The first casts of humans
A remarkable phenomenon was revealed in 1772, during the excavation of victims in the so-called Villa of Diomedes. Preserved in the hardened ash around some of the twenty-odd skeletons1 that were found collapsed on top of one another in the cryptoporticuscorridor were the negative forms of human bodies. Though the eruption sequence was not fully understood at the time, there was an appreciation of the fact that a unique set of circumstances had contributed to the production of fossils at this site. The fine ash that covered Pompeii in the lethal fourth and subsequent surges had hardened and sealed organic material. Over time, these remains decomposed and were drained through the porous layers of ash and pumice on which they lay. This left what were essentially moulds of the shapes of organic remains as they had appeared at the time of the destruction.2
An attempt was made to preserve the forms of victims found in the Villa of Diomedes but only the impression of the draped bosom and arms of a woman could be properly salvaged. They were first transported to the Real Gabinetto di Portici, and eventually were moved to the Palazzo degli Studi in Naples. These remains provided an image of a young woman, apparently in the last moment of her existence. The responses of those who viewed the ash image tended to be rather melodramatic and are best captured in Gautier’s short story Arria Marcella, which was published in 1852.3
The excavators of the Villa of Diomedes also recognized the forms of nonhuman organic material that had decomposed over time in the hardened ash.4 A technique was developed in the nineteenth century to reveal the shapes of wooden furniture by pouring plaster of Paris into cavities in the ash and removing the ash when the plaster dried. A door was cast in this manner in 1856.5 Seven years later, Giuseppe Fiorelli revolutionized the way human remains from Pompeii were regarded when he and his assistant Andrea Fraia applied this method to Pompeian victims whose forms had been preserved in the fine ash of the second phase of the eruption. The first casts were made of four victims in the so-called Street of the Skeletons on 5 February 1863.6 It has been suggested that there had been earlier but ultimately unsuccessful attempts to cast human victims, first of a presumed female from the House of the Faun in 1831 and again in 1861 when a victim was found with a clear impression of clothing and a jewellery box in the surrounding ash.7
The type of preservation that enabled victims to be cast is unique to the region around Pompeii and cannot be seen at Herculaneum. The variation in preservation across Campania is in no way related to the eruption processes or the cause of death, as the majority of victims died as a result of surges in the second phase of the eruption. The differential preservation between these sites has been attributed to differences in the groundwater table. The Herculaneum victims are buried below the level of the post-eruption groundwater table and their skeletons have been encased in relatively soft and wet volcanic ash. These conditions coupled with the pressure of 20 or so metres of debris deposited above the bodies and other organic material, ensured that the forms of victims were not preserved.
In contrast, the individuals who were killed by the fourth and possibly later surges in Pompeii rest on 2.5 to 2.8 metres of porous ash and pumice that is well above the level of the groundwater table, and which has facilitated the drainage of decomposing soft tissue. The fine ash associated with the surges hardened quickly around the bodies and other organic material before there was time for them to decay. In the right circumstances, the finegrained surge deposit preserved phenomenal detail, including the impression of facial features and clothing. The potential for the preservation of forms of organic material was enhanced by there being only about two metres of overburden above the material preserved in the S4 layer in Pompeii.8
The casts of the human victims from Pompeii and its immediate environs are both compelling and confronting. This is because they present victims as they appeared at or around the time of death. In a number of cases, the features that identified victims as individuals have been well preserved. Not only could faces be discerned but also their apparent expressions, as well as the clothes they wore and the objects that they carried. It is also possible to see how people died in the context of the environment in which they had lived.
While there are many cases of well-preserved bodies from around the world, the casts of the forms of the Pompeian victims are remarkable in that they represent individuals who do not come from a burial context. These people were victims of a mass disaster who, along with their culture, were preserved in the destruction layers. Not only is the viewer acutely aware of their untimely deaths, they are also exposed to the smallest details associated with the daily life of the victims. Despite the fact that the flesh has not survived, it is probably easier to relate to these casts than preserved bodies from tombs that have been subjected to unfamiliar death rituals.
