The first casts of the forms of Pompeian victims of the AD 79 eruption of Mt Vesuvius were successfully achieved under the directorship of Giuseppe Fiorelli in 1863. To date, 104 individuals have been cast by restorers and archaeologists during the course of excavation. The methods used to obtain these casts were not well documented. It was always assumed that plaster or lime cement was merely poured into voids which preserved the impression of organic remains buried in the ash that covered the site during the catastrophe. It was also assumed that the undisturbed skeletal remains of victims were encased within the casts. The initial aim of the Pompeii Cast Project was to study these bones to build on and test the results of an earlier study of the large sample of Pompeian human remains that were disarticulated by post-excavation activities. Apart from providing information about the people who did not manage to escape the eruption, the project aimed to challenge previous interpretations of the lives and activities of these victims that were solely based on superficial inspection and circumstantial evidence.
Twenty-six casts were subjected to CT scanning or X-ray analysis in 2015. The results were unexpected. It was clear that the casts had been considerably manipulated. Bones were often removed prior to casting, and other elements had been introduced. This ongoing project has now been expanded to establish how these casts were achieved, to better understand nineteenth- and twentieth-century archaeological and restoration practice.