This Saturday the Science Museum of Virginia opens the door on Pompeii: The Immortal City. This is the North American debut of this impressive traveling exhibit. It will only be seen in two more spots in the United States, Spokane Washington, and Orlando Florida. Pompeii serves as a time capsule from 79 A.D. when it was entombed in first ash and then pyroclastic flow (burning gasses, white hot matter). The city was rediscovered in 1748 and excavations have been going on every since.
The first question that springs to mind is why the Science Museum of Virginia, as opposed to a museum, focused on history. The answer is found exploring the 100+ plus items some of which have never been seen in the states. While the eruption is not ignored the focus is on the surprising bits of science and technology that were part of everyday Roman life in Pompeii.
“Sometimes there is a tendency to think that people living thousands of years ago weren’t technologically advanced or didn’t have a robust level of scientific understanding,” said Richard Conti, chief wonder officer. “This exhibition shows us that is not the case. It will leave guests in awe of Pompeian accomplishments.”
The exhibition introduces guests to architects, surveyors, craftsmen, artisans and engineers in a bustling Roman city full of life. The estimated 12,000 inhabitants were in the midst of rebuilding homes and businesses from a devastating earthquake that struck in 62 A.D. Cranes, scaffolding, winches, pulleys and stone-cutting tools tell the story of a vibrant city under reconstruction. Hydraulic metal valves, surveying instruments, glass windows, advanced warm-air heating systems and masterful aqueducts demonstrate technical expertise and an exceptional use of city planning. Surgical instruments, hunting practices and diversified agriculture techniques further reveal the botanical and biological scientific knowledge of Pompeii residents.
One moment we’re reminded how little has changed as in these simple fish hooks.
The next moment you’re in awe of a beautiful statue or the detail in a weight used on a sliding scale.
The exhibit also serves as a reminder of the changes in technology. Wine was the beverage of choice in Pompeii and as is pointed out, for the most part, were “Wines of Medicore Quality” which also happens to be my next band name. The classic terra cotta amphora was the most common vehicle for the beverage but glass was very prevalent in Pompeii. There are examples of glass windows, perfume bottles, and more including the examples below.
Glass, unlike terra cotta, doesn’t absorb the flavors so I like to think that sometime in 79 A.D. two wine snobs were sitting in the bar arguing over glass versus terra cotta for their wine and how it affects the flavor profile.
That is just one example of the science of the exhibit and there are many more for you to discover. My personal favorites are the bits of window glass and the recreation of a Roman odometer. You can see a bit of the odometer in the background of the picture above.
The human cost while not the focus is not ignored.
An immersive projection simulates the eruption of Vesuvius and its destruction in a unique and captivating way. At the end of the exhibition, guests can view two body casts created from some of the nearly 1,150 body imprint outlines unearthed since formal Pompeii excavations began in the 18th century.
First displayed in Brussels, Belgium in November 2017, few have had the chance to experience how this exhibition combines art, history and science to provide unprecedented insight into centuries-old innovation through this well-known natural disaster.
Interactive stations throughout the exhibition invite families to learn together just like George—through direct experience and problem solving—to reinforce the necessity of exploration and interaction in early learning.
“Pompeii is more than a city destroyed by a volcano—it is a reminder of the power of human curiosity and innovation,” Conti said. “The eruption was only a small part of the fascinating and impressive Pompeii story. Guests will be surprised at how much this exhibition celebrates STEM. It will serve as another reminder that science is all around us, sometimes in surprising ways.”
The exhibition was developed and produced by TEMPORA in collaboration with Civita and Filmmaster based on the scientific research of Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli and Museo Galileo Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza, Firenze and distributed by Exhibits Development Group. It is presented locally by Altria and sponsored locally by WestRock and Allianz Partners.
The Science Museum is a very hands-on environment. This exhibit is a little different since they’re dealing with ancient artifacts so beyond a very well-produced interactive video you’ll be looking and not touching.
That being said the entire Museum will feature public programming to complement themes included in “Pompeii: The Immortal City.” Through special activities, public presentations and daily demonstrations, guests will be able to get hands with STEM concepts Pompeians applied in everyday life.
On June 1st the Dome has started showing the giant-screen film “Volcanoes: The Fires of Creation”. With over 500 active volcanoes, Earth is bursting at the seams with volcanic energy that has created extraordinary ecosystems and wildlife habitats as well as devastated entire communities. The film is presented locally by Allianz Partners.
During regular Museum operating hours (9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week), admission to “Pompeii: The Immortal City” is available through a combination ticket that includes access to the exhibition as well as the Museum’s three floors of interactive exhibits.
Admission is $7 for Museum members; $25 for adults; $23.50 for youth (ages 6 – 12) and seniors (ages 60 and older); and $20 for preschool-aged children (ages 3 – 5). Dome tickets are additional. Discounts are available for teachers, military personnel, groups and EBT cardholders. Exhibition-only admission during Friday extended hours (June 14 – August 30, 5 – 8 p.m.) is $15.