This collaborative project aims to address conservation issues critical to the preservation of the archaeological site of Herculaneum through a combination of scientific investigation and fieldwork, including the conservation of decorated architectural surfaces.
When Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 CE, the Roman seaside towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum as well as the surrounding area were engulfed by volcanic material. Since that time up until the 18th century, Herculaneum was buried under a layer of volcanic material more than 15 meters (50 feet) thick at the base of Vesuvius.
The remains of the buried city were first discovered in 1709 and explored mainly by tunnels during the 18th and 19th centuries. The site's many richly decorated public buildings, houses and theater have yielded fine marble and bronze sculptures, wood elements, and paintings. Of particular significance, an extensive library of charred papyrus rolls was found at the Villa of the Papyri (a lavish residence that served as the inspiration for the design of the Getty Villa in Malibu, California).
Three short periods of open-air excavation at the site were conducted in the 19th century. Systematic open-air excavation began in 1927 and continued until 1961. Since 1961 excavations within the archaeological site have proceeded intermittently. It is estimated that only one third of the ancient town has been uncovered, with the remainder lying under the modern town of Ercolano.
Historical images of Herculaneum and objects excavated over the last two centuries illustrate the alarming rate of deterioration and loss afflicting the site, much of which has occurred in recent times.
In 2008, the GCI began a collaboration with the Herculaneum Conservation Project (HCP) at the archaeological site of Herculaneum. During the first three years of the collaboration, the GCI and HCP carried out scientific investigations to address a number of conservation issues at the site.
The knowledge gained from this joint program of site investigation, scientific analyses, and conservation trials has increased the understanding of deterioration present on site; and has improved methodological approaches at Herculaneum that can be applied on other open-air archaeological sites with similar problems.
The current phase of the project aims to study and conserve the architectural surfaces of the Tablinum of the Casa del Bicentenario with the continued collaboration of HCP, under an agreement with the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei (SANP).
Project updated: April 2012