Welcome to the Herculaneum Conservation Project’s website!

The Herculaneum Conservation Project was set up by David W. Packard, president of the Packard Humanities Institute (a philanthropic foundation), with the aim of supporting the Italian State, through the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei (the local heritage authority), in preserving this uniquely valuable, but at the same time fragile, archaeological site.

Herculaneum was overwhelmed by the same volcanic eruption of Vesuvius as its neighbouring city of Pompeii in AD 79. Exploration of the ancient city started under the Bourbon kings of Naples in 1738, later open-air excavations were carried out at various times until the end of the twentieth century. Much smaller than Pompeii, Herculaneum is less of a household name today but the particular circumstances of the town’s burial mean that many features of Herculaneum bring the past to life more vividly even than Pompeii.  While Pompeii was covered in a blanket of ash and pumice pebbles (lapilli) only some 10 metres deep, Herculaneum was encased in compacted layers of volcanic material that consolidated into rock, at some points to a depth of up to 25 metres. For this reason many organic features, including wooden beams and furniture, are well preserved at Herculaneum, unlike most archaeological sites in the world, and in many houses it is possible to see upper floors. At the same time, such upper floors and delicate wooden material are particularly fragile, and this unique site stands in constant danger of disintegration unless sustained efforts are made for its conservation.

Since 2001 the Herculaneum Conservation Project, a collaboration between the Packard Humanities Institute and the Soprintendenza, supported by the British School at Rome, has sought to address some of the most pressing threats to the survival of the site. The focus has been on infrastructural problems – roofing and drains. It has also sought by scientific experiment to analyse the critical conservation risks and to develop better approaches to solving or reducing them. It has stressed the importance of regular maintenance with the development of sustainable programmes for the future. In the course of work, it has made many new archaeological discoveries, and cast new light on the history of the site. It tries to involve the local community closely in its activities, has undertaken joint projects with the town council, and helped set up the Herculaneum Centre.

The Herculaneum Conservation Project is undertaken by a large interdisciplinary team of specialists, most of whom are Italian. It is overseen by a Scientific Committee involving Italian and international experts in archaeology and conservation. It is directed by Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, formerly Director of the British School at Rome, and currently Master of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.  Operations on site are overseen by the Project Manager, Jane Thompson and by the Director of the archaeological site, Maria Paola Guidobaldi.