italy has a great number of similar sites throughout the country, such as the Valley of the Greek Temples in Sicily where you can also enjoy beautiful beaches and exceptional food. Only one of many. You might want to think about visiting it. P. S. Great post 🙂

  5. Thanks so much! I couldn’t agree with you more – the Greek temples and ruins in Sicily (Agrigento, Taormina, and Selinunte) are fantastic!! It was actually nicer than seeing them in Greece, because there were less tourists at the sites. They are my second favourite place that I’ve visited so far – Turkey takes first spot for its fantastic Roman ruins. You can walk around some sites without seeing a single other person! So neat to be able to see the ruins of whole towns and cities still left standing! The ones I haven’t visited yet, but can’t wait to add to my list, are the Roman ruins in Lebanon and Morocco – have you been?

  6. Pingback: The Many Versions of the Pompeii Dog | History Kicks Ass!

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