The impact of the casts on nineteenth-century visitors is exemplified by this description by Marc Monnier:
Figure 10.1 Cast of a very young victim from the Casa del Bracciale d’Oro (VI, xvii, 42), which was found with three other victims between 3 and 6 June 1974. It displays a high degree of preservation of the facial features and clothing details
Any one can see them now, in the museum at Naples; nothing could be more striking than the spectacle. They are not statues, but corpses, moulded by Vesuvius; the skeletons are still there, in those casings of plaster which reproduce what time would have destroyed, and what the damp ashes have preserved – the clothing and the flesh, I might almost say the life. The bones peep through here and there, in certain places which the plaster did not reach. Nowhere else is there anything like this to be seen. The Egyptian mummies are naked, blackened, hideous; they no longer have anything in common with us; they are laid out for their eternal sleep in the consecrated attitude. But the exhumed Pompeians are human beings whom one sees in the agonies of death.9
The Last Days of Pompeii and the interpretation of casts
Bulwer-Lytton ’sinfluence on the interpretation of Pompeian human remains was already well established when the first human forms were cast in 1863. Because of the survival of considerable personal detail, the casts could be employed as even more eloquent props than skeletons to illustrate the terrible fate of the victims of the eruption. Circumstantial evidence, in the form of associated artefacts, was combined with the attitude and perceived expression on the faces of the casts to establish their final moments. It is notable that one of the contemporary accounts of the first body forms that were revealed by Fiorelli included the statement that they ‘would have
Figure 10.2 Two of the first bodies successfully cast in 1863 (from Adams, 1868, 266)
furnished a thrilling episode to the accomplished author of the “Last Days of Pompeii”’.10
The groundbreaking application of the casting technique to humans captured the imagination of visitors to the site and numerous accounts were published in a variety of languages in the latter part of the nineteenth century.11 These pieces owe much to Bulwer-Lytton, with their sense of melodrama and interpretations based solely on superficial visual inspection of the casts and their accoutrements.
In one version, dating from 1864,12 two of the first group of bodies that were cast were described as possibly being a mother and daughter. The elder was considered to be of humble birth on the basis of the size of her ears and, perhaps less remarkably, because she was wearing an iron ring. Her stretched out raised left leg was proffered as evidence of her suffering. The younger female was assigned an age of less than 15. The impression of the drapery of her clothing was described in detail, as was a reconstruction of how she met her end. The writer, Marc Monnier, claimed that she raised her robe over her head in terror and subsequently fell while running. Unable to rise again, she had supported her ‘young and feeble head’ on one arm. He considered that she did not endure any lengthy period of pain. In front of these individuals was a victim described as female and assumed to be noble as she was found near a substantial sum of money, jewels, a key and two silver vases. Her attitude is described in some detail and from this the author was able to conclude that she had struggled for a considerable period of time in agony as he considered that pose reflected suffering rather than death. He was of the opinion that her anguish had been greater than that of the woman that fell behind her as the poor ‘lose less in dying’. The fourth victim is identified as a giant of a man who had ‘flung himself on his back to die bravely’.
The interpretation in another nineteenth-century account, published in the Quarterly Review,13 is so similar to that described above, it seems likely that both were derived from a common source. There is general agreement about the sex and age attributions, as well as the social status of these victims. This author was also concerned with the level of suffering of the victims. From the poses it was deduced that the supposedly wealthy woman battled for her life and that the man had chosen to lie down to ‘meet death like a brave man’. The young girl also fought hard before dying, while the cast that was presumed to be that of her mother had died without a struggle. The cast flesh of females was of particular interest to the writer. The skin of the girl, which was revealed where her garments had torn, was described as ‘smooth young skin’ that appeared like ‘polished marble’. Similarly, the exposed leg of the wealthy woman was said to be rather shapely and could well have been cast from ‘an exquisite work of Greek art’.
