from the


Life and Death in Ancient Pompeii


Bodies from the Ash: Life and Death in Ancient Pompeii. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005.

Illustrated in color and black-and-white with over 50 images, many of them rare and many from the photography archives of the Pompeii Archaeological Site. For ages 8 to adult. Published by Houghton Mifflin, 2005.



 Bodies from the Ash tells the story of the victims of Pompeii. 

After Mt. Vesuvius erupted on August 24 and 25, AD 79, Pompeii lay buried until 12 feet of volcanic ash and debris for the next 1700 years. Some attempts were made to excavate the town, but no one was certain of its exact location. Finally, in the mid-1700s, the town was rediscovered. Along with the desired treasures (statues, marble, jewelry) that excavators sought for wealthy patrons, workers also uncovered many skeletons of people who could not escape. At first, these skeletons were placed in locations within the Pompeian ruins as curiosity objects. Later, under the direction of Giuseppe Fiorelli, the hollow space around some skeletons was used as a mold. Workers poured plaster of  Paris into the cavity; when the outer shell of the mold was chipped away, the plaster body of a person remained—an imprint of that person’s last moment alive. 



By studying these individuals and the possessions that they had with them, Fiorelli and later scientists attempted to piece together their stories. Bodies from the Ash describes what they have found and the stories they have told. 


Plaster cast displayed at the Villa of the Mysteries, Pompeii


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. August 24 and 25, AD 79

The eruption of Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii


Chapter 2. Rediscovering Pompeii

The discovery of Pompeii and the search for treasures in the ruins


Chapter 3. The Plaster Bodies of Pompeii

The creation of the plaster bodies from hollow cavities found in the volcanic debris


Chapter 4. Lives from the Ash

The stories archaeologists have told about human and animal remains found at the following Pompeian locations: the House of the Cryptoporticus, the Garden of the Fugitives, the House of the Golden Bracelet, the House of Menander, and the House of Orpheus


Chapter 5. Herculaneum’s Fate

The stories related to the human remains found at Herculaneum, a nearby city destroyed by Vesuvius


Chapter 6. A Final Excavation

The most dramatic change in the creation of plaster casts and the state of Pompeii today