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Pompeii: Life and Death in a Roman Town [DVD] 
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Pompeii: one of the most famous volcanic eruptions in history. We know how its victims died, but this film sets out to answer another question - how did they live? Gleaning evidence from an extraordinary find, Cambridge professor and Pompeii expert Mary Beard provides new insight into the lives of the people who lived in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius before its cataclysmic eruption. In a dark cellar in Oplontis, just three miles from the centre of Pompeii, 54 skeletons who didn't succumb to the torrent of volcanic ash are about to be put under the microscope. The remains will be submitted to a barrage of tests that will unlock one of the most comprehensive scientific snapshots of Pompeian life ever produced - and there are some big surprises in store. Using the latest forensic techniques it is now possible to determine what those who perished in the disaster ate and drank, where they came from, what diseases they suffered, how rich they were, and perhaps, even more astonishingly, the details of their sex lives. The way the remains were found in the cellar already provides an invaluable clue about the lives of the people they belonged to. On one side of the room were individuals buried with one of the most stunning hauls of gold, jewellery and coins ever found in Pompeii. On the other, were people buried with nothing. It looked the stark dividing line of a polarised ancient society: a room partitioned between super rich and abject poor. But on closer examination the skeletons reveal some surprises about life in Pompeii.
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This is one of the first TV documentaries which Mary Beard presented, and is based around her book. She comes over as massively knowledgeable on the subject; enthusiastic and approachable; extremely keen to convey the nitty gritty and daily realities of life for normal Roman folk. So there's a lot of chat about graffiti and grubby streets, and the dubious hygiene of the sweaty public baths...
The show includes a few staples of modern archaeology, like using forensic techniques to investigate a group of skeletons which weren't destroyed by the ash. So the experts use bone and teeth samples to sketch out the wealth, health, height and diet of the population (and even comment on their sex lives). Also the less appealing process of examining sewage waste to determine what food was regularly eaten - sea urchins, no less!
This is pretty much a no-frills documentary, based around evidence and experience rather than actors in togas and cutting-edge CGI. Mary Beard doesn't dress up herself and she concentrates on uncovering daily realities for 'normal' people, folks who lived in block of flats, and who were remarkable only for the way in which they died. It comes close to demonstrating what life might have been like 2000 years ago for the people of Pompeii.
I didn't learn a huge amount more than I already knew about the subject, but I appreciated Mary Beard's insightful comments and her down-to-earth presentation.
Sits well alongside Mary Beard's more comprehensive series: Meet The Romans Presented by Mary Beard As Seen On BBC2 [DVD] which is thoroughly recommended.
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