Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Rome: Nero's Dining Room Unveiled

A nice piece of information taken from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/
This should be of value to those students who are studying the City of Rome option in Year 11.

ROME — Not only was Nero a Roman emperor, it turns out he may also have been the father of the revolving restaurant.
Archaeologists unveiled Tuesday what they think are the remains of Nero's extravagant banquet hall, a circular space that rotated day and night to imitate the Earth's movement and impress his guests.
The room, part of Nero's Golden Palace, a sprawling residence built in the first century A.D., is thought to have been built to entertain government officials and VIPs, said lead archaeologist Francoise Villedieu.
The emperor, known for his lavish and depraved lifestyle, ruled from 37 A.D. to 68 A.D.
The dig so far has turned up the foundations of the room, the rotating mechanism underneath and part of an attached space believed to be the kitchens, she said.
"This cannot be compared to anything that we know of in ancient Roman architecture," Villedieu told reporters during a tour of the cordoned-off dig.
She said the location of the discovery atop the Palatine Hill, the rotating structure and references to it in ancient biographies of Nero make the attribution to the emperor most likely.
The partially excavated site is part of the sumptuous residence, also known by its Latin name Domus Aurea, which rose over the ruins of a fire that destroyed much of Rome in A.D. 64.
The purported main dining room, with a diameter of over 50 feet (16 meters), rested upon a 13-foot (4-meter) wide pillar and four spherical mechanisms that, likely powered by a constant flow of water, rotated the structure.
The discovery was made during routine maintenance of the fragile Palatine area, officials said.
Latin biographer and historian Suetonius, who chronicled his times and wrote the biographies of 12 Roman rulers, refers to a main dining room that revolved "day and night, in time with the sky."
Angelo Bottini, the state's top official for archaeology in Rome, said the ceiling of the rotating room might have been the one mentioned by Suetonius, who wrote of ivory panels sliding back and forth to shower flowers and perfumes on the guests below.
"The heart of every activity in ancient Rome was the banquet, together with some form of entertainment," Bottini said at the dig. "Nero was like the sun, and people were revolving around the emperor."
That part of the palace – which sprawled across nearly 200 acres (80 hectares) occupying parts of four out of Rome's seven ancient hills – offered a panoramic view over the Roman Forum and a lake, later drained by Nero's successors to build the Colosseum, Bottini said.
Described by Suetonius as one of Rome's most cruel, depraved and megalomaniac rulers, Nero often indulged in orgies and, fancying himself an artist, entertained guests with his own performances of poetry and songs.
However, Nero did not enjoy the frescoed halls and gold-encrusted ceilings of his Golden Palace for too long. It was completed in A.D. 68 – the year the unpopular emperor committed suicide amid a revolt.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Interview with Estelle Lazer: Resurrecting Pompeii

Thanks to Jo at the Blogging Pompeii blogsite I am able to republish this interview done with Dr. Estelle Lazer. (ps Blogging Pompeii is a blogsite for archaeologists working in the Vesuvian area and if you come across it, it is well worth keeping tabs on as the information is great)

The publication of Estelle Lazer's book 'Resurrecting Pompeii' last month has caused a bit of a stir. This is hardly surprising, for two very good reasons.Firstly, we have been waiting for this book for a long time. Until now the only publications of the skeletal evidence from the Vesuvian settlements have been Sarah Bisel's studies of the bodies found at Herculaneum, and there has been nothing from Pompeii to compare to Bisel's work. Estelle's study fills a gaping hole in Pompeian studies.Secondly, Estelle is, without a doubt, one of the nicest Pompeianists you could hope to meet. It must be more than 15 years since we met one summer in Pompeii, and I remember it as a particularly fun time. So, because not everyone who works at Pompeii will have had the opportunity to meet Estelle, I asked her to answer a few questions for this blog. Here's what she had to say ...

1. Can you tell us a little about your academic background and how you got into studying the human remains from Pompeii?

My first degree is a BA Hons in archaeology, with particular emphasis on Classical, Near Eastern and Historical archaeology. My interest in human remains commenced with my honours thesis, which involved skeletal studies in Near Eastern archaeology. At that time no courses in forensic archaeology were were available in Australia. The forensic pathologist who was responsible for the investigation of skeletal remains at the city morgue and coroner's court offered to take me on as a volunteer apprentice and I learnt anatomy by attending autopsies and was called in to assist whenever bodies came in from the bush. Eventually, I did a formal anatomy course at the University of Sydney. The opportunity to study the human remains at Pompeii came as a result of the involvement of the University of Sydney in a multinational, multidisciplinary project in Pompeii. I was amazed to discover that there had not been a modern systematic study of this skeletal collection and I applied to the Superintendency of Pompeii to undertake this work. I completed my PhD on this topic in the Anatomy Department of the University of Sydney.

