Assess the Changing Methods and Contributions of Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Archaeologists to Our Understanding of Pompeii and Herculaneum

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Over the past centuries, since its discovery in 1749, many archaeologists have contributed to our understanding of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Archaeologists were initially focused on excavating, most of which were improperly done causing extensive damage. It wasn’t until the 19th century, when archaeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli introduced new excavation methods; those succeeded him include August Mau, Vittorio Spinazzola and Amendo Maiuri. Now attention has shifted towards conservations and restorations which are reflected in the works of Fausto Zevi and Pier Guzzo.

Giuseppe Fiorelli was appointed director of the archaeological site of Pompeii and Herculaneum in 1860 and was the first who introduced top-down excavation which combined discovery with the concept of conservation and began excavations in both cities. Fiorelli was responsible for introducing a uniform numbering and naming system by dividing the site into 9 regions, each of 22 insulae (blocks) and putting a number to each of them. This systematic approach made it easier to draw up plans, locate structures and document where objects were found. He approached new excavations according to a plan, carefully uncovering each building within an insulae before moving on. His most famous implementation was the use of plaster casts to recreate the shapes of victims. Fiorelli devised a method of pouring liquid plaster into the cavities, that is – the decomposed bodies, which acted as moulds. This enabled him to obtain impressions of humans and animals for research in order to study into the lives of the people before their death. He did little work in Herculaneum as it was too difficult, focusing primarily in Pompeii.

Another important contributor was German archaeologist August Mau. Mau studied frescoes and classified them into 4 styles, providing a date range for each. This aided in the dating of buildings allowing an understanding of the architectural progress in Pompeii and Herculaneum.

In 1910,...
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