The tendency to accord special attention to females that were considered attractive can be seen in a number of works, like that of Gusman. He described a cast interpreted as that of a young girl, as ‘a graceful creature with a delicate neck, a slender figure and well-shaped legs’ and another as having ‘rounded thighs and delicately modelled knees and ankles’.14 Mostly this was used as a device to make the death of an individual more poignant. The casts were perceived as a valuable resource for illustrating the human loss in this disaster. This attitude is perhaps best summarized in theQuarterly Review article:
And more ghastly and painful, yet deeply interesting and touching objects, it is difficult to conceive. We have death itself moulded and cast – the very last struggle and final agony brought before us. They tell their story with a horrible dramatic truth that no sculptor could ever reach.15
The tradition of using the casts for Bulwer-Lytton style storytelling has continued right into the twentyfirst century. Emphasis has been placed on a few specific casts or groups of casts and stories based on their interpretation dominate both the academic and popular literature. A few key examples will suffice.
A cast found outside the Nucerian Gate has commonly been interpreted as a male beggar because it was carrying a sack, presumably for alms.
Figure 10.3 Cast of a man with sandals, generally assumed to be a beggar (Gusman, 1900, 16)
The impression of sandals can be seen on the feet. They appear to be of high quality and it has been assumed that they would have been much too good for a beggar. They have been explained away as a donation from a public charity.16 Another cast is that of a squatting figure that was found near the remains of a donkey. This person is generally assumed to have been male and to have worked as a muleteer (Figure 10.4).17 Several of the casts have been interpreted as pregnant women, including a cast found in the Via Stabiana (Figures 10.7 and 10.8) and one of the group of casts made in about 1989 in Region I, Insula 22. Though these assumed pregnancies have been solely based on the shape of the belly, some writers have even reported the age of the foetus.18
A number of groups of casts, such as the nine casts made in the grounds of the Casa del Criptoportico (I, vi, 2) in 1914 and the 13 that were produced from bodies found in the Orto dei Fuggiaschi (I, xxi, 2) in 1961, have provided the basis for elaborate stories very much in the style of those associated with the first casts that were made in 1863. Etienne, for example, described casts made in 1961 as having comprised people from three families who had taken shelter under a roof. A woman had tried to filter the foul air through a cloth pressed to her mouth. Despite the lack of evidence, he concluded that ‘her husband must have watched her die, still holding the hand of their child before finally succumbing himself’.19 Maiuri presented a similar reconstruction of the relationships of the victims and their terrible death from the gardens of the Casa del Criptoportico (I, vi, 2). He described them as a ‘pitiful’ group, including what he interpreted as a mother and daughter locked in a
These casts still elicit strong emotions and are commonly described in these terms in the more recent literature.21 The melodramatic narrative approach has been so pervasive it has even entered the scientific literature on preserved bodies.22
Figure 10.4 Cast of a fugitive found near the latrine of the large palaestra (II, 7), commonly interpreted as a muleteer
It is a remarkable testimony of the power of the legacy of The Last Days of Pompeii that superficial inspection of the casts, flimsy circumstantial evidence and dollops of imagination have driven the interpretation of forms of the victims. Even though the bones survived, there was no attempt to use the skeletal record to test any of the assumptions about the identification of individuals that were made from visual inspection until the end of the twentieth century (see below). It should also be noted that there is differential preservation across the site. While incredible detail is preserved on some of the casts, on many only a crude form is discernible, like a partially realized image. The ambiguity of details has not been an impediment to personal identification for many writers, as in the case of the rough form of the so-called muleteer, which has been confidently identified as a male.
Frozen in time or works of art?
Both the academic and popular literature present the casts as individuals frozen in time. The issue of the reliability of the casts as evidence of people as they were at the exact moment of their death requires some consideration.
