Archaeologists to excavate ancient beach at Herculaneum, Roman town destroyed by Vesuvius eruption

·2 min read
The skeletons of Romans who were not able to escape the eruption were discovered in the 1980s - Shutterstock
The skeletons of Romans who were not able to escape the eruption were discovered in the 1980s - Shutterstock

Archaeologists are to excavate an ancient beach at Herculaneum, the ancient Roman town that along with Pompeii was partially destroyed and entombed by the eruption of Mt Vesuvius nearly 2,000 years ago.

Experts hope the dig will yield important discoveries, 40 years after the last excavation at the site revealed the skeletons of dozens of Romans who had were killed as they tried to flee the catastrophe.

Discoveries made in the past include the skeletons of Romans trying to escape the town, collapsed buildings complete with preserved wooden ceilings and bags of money and jewels, which desperate people grabbed as they fled their homes.

The impending project, which will last more than two years, was announced by Francesco Sirano, the director of the archeological site south of Naples.

“The excavation will allow us to reach the level of the beach as it was at the moment of the volcanic eruption,” he said.

“It will provide an extraordinary opportunity to acquire useful information about life in the city, about the situation at the time of the eruption and the dynamics of the destruction, adding to our knowledge of the Roman cities on the Gulf of Naples.”

A view of Herculaneum and in the background Mt Vesuvius - Shutterstock
A view of Herculaneum and in the background Mt Vesuvius - Shutterstock

The dig will be challenging – because of the shifting of the coastline following the huge eruption in AD 79, the ancient beach now lies around 16ft beneath sea level, meaning there is a risk of water seepage. Pumps and pipes will be required to stop the site from flooding.

The excavation will be a public-private partnership involving archaeologists and the Herculaneum Conservation Project, which has helped protect the remains of the Roman town for nearly 20 years.

The ancient beach was partially excavated in the 1980s, when archeologists came across the skeletons of around 300 men, women and children.

Some of them had tried to shelter from the eruption in boat sheds along the beach but were incinerated by the extreme heat generated by the eruption, which made their skulls explode and their flesh vaporise.

Their fate was even more gruesome than that of many other inhabitants of Pompeii and Herculaneum, who died from suffocation by ash and noxious gases.

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