Excavations and Discoveries in the 19th and 20th Centuries

Excavations and Discoveries in the 19th and 20th Centuries

After their initial discovery in the late 16th (Pompeii) and early 17th (Herculaneum) centuries, only minor rudimentary archaeological excavations occurred at the sites. It was not until the 18th century that the first large-scale excavations began. Unsystematic archaeological excavations which were more akin to "treasure hunting", commenced at Pompeii and Herculaneum in 1748 under Charles VII, King of Spain, Naples and Sicily.

Johann Joachim Winckelmann                                Charles VII                                                  Karl Jakob Weber

Johann Joachim Winckelmann

King Charles VII

Throughout the 18th century, Pompeii and Herculaneum were excavated by a number of scholars including Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre, Karl Jakob Weber, Johann Joachim Winckelmann and Francesco La Vega. For information on the initial discovery of the sites see here and for further information relating to early 18th century excavations see here and here.

19th and 20th Century Excavations

Guiseppe Forelli

It was not until the early 19th century when Guiseppe Fiorelli was made director of excavations at Pompeii that the first systematic archaeological excavations of the site began. Fiorelli developed and implemented scientific processes to methodically study and preserve the site.  In this, he decided to excavate from the tops of the buildings down to the street level (where in the past the streets were excavated, destroying much of the top layers). It was also during his time excavating at Pompeii when he discovered air pockets in the stratigraphic level. It was at this time when Fiorelli decided to pour plaster into these air pockets, resulting in the now world famous plaster casts of the inhabitants (both human and animal) of this ancient site.  Overall, not only did Fiorelli significantly contribute to our understanding of Pompeii but he also contributed to the development of modern archaeological field methods. Fiorelli published many books which detail his extensive work at Pompeii, one of his most well know is his work Description di Pompei, a free downloadable copy of this can be found here.

Other than Forelli, Pompeii and Herculaneum has been studied by numerous other scholars and academics throughout the 19th and  20th centuries. These have included August Mau, Vittorio Spinazzola and Amedeo Maiuri (each of which are pictured below).

For more information on the work these scholars and archaeologists have undertaken on Pompeii and Herculaneum in the 19th and 20th centuries, see here and here.  For a comprehensive overview of excavations at Pompeii and the extent to which each region of the site has been studied see here.

August Mau                               Vittorio Spinazzola                                    Amedeo Maiuri

Vittorio Spinazzola

Amedeo Maiuri


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