Lesson of the Day: ‘Pompeii Moves With the Times’

Featured Article: “Pompeii Moves With the Times” by Elisabetta Povoledo

Since the rediscovery of Pompeii in the 18th century, archaeologists and historians have used the site’s archaeological treasures to piece together how the inhabitants of this 2,000-year-old Roman city lived.

In this lesson, you will learn about efforts at Pompeii to broaden the stories told to visitors — including looking more deeply at social class and oppression in the city, while also making the site more accessible to children, people with different cultural backgrounds and people with disabilities. Then, you will be invited to learn about various archaeological discoveries at Pompeii as well as some of the hardships the site has faced. You’ll also have the opportunity to think about what you hope archaeologists will discover about your town in 2,000 years.

What do you know about Pompeii? Have you read books or seen any movies about the ancient city that was smothered by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79? Have you seen the casts of victims’ bodies preserved in the same position as when the pyroclastic flow hits them?

What do you know about the daily life of people who lived in the ancient city? Watch this short video that documents the discovery of a snack bar in Pompeii.

If you don’t know much about the eruption in Pompeii, watch this five-minute TED-Ed video about what historians and archaeologists believe happened during the volcanic eruption.

Read the articleand then answer the following questions:

1. Who was Marcus Venerius Secundio? Why is his story significant, particularly as Pompeii shifts its interpretive focus?

2. Historically, why did people visit Pompeii? How is Gabriel Zuchtriegel, the archaeologist who became the site’s director in 2021, hoping to broaden the ways in which visitors understand the city?

3. How did the discovery of “the Room of the Slaves” shed light on the darker aspects of life in Pompeii?

4. Sarah E. Bond is an associate professor of history at the University of Iowa. What is her take on the new direction at Pompeii? What do you think?

5. How is climate change posing a preservation challenge for Pompeii? What technology is being used to identify and address some of these concerns?

6. According to Paolo Mighetto, an architect overseeing a restoration project at Pompeii, why is it important that visitors be able to use technology as they explore areas that are currently being restored?

Over the years, The New York Times has highlighted exciting archaeological discoveries at Pompeii, as well as difficult moments the institution has navigated. Choose one article or video from the “Challenges” section and one from the “Discovery” section.

Challenges

2019 | Can a Restored Pompeii Be Saved From ‘Clambering’ Tourists?

2013 | Video: Pompeii Falling From Grace

2010 | Pompeii’s Problems Reflect Longstanding Neglect

Discovery

2020 | Snail, Fish and Sheep Soup, Anyone? Savory New Finds at Pompeii

2020 | Remains of Two Killed in Vesuvius Eruption Are Discovered at Pompeii

2018 | He Died at Pompeii, but His Head Wasn’t Crushed by a Block

After you’ve absorbed the articles or videos, reflect on what you learned about Pompeii’s past as a historical and archaeological site, and the discoveries that researchers have made:

  • In your own words, how has Pompeii struggled as a historical site?

  • What surprised or interested you about the discovery you read about?

  • What is one question you have about the future of Pompeii?

  • What is one thing you hope for the site in terms of interpretation, preservation or research in the years to come?

Imagine that archaeologists are visiting a preserved version of your own town or city thousands of years from now. What do you think they should understand about its daily life, including the work and leisure activities, family relationships, schools and meals that make it up?

After you’ve come up with some answers, consider the objects that best represent these parts of your life and world. Create a list of five artifacts that would allow archaeologists to understand daily life where you live. Write a short description of what each object is and what it would tell someone in — let’s say 6022 — about life in your community in 2022.

If you have more time, you can create a mini gallery exhibit with images of each of the objects and a corresponding label, like you would see at a museum. You and your classmates can take a gallery walk to see the objects that you each think would be important for archaeologists in the future. What similarities do you see between your selections? Did anyone choose something that surprised you or that you wished you had included?


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