Archaeologists in Pompeii Find Ancient Construction Site, Undisturbed Since Vesuvius’ Eruption

The discovery is cluing researchers into the techniques used to build Rome’s most remarkable structures

Staircase at the construction site
This staircase, part of an active construction site, has been preserved since the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 C.E. Italian Ministry of Culture

Researchers have uncovered an ancient construction site in Pompeii, shedding new light on building techniques used thousands of years ago, according to a statement from the Pompeii Archaeological Park.

At the time of Mount Vesuvius’ eruption in 79 C.E., workers at the site were likely in the middle of a home renovation. Archaeologists found piles of lime, stones, ceramics, tiles, bricks and tools, frozen in time under layers of volcanic ash.

The excavation provides new insights into how the ancient Romans mixed cement. Workers appear to have created cement walls via “hot mixing,” a technique in which quicklime is mixed with pozzolanic sand and water.

Decorative tiles
Decorative tiles were discovered at the site, which experts think was an active home renovation. Italian Ministry of Culture

When water is added to quicklime, the reaction creates heat. Normally, this step happens long before construction begins. In Pompeii, however, “workers did not pre-soak quicklime,” per All That’s Interesting’s Amber Breese. “Instead, they opted to mix the lime with pozzolanic sand first and then apply water shortly before construction.”

The result: Because the walls were built while the mixture was still hot, drying time would have been reduced.

“It is yet another example of how the small city of Pompeii makes us understand so many things about the great Roman Empire, not least the use of cement,” says Gabriel Zuchtriegel, director of the park, in the statement. “Without cement, we would have neither the Colosseum, nor the Pantheon, nor the Baths of Caracalla.”

The hot mixing technique was also used to renovate existing structures. Zuchtriegel thinks durable cement would have been important for touch-ups and repairs following a major earthquake in 62 C.E., 17 years before Vesuvius’ eruption.

Additionally, researchers found a mythological painting depicting Achilles on the island of Skyros inside the home, which is located near a recently discovered ancient bakery.

Achilles Painting
Researchers uncovered a painting of Achilles at the site. Italian Ministry of Culture

The site also featured Roman numerals written in charcoal, which researchers think were notes from builders, as well as “tools like lead weights for pulling up heavy walls and iron hoes used to mix the mortar,” writes CNN’s Barbie Latza Nadeau.

According to Zuchtriegel, the discovery will not only give researchers a better understanding of everyday Roman life but also help teach valuable lessons about “sustainability and the reuse of materials.”

“Pompeii is a treasure chest, and not everything has been revealed in its full beauty,” says Gennaro Sangiuliano, Italy’s culture minister, in the statement. “So much material has yet to emerge.”

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