2. What problems did you encounter when studying the human bones?

The human skeletal remains were not appreciated as a valuable scientific resource until the latter part of the twentieth century. While they had been stored, they had not been adequately curated and as a result had become disarticulated. This meant that I had to design a research project to accommodate the limitations of the material.The bones were stored in unoccupied ancient buildings in Pompeii with other uncatalogued artefacts. These bones had to be studied in situ with no laboratory facilities, or even tables or adequate light. I had to be locked in with them as these stores also contained precious finds, like portions of marble statues. Only three custodians had security clearance to handle the keys to these buildings. Occasionally the morning custodian forgot to tell the afternoon one about my location when they changed shifts. This meant I had to suffer many hours of incarceration. They were invariably quite apologetic when I was eventually liberated. Although I worked alone I had many companions as these buildings also housed their own ecosystems. These included bats, rodents of various kinds, snakes, insects, lizards and birds who found empty skulls to be convenient nesting places.

3. Your book is as much about the history of the excavations as the human remains - how do these two topics fit together?

It was essential to engage with the history of the excavations to understand why the bones had been neglected for nearly 250 years and to determine the impact of the "culture of bodies," which involved romantic storytelling based on specific skeletons and their context. Nineteenth century literature, notably Edward Bulwer Lytton's Last Days of Pompeii, exerted a huge influence on the interpretation of the skeletal evidence, which has continued into the twenty first century. The aim of my project was to separate myth from the actual evidence and establish what the skeletal remains reveal about the lives and deaths of the Pompeian victims of the AD 79 eruption.

4. You also work in the Antarctic. What exactly do you do there and how does it fit in with your Pompeian studies?

The work I do in Antarctica is very different to my work in Pompeii. I have studied American sealing sites in the Sub-Antarctic and a site associated with an early twentieth century scientific expedition on the Antarctic mainland. This work has involved both excavation and the development of strategies for cultural heritage management in these remote areas. We have pioneered various techniques for ice excavation, including the use of ice cores and chainsaws.Field work in Antarctica is a bit more challenging than in Pompeii. My first expedition experience involved sailing down to Antarctica in a 21 metre boat, which was not ice strengthened. It took three weeks each way. We camped in the ice. The wildlife is larger, noisier and often more aromatic than any I have encountered in Pompeii. This is especially true for sites located within the territory of mating fur seals and three hundred thousand nesting penguins.

5. Do you have any future plans for working in Pompeii?

While I will always continue my interest in the human remains from Pompeii, especially the casts, I am currently involved in the development of a new research project in conjunction with the Department of Architectural Science, University of Sydney. This project aims to apply modern techniques of environmental analysis to ancient buildings in order to gain a quantitative understanding of the living experience of the ancient occupants of houses of various types in Pompeii.

I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of 'Resurrecting Pompeii'. And I'm sure I'm not the only one. Congratulations, Estelle!

Resurrecting Pompeii

You know that you have something special when hundreds turn out to see it launched.Tuesday evening saw Sydney University's Nicholson Museum packed for the launch of Estelle Lazer's much awaited book Resurrecting Pompeii.
Two years ago when I first met Estelle as she accompanied a group of teachers and students to Pompeii on a study tour, she told us during the course of the tour that she was working on publishing a book on her experiences "romancing the bones" in Pompeii. Well the work that was in progress is now a reality and from all reviews it is a book that anyone who is connected with or has an interest in Pompeii should read and have on their shelves.
Estelle spent seven field seasons working on the skeletal remains in the ancient city and her stories are as entertaining as they are informative. At last nights launch of Resurrecting Pompeii, Estelle presented her work in true Estelle Lazer fashion and had the audience not only enthralled in the detail of her work in Pompeii but had them rolling in the aisles as well. Those there I am sure, will forever chuckle to themselves when coming into contact with Edward Bulwer-Lytton's The Last Days of Pompeii in the future. Her presentation "Romancing the Bones" was a treat and capped off a very successful launch of the book.

Congratulations Estelle.
The hardcover version of this book is probably out of the budget of most students (and perhaps teachers). This is a wonderful resource though and would be a valuable inclusion in your library of resources for the study of Pompeii. Hit your school library up to purchase a copy. Its published by Routledge.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Long Time Between Drinks

Hi everyone. Well I apologise for the time it has taken me to get back on here and start posting again. I arrived home from Italy and basically found myself scrambling to catch up on so many things to do with teaching, archaeology and university studies as well as the stuff I do on the side with sci-fi events.
My aim this week is to at least get a post or two up here including some more images from the field season in Pompeii with the Pompeii Food and Drink Project. Before I go any further I need to say a huge thank you to the principal researchers of the project Dr. Betty Jo Mayeske, Dr. Bob Curtis and Dr. Benedict Lowe. Thanks so much for having me on the team and allowing me to work with you. It is indeed a privilege and I can't wait to join you again on further adventures in the scavi. Bring on 2010.
For students here in Australia, let me say it is not too long now before those HSC exams start rolling in. I hope I can bring a few more things to light and to think about as you revise and plan for the Ancient History exam.