A number of the casts display evidence of the so-called ‘pugilistic pose’ that is associated with exposure to extremely high temperatures at or around the time of death (see Chapter 4). The muscle contractions that cause flexion of the limbs are nearly always post mortem as the heat required to affect muscles in this way is not compatible with life.23 The tongue may protrude in such cases, leaving the victim with, at least, a partially open mouth. This calls into question some of the interpretations of expressions on the faces and the reconstructions of how people died.
Many of the casts are imperfect and the details are often ambiguous. Plaster casts are subject to slight shrinkage during the drying process, which has led to the suggestion that the perception of Pompeians as small in stature is linked to this phenomenon.24 It is, however, unlikely that the shrinkage of plaster would have been sufficient to appreciably diminish the actual size of victims.
A more serious problem is presented by the creative restoration of holes in the casts, which resulted from bubbles formed in the plaster as it dried. Similarly, the armature used for recasting bodies has seams, which means that anything that is recast would have to be treated prior to display. It has been acknowledged that, in the past, such imperfections in the casts were often retouched by restorers, which made them more like sculptures and decreased their scientific value.25 The development of casting techniques and their application has been poorly documented, which makes it difficult to subject casts to a systematic study. While some of the casts have been made by people with little or no technical training,26 it appears that the techniques for casting were perfected by restorers who traditionally had a background in sculpture and other arts. It is telling that there do appear to be stylistic differences between casts produced in different periods. These are substantial enough to enable a number of the casts to be datable purely on the basis of visual inspection.
The casts made during the time of Fiorelli ’s directorship, especially when the casting techniques became well-established in the 1870s, tend to have relatively well-defined and naturalistic features. Good examples from this period are the seventh cast that was made on 25 September 187327 and the ninth individual, which was cast on 23 April 187528 (Figures 10.5, 10.7 and 10.8).
By comparison, the casts made under the regime of Maiuri tend to have far more schematic features; the limbs tend to appear more rubbery and the facial features are minimally defined, with depressions to mark the eyes and slashes to demarcate mouths. Examples can be seen amongst the 13 victims
Figure 10.5 The seventh cast was made on 25 September 1873, during the excavation of a garden (1, v, 3) (after a photograph by Robert Rive (n. 163), reproduced in García y García, 2006, 191, Figure 44)
that were cast in the Garden of the Fugitives during April and May, 1961 (I, xxi, 2) and the three individuals who perished on a staircase in the House of Fabius Rufus, that were cast in November 1961 (Figure 10.6).29
As mentioned above, the amount of detail that survived was highly dependent on the conditions associated with the material that encased each victim and there was considerable variation between the casts of individuals. It is tempting to conclude that far more than minor imperfections associated with the casting technique were creatively restored. One could speculate that the simplified features of the twentieth-century casts resulted from the influence of contemporary art, whilst the nineteenth-century restorations tended to be more naturalistic, which in turn was a reflection of the art of that period. It should be noted that the observed stylistic differences over time are more likely to be a function of the traditions of the restorers of an era than the artistic sensibilities of a particular director of the excavations.
With this in mind, it is interesting to note that a number of the casts in the nineteenth century were actually equated with works of art; for example, Fiorelli’s seventh cast (Figure 10.5), often interpreted as a sleeping male, was described as bearing greater resemblance to a statue than a cadaver.30Similarly, the ninth cast of a victim (Figures 10.7 and 10.8), whose clothing had bunched up and revealed apparently female buttocks and legs, was lovingly compared to a well known statue from the Farnese collection in the Naples National Archaeological Museum, the Venus Kallipygos.31This Roman copy of a Hellenistic statue was known as the Venus Kallipygos, or Venus with the beautiful buttocks, because she too was only partially draped, which drew attention to her bared nether regions.
