Inside the Plaster: scanning the victims of Pompeii (Season 2017)

Co-presented with the Department of Classics and Ancient History, in the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry



28 November 2017

The way Pompeii was covered by the eruption material ejected by Mt Vesuvius in 79 CE has made it possible to reveal the forms of organic remains preserved in the hardened ash. Pouring plaster of Paris into the voids created by decomposed soft tissue has created casts that were believed to be faithful renditions of those who died. In theory, the skeletons were embedded within the plaster casts of human victims and those of other mammals.

In 2015, Estelle Lazer and her team of experts commenced a project to CT scan and X-ray the casts of the Pompeian victims. The initial results of the CT scans and X-rays were surprising as they revealed that the actual production methods for the casts were quite different to the procedures that had been minimally documented in the 19th and 20th centuries.

This year, the University of Sydney and the Superintendency of the Pompeii Archaeological Park signed a Memorandum of Agreement, which makes the two institutions partners in this important project. In June 2017, permission was granted for the first time to transport plaster casts of victims from the site to the nearby local hospital for scanning in a state-of-the-art CT scanner that provided much higher resolution than the machine employed in the 2015 study.

The results of this season are providing us with new insights into the lives and deaths of these victims, as well as a better understanding of how the casts were achieved.


Dr Estelle Lazer, author of Resurrecting Pompeii (2009), is an archaeologist best known for her work on the human remains from Pompeii. In 2015, she was appointed as a consultant for the Pompeii Cast Restoration Project. Estelle works for Academy Travel and is an Honorary Research Associate in the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Sydney.

Read more about Estelle's work in a recent story in the latest edition of SOPHI Magazine.

As this event has reached capacity, registrations are now closed. We often have spare seats on the night due to late cancellations. If you could not register and would like to attend, you are welcome to join a stand-by queue at the venue.

You can also watch the event live streamed at other locations in NSW. Please make direct contact with the relevant organiser to ascertain seating availability.

  • University of Newcastle City Campus (Cnr Hunter and Auckland Sts) Room X202. Contact: Jane Bellemore
  • University of Wollongong Room 20.4. Contact: Stephen Brown
  • University of New England Lecture Theatre 1 Arts Building. Contact Bronwyn Hopwood
  • John Paul II College Coffs Harbour H2. Contact: Mark Adams