Our private tour guide started at Ercolano – Herculaneum. Andrea explained some technical details but with a humorous angle and a lot of opinion. He’s being doing it for 17 years and his experience showed: he presented a narrative, starting outside the ruins and describing the town’s position between Naples and Vesuvius, how the ash that had asphyxiated people in Pompeii and then destroyed the town was a different mechanism to the pyroclastic something that buried Ercolano. Originally the few bodies discovered led archaeologists to believe that residents had escaped, but the they dug down to the beach level and found the remains of 300 people sleeping in shelter at the beach. The reconstructed skeletons were a popular photographic exhibit for all the tourists, ourselves included. We then walked through the ruins and learned about the architecture, social structure and culture. It’s amazing to see the present day residential buildings crowded against each other, right up to the margins of the archaeological site; the ancient town extends beneath these buildings.
I found I was more interested in examining the (reconstructed) skeletal remains, examining for differences in morphology or evidence of skeletal trauma (unlikely given everybody fried instantly to death with the 500 degree heat wave from the volcanic surge). An overweight woman called to her male partner to get a photo from a particular angle, completely oblivious to whether others around her might be:
- Reflecting on the sadness of the mature and immature skeletal remains.
- Trying to hear their own tour guide.
- Not interested in what she thought made a good photographic composition or why her husband was not permitted to discover his own perception of the place.
I forgot how much nicer it was to have an audio guide where ear buds double as ear plugs.