Herculaneum‎ > ‎Suburban District‎ > ‎


Description of the Shoreline

The beach, which was between 2m to 4m wide in front of the Suburban Thermae narrowing to about 1m in front of the boat houses, consisted of a layer of gravel approximately 0.6m thick overlying black beach sand.  The gravel was composed of rounded pebbles of limestone, lava and general rubbish (fragments of pottery, tiles, stucco, glass and bones) and is clearly the result of using the beach as a rubbish tip for building rubble and other material. Underlying the black beach sand was bedrock, consisting of consolidated pyroclastic material from a previous eruption. Excavations have shown that the bedrock outcropped about 20m from the shore, forming a reef. The surface of this area of exposed rock had been worked to provide a slipway to allow large boats to be pulled out of the water for maintenance.

An analysis of the beach material has shown that the pre-eruption sea level was about 4m below that of the present day, leading to the conclusion that Herculaneum has experienced major subsistence in the years since the eruption. This subsistence may have occurred rapidly after the eruption due to the depletion of the magma reservoir under Vesuvius, or may be due to regional tectonic tilting and long term structural events in and around the Bay of Naples.
Close by,
a well-preserved Roman boat over 9m long was discovered in 1982 (pictured right). Along with the body of the oarsman was that of a soldier complete with belt, swords, and other military paraphernalia.
Dr Sara Bisel, a physical anthropologist from the United States, was called in to oversee the excavation and study the bones of the citizens found in the boat houses.
The skeletons, some of them carbonised by the extreme heat, were well preserved by ground water that kept them from oxidising. During her six year study of the chemical analysis of those remains, Dr Bisel was able to gain greater insight into the health and nutrition of the citizens of Herculaneum.
In 1980, whilst digging a drainage trench, Italian public works employees, under the direction of Dr. Giuseppe Maggi, uncovered  human remains in one of the twelve boat houses that lined the ancient beach. Each boat house is a vaulted chamber 3.75m high, 3.15m wide by 3.85m deep.

It would appear that some of the town's  inhabitants had probably taken shelter in these chambers to wait for the worst of the eruption to pass. In all about 300 skeletons have been found along with the precious and everyday items they carried with them.

By examining the skeletons she determined each person's age and sex. Her analysis showed that the average male citizen stood 1.70m tall while his female counterpart was in the order of 1.55m.
She also concluded that in general their teeth were in good shape and that they ate a lot of seafood as indicated by a concentration of strontium in their bones.

Several had suffered from lead poisoning, possibly having developed their condition through the consumption of cheap wine sweetened by syrup boiled in lead pots.

Home.................<.Previous Area .................Suburban District.......................First Area.>...................Glossary