It is notable that the transformation of casts into art works was not the sole preserve of the restorers. It can also be seen in the work of illustrators,
Figure 10.6 Casts of two of the three victims that were cast on a staircase in the Villa di M. Fabius Rufus (VII, Ins.Occ., 16–19) in November 1961
like the one who drew the ninth cast for Gusman ’s 1900 publication (Figure 10.7).32 When compared to my drawing (Figure 10.8), it can be seen, even though a different angle is presented, that the buttocks have been accentuated and are rounder. Similarly, the hair, which is schematic on the cast, has been rendered in a far more naturalistic manner.
I chose to illustrate many of the casts in this book with drawings rather than photographs because it was difficult to make publication-quality
A Woman (Museum of Pompei)
Figure 10.7 Illustration of the ninth individual to be cast by Fiorelli (Gusman, 1900, 17)
Figure 10.8 The ninth cast of a victim from Pompeii was made in Insula VI, xiv on 23 April 1875
photographs through dusty glass cases and I must confess that it was extremely difficult not to do a little restoration myself as I drew. This can especially be seen in the illustration of the individual from the Garden of the Fugitives (I, xxi, 2) (Figure 4.3), whose facial features probably are a little more naturalistic than those of the original cast. It was very difficult not to improve what I saw to make it either more anatomically correct or to look less ambiguous. I suspect this has been the case for other illustrators, and more importantly, restorers working on the casts.
Dwyer,33 writing from a more art-based perspective, sought to describe the development of the casting of human victims from Pompeii as an art form, using the classification system of the art historian Heinrich Wölfflin as a model. He argued that the first decade of cast production, from 1863–72 could be likened to the ‘archaic phase’ of the style, which was marked by the establishment of the casting technique. Technical improvements distinguished the second or ‘classical’ phase, which he identifies as a period where casts were purposely made as art works for exhibition. He considers that the well-defined figures, like the seventh and ninth castings mentioned above, reached iconic status, forming the subject matter of numerous photographs and book illustrations. These casts were displayed in the nineteenth century as the major treasures in the newly opened Pompeii Antiquarium.34 The third phase identified by Dwyer post-dates 1889, by which time the Pompeii Antiquarium had been filled to capacity and the attitude to casts had to be reconsidered. Individual casts were no longer considered as important as the presentation of groups of casts in the context of their find spot. Dwyer sees this as a ‘post-classical’ phase, which returned the casts to the role of archaeological artefacts.
If Dwyer ’s system is a real reflection of role of casts over time, his observations would tie in with the increasingly schematic restoration of individual casts over time. While the impact of art on the restoration of Pompeian casts is an interesting issue, the absence of sufficient documentation means that much interpretation can only be speculative.
Non-human organic remains
One of the most popularly described casts is that of a dog, which was found in the House of Vesonius Primus, also known as the House of Orpheus (VI, xiv, 0). It was cast in 1874. The story that is woven around this cast is that the dog was chained up in the atrium to protect the house while its owners fled, presumably to return as soon as it was safe. The dog managed to survive the first phase of the eruption by climbing up the ash and pumice as it built up in the house but was killed, straining at its chain when the fourth surge reached Pompeii.35 This story appears in nearly every account of the casts, perhaps because the idea of a faithful dog left behind by escaping owners is so poignant.
So far, only two non-human mammals have been cast: the dog described above and a pig that was revealed in the excavations of the villa rustica at Villa Regina, Boscoreale. Their value as an archaeological and scientific resource has recently been realized. The dog has been described in terms of domestic guard dogs and their accoutrements. The pig, although apparently enhanced creatively during the casting process, provides enough information to enable its identification as having been an example of an unimproved breed.36The pig has received little attention compared to the dog, perhaps partly as a result of having been cast more recently and because an animal that is kept to become a meal is not as appealing as a companion animal.
