I don’t know about you, but when I think about what the city of Pompeii looked like immediately after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE, I envision a city completely buried by ash and dirt. But the city wasn’t completely buried, and tops of houses, sculptures, and other artifacts would have been poking up out of the dirt, giving those returning after the eruption a guide for where to dig. Survivors and grave robbers returning to the covered city after the eruption was over dug and tunneled in to get personal items and steal valuables. While the city of Pompeii was known and appeared on various maps in the following centuries, it continued to be buried in subsequent eruptions and other weather related phenomenon, and was effectively lost to time until the 16th-century.

Some excavation, although disorganized and unscientific, began in 1592, when walls of the city were discovered during construction for an underground aqueduct. Italian archeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli took over the excavations in the mid 19th-century and devised the method of pouring plaster into voids in the ash created by decomposed bodies, leading to a wide range of plaster casts. These casts not only provide information about the moment of death, but also the clothes and jewelry they were wearing and what they were carrying. He also began systematically excavate Pompeii, dividing it up into 9 different sections and assigning numbers of the doors and buildings, which in turn allowed for more specific details about where artifacts were found. This system is still in use today by historians and archeologists. Pompeii became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

Fortunately for us, there are so many ways to explore the city of Pompeii without tunneling into the buried city. While only a fraction of the city has been fully excavated, sources like interactive maps, educational videos, and books make the city of Pompeii is accessible to all, not just those who can make the trip to the famous city. We’ve gathered a few of the best resources for kids and adults alike, perfect to compliment your History Unboxed® Ancient Pompeii learning kit, or to go even deeper into the history of this amazing ancient city. If you’re looking for more hands-on activities for the Roman Empire, check out our Julius Caesar history kit!

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