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Pompeii: Nature, Science, and Technology in a Roman Town
Homo Faber

Exhibition Information Catalogue & CD-Rom Credits


 The Travelling Exhibition

The travelling exhibition Homo Faber was displayed in museums throughout the world (Italy, United States, Germany, Spain, Japan, France and Great Britain), in 2001 - 2002. This online version of the exhibition presents a selection of the vast number original artefacts, works of art and 3D reconstructions that constituted the physical exhibition.



 Exhibition Layout 


The particularity of this archaeological exhibition, in which a profound historical knowledge of the ancient world was united with a rigorous scientific reconstruction, determined a layout in which the archaeological finds were not isolated from their original context. Rather they became the "pretext" for narrating the life of Pompeii and thus bringing together a heritage of hitherto fragmented knowledge. The central idea of the project was that of a schematic interpretation of the archaeological excavation: the archaeological find resurfaces from the ashes and the city resurfaces from the archaeological find. Thus there are two levels or "layers" that alluded to the stratification of the archaeological excavation: the first level "displayed" the artefacts or finds which have re-emerged from excavation on horizontal or vertical ash colour supports, the second made Pompeii "re-appear" with the aid of large colour photographic representations and videos: after the ash grey the colour of the life of Pompeii is reborn. This internal-external dialogue and the continual modification in scale (from the exhibit to photographic blow-ups, to the animation of the video) attempted to project the visitor into the reality of Pompeii so that he could feel it come alive before him. Homo Faber did not only "show" objects or situations, but attempted to convey the significance of living under Vesuvius. (Arch. S. Gris)

An interview with The Archaeological Superintendent of Pompeii, Prof. Pier Giovanni Guzzo
Pompeii, February 1999
(filmed by Humberto Serra, Rome)


Why was this theme chosen for the exhibition?

It was chosen because science, technology, and the observation of nature in the ancient world are a field rich with possibility, providing insights on at least two fundamental levels: the first, specifically on the history of science and generally on the history of culture; the other, relative to applications in daily life. These two levels, while separate, are closely linked and add to our general knowledge about the ancient world and permit us to reflect on the organisation of civic life.

What type of documents and evidence are displayed in the exhibit?

Pompeii, as everyone knows, presents a case that is of utmost importance for the study of antiquity, in that it shows us the conditions and contexts of ancient life which were suddenly interrupted in the night between the 24th and 25th of August, 79 AD, when the eruption of Vesuvius buried, under five meters of lapilli and ash, this small city on the Campanian coast. The unexpected end and complete burial of the city with all its furnishings, its inhabitants, and its activities conserved a patrimony of knowledge which we have been exploring for two and a half centuries. From 1748 to today, continual campaigns of excavation have brought to light new elements of knowledge and an ever growing documentation. Aside from the artistic monuments which --I believe-- are well known to all (the frescoes, statues, tools of metal and other materials), lesser known aspects of life have been revealed to us: for example, the grass cut the day before the eruption, the food, the animals, and many other things that are not usually preserved in the archaeological world, because life continued and consumed the materials of preceding civilisations. Pompeii, therefore, together with Herculaneum, Oplontis, and Stabiae, permits a broadening of the field of knowledge in these sectors which in other places in the ancient world is not possible. This development of knowledge is particularly relevant in those sectors which refer to the patterns of daily life and therefore to the practices resulting from the scientific knowledge of ancient people, thanks to which it was possible to cultivate the fields, to build, to use machinery and other mechanisms to facilitate daily life, to weave and to make cosmetics.

What is the significance of the exhibition "Homo Faber"?

The stimulus for the exhibition was provided by the realisation of the importance of understanding how this body of knowledge was constructed and the use to which we can put it today. The knowledge that is at the basis of the exhibition "Homo faber" is the outcome of many years of research, conducted within the wider range of activities of the Archaeological Superintendence in Pompeii, and thanks to collaboration with numerous research groups from some of the most important universities and research centres in the world. We have here an eloquent example of how international collaboration in the scientific realm can lead to an advancement of knowledge in general. This may seem an expression devoid of meaning. In actual facts, the presentation of the exhibition itself, which we hope will be viewed by a great number of visitors, will fill this assertion with concrete significance. Italy and the Archaeological Superintendences of the Ministry of the Cultural Heritage are responsible for an enormous patrimony relative to the ancient world, but this patrimony does not belong solely to Italy, nor to the public bodies that administrate it. The line of action that must be constantly encouraged is that of ensuring that the preservation of this patrimony inspires effective initiatives towards better understanding of it, so that it may assume significance within the contemporary context.

What novelties does "Homo Faber" present?

We are used to presenting and visiting exhibitions and museums in which are presented historical-artistic or antiquarian collections, shows and museums in which frescoes, statues, and decorated vases are admired for their own value. In "Homo Faber" the choice was different. In this case the archaeological material was used to support the driving intent of the exhibition, which is that of demonstrating how science, technology and the observation of nature developed and materialised in the ancient world. We hope that this can serve to stimulate the reflection of each visitor to an archaeological site. This new formulation must help us also to understand, in a concrete way, the concept that is perhaps the most difficult for a visitor to an archaeological site to assimilate, that of the depth and extent of time which separates us, but which constitutes the continuity between the past and the present. Undoubtedly in the contemporary world, in which technology is ever present in daily life, the possibility of comparing the differences between the technologies used today and those used two thousand years ago facilitates the comprehension of this temporal distance. At the same time, we can observe how many of the physical laws that determine the functioning of today's technology were already recognised two thousand years ago. We have here therefore, tangibly observable, the separation and the continuity that constitute the flesh and blood of history. And it is only through the study and the knowledge of history that modern man is truly of today, and not just a deciduous leaf in an undefined time. But time is an essential character of man as a thinking being, because it illuminates the roots of our past, the roots that give us a sense of the present and show us a path toward the future.



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