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The ancient town of Herculaneum was destroyed and buried, together with Pompei, Oplontis, Stabiae and other small villages, by the eruption of Mount Veusvius in A.D. 79. It completely disappeared under a thick layer of volcanic material. The town was only accidently discovered in 1709 when a few workers, digging a well, detected a wall which was later identified with the stage of the ancient theatre. Regular excavations started, later, under the patronage of Charles III of the Bourbon family, the monarch of the Kingdom of Naples. The king appointed engineer Karl Weber as director of the excavations. Numerous buildings and manufacts were uncovered and Karl Weber documented all of them, but this was not sufficient to prevent that most of the artifacts were removed by treasure hunters. In early eighteenth century, archeology was just about to become a science, so when the uncovering of Herculaneum was undertaken, the archaeologists were not yet prepared to face the problems related to the removal of the volcanic material and although many buildings were found still in good conditions, the conservation of the top floors proved to be very difficult so that many of them were lost for ever. One of the most important and fascinating discoveries was that of the Villa of the Papyri, a superb suburban residence, where a large number of ancient papyri scrolls, written in Greek and Latin, were discovered together with marvellous bronzes and marble works. The ancient papyri, most of which dealing with the philosophical subjects of Epicurean inspiration, are still object of study and are preserved at the Archeological National Museum of Naples.
The excavations were discontinued and were alternatively abandoned and resumed for almost two hundred years because of the difficulties given by the compact mass of the pyroclastic material and the infiltration of water into the ruins. They were resumed in 1927 under the direction of Amedeo Maiuri and most of the public monuments of the old town were uncovered. The special condition under which Herculaneum was buried preserved most of the buildings and allowed the conservation of magnificent paintings, wooden furniture, pieces of cloth and splendid jewelleries which offer a detailed information about the life of the old inhabitants of the Naples coast. This information are very difficulty achieved in other centres of the ancient roman society. The excavations of Herculaneum, together with those of Pompei, had in fact, precipitated the modern science of archeology, and are still continuing but, although the ruins were declared a Unesco World Heritage Site, they are bound restricted by the presence of the inhabited dwellings of the present town. In 1981 the ancient beach was brought to light. Many human skeletons were found inside the fornices that had been built close to the ancient shoreline, suggesting that numerous inhabitants attempted to escape. Unfortunately they all perished because of the pyroclastic flow and the volcanic gases which covered the town.
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