Boat docks of Herculaneum

Boat docks of Herculaneum

Boat docks is a series of covered arched buildings intended to preserve Herculaneum fishermen's boats against sea storms. This was the ancient shore at the time of the eruption and this is also the furthest that citizens of Herculaneum made it. When the city was first discovered in the 18th century it was widely believed that all people of the city managed to flee the volcano mud slide unlike their neighbors in Pompeii. This assumptions turned out to be erroneous. First skeleton in Herculaneum was discovered in 1831 in the House of the Skeleton those pictures you can below. However it was these boat houses that completely dispelled the idea that most of the citizens of Herculaneum made to safety. They merely took a refuge here. Their hopes for escape were proven wrong. Instead of safe haven boat docks turned into a death trap for dozens.



Boat docks of Herculaneum  Boat docks of Herculaneum

Herculaneum gave us interesting clues about lives of the ancient people. Ancient Romans practiced cremation so we have very few skeletal remains that made it to our days. This is a rare exception. Analyzing the bones we can tell the diets that people had, their lifestyle, a number of kids they might have or any statistical anomalies. For example we an interesting relatively low number of people in the age group of 16 to 25. If you take in consideration that the region was struck by a powerful earthquake in 62/63 AD it would there is such a drastic dip in birth rate and survival rate. People born 16- 17 years prior to the eruption or earlier probably had higher mortality rate after food sources became scarce and granaries with food were destroyed.


Forensic doctors also concluded that the average height for a man in the city of Herculaneum was about 1.70 meters, while for a woman it was around 1.55 meters. Children under the age of 10 years comprised 20.3% of population while another 8.4% of individuals were older than 50 years. The bodies surprisingly had good teeth despite low advancements in dental hygiene and care. However they didn't eat a lot of sugar like we do today so the anaerobic bacteria had less chances to proliferate around teeth. Increased concentration of strontium in the bones of Herculaneum citizens indicated a diet rich in sea food. On the negative side the bodies indicated a lead poisoning. It was particularly visible in bodies those diets was worse indicating their low socio- economic level. It is possible that they got lead poisoning after drinking cheap wine that was artificially sweetened by syrup that was boiled in lead pots. Some of the their symptoms included abdominal pain, cognitive difficulties, weight loss, fatigue, sluggishness and many others. These further decrease their chance of surviving the eruption and escaping to safety. About 27 % of all bodies had some degree of hypoplastic line in the dental enamel. This would suggest that lengthy childhood illnesses were quiet common. Citizens of Herculaneum also showed decreased rate of growing, however the residents were taller than modern day Neapolitans.


One of the most famous victims in Herculaneum is the "Ring Lady" on the top left photo. Judging by her bones analysis and amount of gold that she wore, she must have been a very rich person. She had good bones and fairly good teeth, but there were signs of early periodontal disease. She was about 46 years old. At a height of 157 cm she was actually above average for her time period and probably gave birth to two or three children in her lifetime. She probably ran here in hopes to buy herself boat ride across the bay to safety. Like many residents of Herculaneum she perished.

Boat docks of HerculaneumAnother notable body is that of a young teenage girl who died while holding a baby in her arms. Judging by the skeleton shape, the victim never gave birth so it couldn't be her child. Furthermore girl's remains clearly point out to a very harsh life and even malnourishment as a child. This lies in drastic contrast to the bones of the baby she was holding. The baby was well nourished and probably was a child of the owners who probably had the girl as their slave in the household. Apparently the slave girl tried to save master's baby, but they both were buried inside boat's chambers.


Archaeologists who worked here also discovered an interesting skeleton is that of a soldier. He was about 37 years old when he died. At his height of 175 cm he was a giant by the standards of the time. He carried a sword on his right side, uniform and a bag with several coins. The man served for a long time and his left femur (thigh) still carries marks of a stab wound, probably a sword wound. Additionally three of his front teeth were missing either due to a battle or a bar fight. He lies at the entrance of the boat houses so it is logically to assume that he was trying to organize people and calm them down. Once he saw that everyone found their refuge he also entered what looked like a safe haven for them.


Boat docks of Herculaneum



Boat docks of HerculaneumCarbonized Herculaneum boat was discovered in one of the docks in 1982. It measured 9 metres in length and apparently was overturn by a natural force of a volcanic avalanche. A skeleton of an oarsman was discovered near by. There was also another body of a soldier with a swords, belt and military uniform found next to him. It is possible that the fisherman and a soldier were killed before they could escape. It is somewhat strange that no one tried to escape the Herculaneum using this vessels after the death of its owner. It is quiet probably that two men simply made runs across the bay of Naples. On one of these runs they was caught by a pyroclastic flow that killed him.


Herculaneum boat is currently can be seen in a site museum known as Padiglione Della Barca or a Boat Exhibit that's been on display since 16 July 2009.