Photographer's Note

This was one of the items on display at the Pompeii: The Exhibition, which will be held from Oct. 6, 2018 to Jan. 23, 2019 at the Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. It features over 150 authentic artifacts on loan from the Naples National Archaeological Museum in Italy. Many 2,000-year-old objects preserved in the ash are on exhibit. These artifacts include wall-sized frescos, marble & bronze sculptures, jewelry, coins, & full-body casts of the volcano’s victims.

This is one of the most poignant ones: one of the more famous artifacts is this cast of a guard dog, found still tied to a post in the atrium of the House of Marcus Vesonius Primus. It was reportedly found on Nov. 20, 1874. As ash gradually filled the room, the dog was unable to climb higher to safety, and clearly suffocated; the cast shows the poor animal in its death throes, apparently gasping as it died. Even the teeth are visible, such is the grim detail preserved by the cast. The remains of hundreds of both human and animal victims decomposed over the centuries, but excavators in the mid-19th century noticed that surrounding the remains were hollow voids in the tightly packed ash. I believe that it was under Fiorelli, the director of the site, that plaster was first poured into these spaces to preserve what had been inside. These remarkable vestiges of the once-living beings still remain, nearly 2,000 years later. Some are so detailed that even details, such as the dog's collar, various items of clothing and accessories, and sometimes, even the expressions on people's faces are preserved. I believe that these on display at the exhibit are actually copies of the casts: in some cases, the bones are encased in the plaster, but these are apparently models of the originals. Sadly, many more of these remarkable plaster casts had been created, but the Antiquarium, near the forum, a structure where they were stored, was reportedly severely damaged during Allied bombing of the site in 1943, during WWII, so many were probably destroyed. Victims are still occasionally being discovered, however; about 1,100 bodies have been found at the site, but there are probably many more in the surrounding countryside yet to be discovered. Nor has the entire town of Pompeii been excavated, so it is likely that additional ones will eventually be found. Famous garden archaeologist Wilhelmina Jashemski began using this technique to also discover even the species of plants that had grown in Roman gardens, casting the root cavities of trees, vines and other plants, to determine what they originally looked like. Such efforts have determined that there were many commercial agricultural enterprises, such as vineyards and orchards, within the town itself.

The long-dormant volcano Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, and Pompeii, just five miles away, was buried under meters of ash and debris. Eventually, its location, and even its name, was lost. It was formally "rediscovered" in the mid-1500s, when digging a well, but it was not formally excavated until the 18th century.

** There are now a couple of workshops of various items relating to this famous dog. One is a photo from a member showing the original, which is on display in the forum in Pompeii. It's evidently been there a long time: There's a very old drawing, by Christian Wilhelm Allers (1857-1915), which depicts a family viewing the original cast. The text reads: "Oh Mamma look. Oh the poor, poor dog." "Yes dear, he is as dead as a doornail, he must be old - very, very old indeed."
-From: C. W. Allers "La bella Napoli", Stuttgart - Berlin - Leipzig (1892).

There is an additional photo of an exhibit by Allen McCollum, which created multiple fiberglass casts of the original. Thanks for the interest! It illustrates that these casts, which preserve elements of daily life, really do touch people when they view them.

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Additional Photos by Terez Anon (terez93) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 92 W: 78 N: 1146] (2026)
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