History GCSE: How were the casts of the victims of Pompeii made?

The casts made of the victims of Pompeii provide a unique insight into the way that the people died there in 79 AD as a result of the eruption of Vesuvius.

Margaret Mountford explains how the blanket of ash that covered the dead bodies hardened into rock and that this initially preserved the bodies.

As their flesh decomposed over time, a perfect mould was formed in the rock, and this contained the mineral content of the bones, which had not decayed.

She then describes how Guiseppe Fiorelli developed the technique of injecting plaster of paris into the moulds to create the casts of the victims.

Modern scientific techniques have allowed specialists to reconstruct the faces of some of the victims.

This clip is from the series Pompeii: The Mystery of the People Frozen in Time.

Teacher Notes

This clip could be used as a stimulus for discussion on the eruption of Vesuvius and how the blanket of ash that fell on the bodies hardened and turned into rock.

Pupils could use plaster to make imprints of footprints and fossils, in order to understand how Plaster of Paris works.

Curriculum Notes

This clip will be relevant for teaching GCSE History. Appears in Edexcel, AQA, WJEC KS4/GCSE in England and Wales, CCEA GCSE in Northern Ireland and SQA National 5 in Scotland.

More from Pompeii: The Mystery of the People Frozen in Time

What happened when Vesuvius erupted in 79AD?
What happened at Herculaneum, the town not far from Pompeii?
How did the victims of Pompeii die?
Why weren't the clothes of the Pompeii victims destroyed by the heat of a pyroclastic current?
Can science reveal what two of the victims of Vesuvius actually looked like?