I’ve been fascinated with the story of Pompeii from a young age. A town full of people and animals who were overrun by the ash from an erupting volcano? It set my imaginative mind reeling. It still does, so I was jazzed to learn it was the focus of The Nature of Things‘ season return on Thursday.
“Pompeii’s People” follows host David Suzuki—who first visited the site 43 years ago on his honeymoon—as he is given unprecedented access to the Roman town, exploring the importance of the location to the Empire and the lives of its people buried under volcanic ash in 79 AD after Mount Vesuvius erupted.
Technology plays a huge part in the project, as aerial photography, dramatic recreations, CGI and other scientific applications peel back the layers of volcanic matter to reveal a stunning, and surprisingly relatable way of life. Handel Productions and Twofour Group do an incredible job not just recreating the story behind the demise of the 12,000 residents located in the coastal town near Naples, but focusing on the well-off and working class folks walking the cobbles. No stone is unexplored, as footage includes an analysis of roadways and a warren of one-way streets and homes are digitally reconstructed to show warmly painted walls, frescoes and skylights in ceilings. Suzuki is welcomed into the former home of a fish sauce merchant, who adorned his property with mosaics of his product, showing a knack for advertising more than 1,500 years before Mad Men.
Next up on Suzuki’s walk is the forum, where public areas offered citizens a place to converse, play games, buy goods from the open-air market or worship at the Temple of Jupiter.
The most interesting part of Thursday’s return for me was the recreation of Pompeii’s people. I think everyone has seen pictures of the plaster casts of the dog, woman and child, and man, all frozen in time and contorted after being buried in ash. Now computers are digitally removing the plaster and x-rays reveal the bones to understand what Pompeians looked like, what they ate and how they lived. It’s particularly stunning to see how the vaguely human form of a dead soldier is transformed by technology into a young man.
Also analyzed: the rearing of animals and livestock, what garbage says about what Pompeians ate and the role of sex in their society. Informative, educational and entertaining, “Pompeii’s People” is well worth checking out.
The Nature of Things airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on CBC.