The British Museum's major new exhibition of artifacts from the buried city of Pompeii shows that the Roman city was bustling with action.

This article titled “British Museum's Pompeii exhibition has its emphasis firmly on life” was written by Charlotte Higgins, for The Guardian on Friday 8th March 2013 10.41 UTC

Pompeii – and to a much lesser extent, Herculaneum, the less visited, and so more rewarding, destination for modern tourists – are bywords for death. The big moment in exhibitions devoted to Pompeii is usually courtesy of one of those eternally poignant casts of figures – images in plaster of the voids once filled by the human form, flesh decayed to nothingness after the superheated debris and ash hardened into a solid mass around them. (There are no such figures from Herculaneum. Nearer Vesuvius, the town was engulfed by even hotter pyroclastic surges than those that poured over Pompeii. Humans were immediately pulverised to the bone, brains boiling in their skulls.) The British Museum's forthcoming exhibition, Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum, does contain some of these casts; but it has its emphasis firmly on life. The first image in the show is the famous “cave canem” mosaic; its last a reminder of the living people of the cities, before the catastrophe of 24 August AD79: a set of characterful sculpted portrait heads, the sort of warts-and-all Roman busts that make you gasp at the familiarity and ordinariness of these long-gone Campanians.

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