DIY was all the rage in Pompeii

IF ROME wasn't built in a day, the residents of Pompeii were even more methodical about their city's construction. New excavations of the ruins of the southern Italian city, destroyed by volcano in AD79, suggest that Pompeii man was the original DIY enthusiast.

Far from indulging in wine, women and song, it appears that the average resident of Pompeii was, in fact, a house-proud, toga-clad version of New Man. Devoted to pouring his hard-earned savings into his house, he would expand his kitchen, build that loft extension - and even buy up the house next door. Remains uncovered recently suggest that home improvements were in progress right up to the point when Mount Vesuvius blew its top.

The findings, established by a team of Anglo-American archaeologists from several universities, are based on excavations at a property known as the House of Vestals. The owner is believed to have been a wealthy politician or merchant. A major earthquake several years earlier, which had damaged many buildings in the port, had not deterred him - presumably it was easier to get buildings and contents insurance in those days.

The archaeologists found six major phases of building work at the house, with several minor alterations in between. According to Fiona Robertson, a PhD student at Bradford University who took part in the excavations, the owner was clearly a DIY enthusiast who, if alive today, would happily spend his weekends driving between the garden centre and B&Q or Homebase. "A Roman ramp, which was uncovered at the back of the house, looks just like the sort of thing used to push wheelbarrows up nowadays," she said. "Rooms at the back of the house were clearly in the process of being renovated."

In an all-too-familiar tale, the owner had to replace and improve DIY attempts made by his predecessors up to 180 years before. "Around 100BC the house was expanded into neighbouring properties and early in the first century AD more money was poured in to carry out home improvements," she said. "They converted a kitchen into a living room or play room, added an extension, did some re-pointing and built a swimming pool in the garden - much the sort of thing people do today."

And did Pompeii man live amid the dust and debris or move out during the building work, giving free rein to the builders, only to blow his top, Vesuvius style, when the revised bill was wildly over the original estimate? The answer lies in the remains of snails in the house.

Snails are sensitive to small changes in temperature and preferred the open, damp conditions when the builders were in to the warmer atmosphere created when the family was at home. "As you go down different levels of excavations if you find no more than a few snails, it's reasonable to assume the family was living in the house at the time," Miss Robertson said. "But if you find a healthy population, there's a strong possibility the family had moved out while the builders were in." Romans were scrupulous with their house cleaning, explained Miss Robertson. "If they had lived in the house during the excavations they would have been cleaning up and sweeping away fungus and damp - the snails wouldn't have liked that."

The citizens of Pompeii were keen on DIY because houses were great status symbols. "Open space was at a premium," she said. "The Romans used their houses to do their entertaining. They would have fountains and mosaics in them depicting gardens to make them look bigger than they were. "This particular family had clearly come into a lot of money. They were building a swimming pool and other extensive work at the same time."

Experts think the people of Pompeii were so keen on DIY because the changing role of the port led to new roles for the buildings. "Pompeii was originally a sea-side resort and then became an important frontier town," said Miss Robertson. "As the empire expanded the frontier went further south and Pompeii became a far more attractive place to live as wealthy merchants funded lots of development."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map