Mary Beard at Pompeii

Mary Beard, photo source: A Don's Life

For viewers in the UK, BBC 2 offered another documentary in their History series earlier this week. In this latest installment Professor Mary Beard took viewers to Pompeii and a newly discovered site of Oplontis.

Close to main site she talked to archaeologists who had unearthed many unknown facts about the time of the volcanic eruption in AD 79 by analysing the skeletons of 54 Romans who had sheltered in a cellar from the eruption.

For those who haven’t seen Professor Beard before she is quite different from the ‘stuffy’ academic stereotypes of old. Her references to ‘poo ‘and ‘willy’ when talking about excrement and the numerous sexual images around the city would have no doubt shocked some viewers but made it more accessible to others.

Some of the most interesting facts included:

  • Congenital Syphillis found in the skeletons of children 1400 years before it was presumed to have arrived in Europe with sailors from Christopher Columbus’ first exploration of the Americas.
  • An in-depth study of the diet of the Romans from excavations of a Roman Cesspit!
  • There appeared to be less of a gap between the rich and poor.

Professor Beard will be travelling with Voyages to Antiquity on our ‘Sicily is the Key to Everything’ cruise on 26 August 2011.

To read the BBC website summary, please visit:
To watch the programme, go to BBC iPlayer.

Professor Mary Beard also writes a blog for the Times Literary Supplement, where she has shared her thoughts on the programme.