At some point during an elementary school history class, we probably learned about the sad fate of Pompeii, the Roman town that was buried—and preserved—by the massive eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. But what we may have missed in those history lessons is information about the lives of the people before the natural disaster. That’s where the Denver Museum of Nature & Science’s newest exhibit, A Day in Pompeii (running through January 13, 2013), comes in.

The traveling exhibit takes you through multiple facets of everyday life in the Roman port city: outdoor life, home life, trade and commerce, religious practices and beliefs, and the final hours. Most of what’s on display are actual artifacts unearthed in Pompeii and the surrounding areas. Some of the highlights:

  • A continuous theme throughout the exhibit is that life in Pompeii two millennia ago wasn’t all that different from life today. Pompeiians slept on wooden beds, enjoyed spending the majority of their time outside, had indoor plumbing, wore gold jewelry, and used combs, razors, and makeup.
  • Videos placed around the show bring AD 79 to dramatic reality thanks to digital animation. The video depicting the final 24 hours of Pompeii is particularly enlightening.
  • The DMNS adds an interactive element with touch carts around the exhibit that give visitors the chance to pick up replica items (such as bathing tools and writing implements) and learn more about them. Professional actors also meander through, enhancing the experience and creating conversation. Stopping by the thermopoleum (pictured above), for instance, is a chance to learn about what types of food Pompeiians ate, what their money was worth, and how they weighed serving portions.
  • The ash and other byproducts of the volcano preserved a moment in time—including what people were eating. Preserved walnuts, oyster shells, olives, and a peach pit are all on display, as is a replica cast of a loaf of bread that was actually found on site.
  • During the excavation process, archaeologists discovered imprints of bodies in the volcanic debris. By pouring liquid plaster into these cavities, they were able to recreate the forms of those who were trapped when the eruption occurred. The plaster body casts on display at DMNS (pictured, right) are replicas of those original molds.

Looking ahead: In the spirit of everyone’s favorite party god, Bacchus (Greek: Dionysus), the DMNS is hosting a Bacchus Raucous toga party on Friday, September 28 at the museum. From 7:30 to 11 p.m., toga-wearers who are 21 and older will enjoy Italian-themed hors d’oeuvres, live entertainment, one drink at the bar, and admission to the exhibit. Tickets are $38 for members and $43 for nonmembers, and can be purchased here.

Images courtesy of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science

Daliah Singer
Daliah Singer
Daliah Singer is an award-winning writer and editor based in Denver. You can find more of her work at