Monday, July 30, 2012

Roman timber roof in Herculaneum put back together

In 2010, workers from the Herculaneum Conservation Project were struggling as they so often do with drainage issues. The crux of the issue is that water in the modern city flows down to what used to be the beach, only Vesuvius saw to it that the shore was pushed hundreds of feet into the sea; so the area of the ancient city that used to be prime beach real estate is constantly and dangerously waterlogged.

They decided to install some new drainage pipes on the site. Since they’d have to jackhammer their way through at least three feet of hard volcanic rock in order to lay the new pipe, the archaeologists did an initial survey to be sure nothing ancient and man-made would be damaged. They didn’t expect to find anything — the Roman beach had been thoroughly excavated in the 1980s — but in a section that hadn’t been explored, they not only found something: they found an entire ancient Roman wooden and tile roof.

Decorated ceiling tilePreserved by the volcanic rock on one side and the black sand of the beach on the other were massive wooden beams as much as 23 feet long, smaller joists and rafters, decorative panels and terracotta tiles. The tiles were underneath the timbers. They would originally have been the top layer of the roof, which means that the entire structure was ripped off the house, flipped upside down and deposited on the beach by the force of the pyroclastic surge. Unlike many of the other preserved organic materials found in Herculaneum, the timbers were not carbonized. They were smashed into wet sand, then kept safe by subsequent pyroclastic flows that hardened into layers of air-tight rock.

The wood roof was in such exceptional condition that carpentry marks and joints were clearly visible. They bore glorious testament to Roman carpentry, because even with all those massive timbers and rafters, there isn’t a single nail in the entire structure. There were a few cramp irons employed, but other than that, the structure was supported with joinery, trusses and its own pitch.

Via http://www.thehistoryblog.com/archives/18518