As mentioned previously, the first casts were of wooden furniture and fittings. Though these provided valuable information about buildings and furniture, the seminal work that demonstrated an appreciation of Pompeian casts as a resource with research potential was that of Jashemski. In the 1960s, she refined the technique that had been used to cast tree impressions in the nineteenth century to expose the shape of tree roots for a systematic study of plantings in Pompeii. Any debris that had fallen into root cavities was cleared, the hollow reinforced with wire and then the void was filled
Figure 10.9 Cast of dog from the Casa di Orfeo, also known as the House of Vesonius Primus (VI, xiv, 20)
Figure 10.10 Cast of pig from the Villa Regina, Boscoreale
with cement. The surrounding soil was removed once the cement was dry so the roots could be revealed and the plant identified. She was able to demonstrate that considerable tracts of land within the walled area of Pompeii were used to produce food for the town. She also was able to test the data she collected from gardens against other classes of evidence, such as documents, wall paintings and carbonized seeds.37
Human casts as a scientific resource
The first forms of humans in the ash were identified by the discovery of bones in cavities,38 but their value as a tool for more accurate identification of individuals was not appreciated before the end of the twentieth century. One of the first studies that recognized the scientific potential of human casts was that of Baxter, who examined photographs of the casts to ascertain the exact cause of death and increase understanding of the nature of the eruption (Chapter 4).39
Recognition of the potential of casts has not been universal. Some physical anthropologists working on the site in the latter half of the twentieth century still suggested that the main value of casts was their capacity to provide information about clothing.40 A number of academic and lay writers have shown an almost inordinate interest in the pubic hair that survived on a cast that was revealed during the directorship of Fiorelli. He noted that the pubic hair was shaved into a semicircular form that could also be observed on some ancient statues.41 The fact that skeletons and casts are still left in situ when they are made, like the victims that were found and cast in the north west corner of the Casa Di Stabianus (I, xxii, 1–2) in 1989, further demonstrates that the value of scientific examination of the skeletal material has not yet been fully appreciated.
Preliminary findings of the x-ray analysis of the epoxy resin cast from Oplontis
On 31 October 1994, along with a team of experts, I was provided with the opportunity to undertake the first x-ray analysis of a cast of a victim of the eruption of Mt Vesuvius.42 Permission was obtained from the then Archaeological Superintendent of Pompeii, Professor Baldassare Conticello, to perform this work when a travelling exhibition, ‘Rediscovering Pompeii’, opened in Sydney. The cast of this body was one of the exhibits. It travelled across Sydney at night in a specially constructed box with its own seatbelt that was made by the Australian Museum’s conservator, who travelled with the cast in a museum van. The van was accompanied by security outriders. The cast arrived at an x-ray clinic after the last day-patient had departed.
This individual was excavated in 1984 by Dr Antonio D ’Ambrosio. It was found, along with about 54 other victims, in a room of Villa ‘B’ at Oplontis, which is generally assumed to have belonged to one Lucius Crassius Tertius on the basis of the discovery of a bronze seal bearing that name. It has been suggested that these individuals were victims of the first surge (S1).43 This site is in close proximity to Pompeii and is now under the modern town of Torre Annunziata. Like Pompeii, the organic remains from Oplontis experienced post-eruption conditions that were conducive to the preservation of their forms in the ash.
This was the first and only body form to be cast in epoxy resin. The reason for this is probably cost and the relative complexity of the resin casting method, which involves the use of a variation of the ‘lost wax’ technique. The experimental work to develop a new casting technique was undertaken by Amedeo Cicchitti. Wax was poured into the cavity that was observed when the body was first exposed. It was then encapsulated in a plaster matrix and the wax was replaced with transparent epoxy resin. It is unfortunate that this technique is no longer employed as resin has several advantages over other materials. It is relatively durable, which facilitates transport and handling.44 Since resin is fairly inert, it is much less likely to react with skeletal material than the injected cement that has more recently been used for casting victims, as the latter contains lime.45Further, being translucent, resin is much easier to x-ray.
On the basis of visual inspection and associated artefacts, most notably a bracelet on the victim’s arm, it was assumed that the body was that of a young female.46 One of the aims of this work was to test these assumptions.
Conventional x-rays were made of the entire body and teeth. The lower portion of the body was CT-scanned. It was not possible to CT-scan the upper half of the body because the victim displayed the classic limb flexion of a person exposed to high temperatures at or around the time of death (see Chapter 4), which prevented the arms from entering the cylinder of the scanner. About one hundred images of CT-scan sections were produced. These form the basis of a structural study of the vertebrae, pelvis and lower limbs of this individual.
The skeleton was less complete than expected and had suffered considerable post mortem damage. Nonetheless, it provided the opportunity to examine a set of bones that were undoubtedly from one individual.
It was possible to con firm that the cast was that of a woman. The features that were present were all gracile and consistent with a female sex attribution. The traditional diagnostic landmarks of the skull and pelvis, such as the supraorbital region and the angle of the sciatic notch (see Chapter 6), all produced scores within the female range. Unfortunately, the most reliable indicator of sex, the region around the pubic symphysis, was not available for assessment.
Figure 10.11 Epoxy resin cast from Oplontis (Photograph courtesy of Associate Professor Chris Griffiths)
Figure 10.12 X-ray of the pelvis demonstrating female features; especially notable is the wide angle of the sciatic notch. Also note the post-mortem fracture of the left proximal end of the femur (image courtesy of Dr Michael Houang)
The skeletal evidence suggested that this individual was older than had been claimed in the literature. Epiphyseal union was complete and the epiphyseal lines obliterated. All the teeth had erupted and the root apices had closed. The frontal sinuses were observed to extend well into the supraorbital region. A short section of ectocranial suture was visible on the skull where the resin was very thin. It appeared as if a small region had been obliterated on the sagittal suture at its junction at the bregma (see Chapter 6). Attrition could be observed on all the teeth but the cusps on the molars had not been worn flat. Alveolar loss varied from slight to considerable,47 with the greatest loss mostly observable on the anterior teeth. No degenerative bony changes were observed on the rest of the skeleton. General consensus of the age-atdeath was that the skeleton was that of a mature adult, consistent in age with a modern Western person in the early years of the fourth decade.48
There were no signs of dental or other medical intervention, which is consistent with the observations from the disarticulated skeletal sample (see Chapter 7). Caries cavities could be observed on four of the teeth.49 Two of the carious lesions involved the entire crown.50 A small abscess had begun to form at the apex of the upper right second premolar.
A healed fracture could be observed at the styloid process of the left radius. The bone had reunited with some irregularity and slight osteophytic change could be observed on the scaphoid and trapezium. This type of fracture does not usually involve displacement of the bone and would probably not have required treatment. It is consistent with an injury sustained by falling on an outstretched hand.51
This work demonstrates the value of using x-ray procedures to examine the casts of victims of the eruption. The primary advantage is that it provides a sample of potentially complete skeletons of individuals, which can be used as controls to test and build on the results obtained from the disarticulated skeletal sample. The 80 or so individuals that have been cast would certainly provide a good sample size for a study.52
Figure 10.13 X-ray of skull, showing open mouth, fused epiphyses at the medial end of the clavicle and post-mortem fracture of left proximal humerus. Note the contents of the purse held in the left hand are reproductions (x-ray courtesy of Dr Michael Houang)
Figure 10.14 Dental x-rays (courtesy of Associate Professor Chris Griffiths and Ian White)
The human casts provide one of the most compelling series of finds from Pompeii. Initially, they merely served as a narrative device to illustrate the devastation of the site. While their scientific potential has since been recognized, very little such work has been undertaken. One reason for this is probably that the majority of the forms were cast in plaster of Paris, which is more difficult to x-ray successfully than translucent resin. Another is that they tend to be fragile and are difficult to transport without causing damage. Recent developments in digital imaging, along with increased accessibility of portable equipment, may provide solutions to these problems. The possibilities of the casts as a resource that can provide information about the life and death of the Pompeians are yet to be fully realized.