A day in Pompeii

9 minutes

You and the thing that you love

12 minutes

Should computers run the world?

36 minutes

The artefact artist

23 minutes

My brother’s keeper

21 minutes

From eruption to obliteration – the sights and sounds of 48 fateful hours in Pompeii

Before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius on 24 August 79 CE, Pompeii was a thriving Roman port city and commercial hub near modern-day Naples, and home to an estimated 15,000 people. Closer to the mountain’s base and on the other side, the nearby town of Herculaneum, estimated population 5,000, was smaller, wealthier and a popular resort for elite Romans. After the eruption, both remained buried, their memories lost to time, until they were excavated and identified in the 18th century. In the years since, the continuing excavation of their eerily preserved buildings, artifacts and human remains have given archeologists and researchers an invaluable window into ancient Roman life.

The only firsthand account of the eruption comes from the author and lawyer Pliny the Younger. In his correspondence with the historian Tacitus, Pliny describes helplessly watching from nearby Misenum as the tragedy unfolds:

Some wishing to die, from the very fear of dying; some lifting their hands to the gods; but the greater part convinced that there were now no gods at all, and that the final endless night of which we have heard had come upon the world.

This animation, produced in 2009 for an exhibition at the Melbourne Museum, brings his harrowing words to stark and vivid life. Transporting viewers back to the morning of the eruption, the video recreates sights and sounds from that fateful day through to the following night, at which point both Pompeii and Herculaneum already lay buried deep in volcanic ash and debris.

Video by Zero One Studio

After losing his sight, a skateboarder takes an unexpected path to realising his dreams

Nick Mullins fell in love with skateboarding as a teenager and, rather quickly, became quite skilled. As one of the best young skateboarders in the Detroit area, he was putting together a video to catch the attention of sponsors, when, after taking a rough but mostly innocuous fall, he scraped the side of his body and contracted a staph infection. He would barely escape with his life, and after waking up from a medically induced coma, realised he had gone blind. Believing he had no prospects – in skating or in life – he fell into a deep depression. The short documentary You and the Thing That You Love retells how Mullins would eventually realise his dreams, albeit by taking a very much unanticipated path. Capturing Mullins’s story with kinetic style, the US filmmaker Nicholas Maher avoids cliché to create a standout portrait of perseverance and love of craft – and one that can be savoured even if you don’t know your ‘blunts’ from your ‘fakies’.

Director: Nicholas Maher

Algorithms are sensitive. People are specific. We should exploit their respective strengths

The capabilities of algorithms and human brainpower overlap, intersect and contrast in a multitude of ways, argues Hannah Fry, an associate professor in the mathematics of cities at University College London, in this lecture at the Royal Institution from 2018. And, says Fry, planning for an efficient, ethical future demands that we carefully consider the respective strengths of each without stereotyping either as inherently good or bad, while always keeping their real-world consequences in mind. Borrowing from her book Hello World: Being Human in the Age of Algorithms (2018), Fry’s presentation synthesises fascinating studies, entertaining anecdotes and her own personal experiences to build a compelling argument for how we ought to think about algorithms if we’d like them to amplify – and not erode – our humanity.

New York’s 300-year-old trash becomes treasure in the hands of an urban archaeologist

Scott Jordan’s two-bedroom apartment in Queens, New York is filled with thousands of local artefacts, many of which date back centuries. Populating his shelves and drawers are glass bottles, porcelain dolls, pottery and even a gun from the Revolutionary War – all of them once buried far beneath New Yorkers’ feet, and many of which he’s repurposed to create original art. This small museum of recovered treasures comes from years of playing in the dirt and digging out landfills, cisterns and privies by hand. In The Artefact Artist, the US director Russ Kendall explores the buried history of cities, and how Jordan finds meaning and community in the process of searching for, discovering, and transforming objects others have left for trash.

Director: Russ Kendall

Website: The Artefact Artist

A former Guantánamo Bay prisoner and his guard reunite as equals 13 years later

Born in Mauritania in northwest Africa, Mohamedou Ould Salahi was living in Germany on a college scholarship when he travelled to Afghanistan to support Al-Qaeda’s US-backed fight to topple the country’s Soviet-supported government in 1990. Although he says he extinguished all ties with the militant Islamist group in 1992, and was never formally charged with a crime, accusations of Al-Qaeda links trailed him until, in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the US of 11 September 2001, he was detained from Mauritania by the US government. Salahi was ultimately transported to the Guantánamo Bay detention camp in Cuba, where he was repeatedly tortured, before being released back to Mauritania in 2016. While jailed, he became an unlikely international bestselling author after the publication of his memoir, Guantánamo Diary (2015). Salahi’s book was subsequently adapted into the feature film The Mauritanian (2021).

The short documentary My Brother’s Keeper from the UK filmmaker Laurence Topham captures Salahi’s post-release life in Nouakchott, Mauritania, a country he’s now not allowed to leave, and where he’s attempting to adjust to something resembling normality. In particular, the film focuses on Salahi’s reunion with Steve Wood – a Guantánamo guard who showed him kindness, friendship and the many pleasures of the Coen brothers’ film The Big Lebowski (1998) while Salahi was imprisoned. The visit marks their first meeting in 13 years, as well as their first since Wood, inspired in part by Salahi, converted to Islam. Boosted by Salahi’s infectious charm, the film provides a moving testament to the power and durability of human connection, even in the unlikeliest of places.

From eruption to obliteration – the sights and sounds of 48 fateful hours in Pompeii

Before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius on 24 August 79 CE, Pompeii was a thriving Roman port city and commercial hub near modern-day Naples, and home to an estimated 15,000 people. Closer to the mountain’s base and on the other side, the nearby town of Herculaneum, estimated population 5,000, was smaller, wealthier and a popular resort for elite Romans. After the eruption, both remained buried, their memories lost to time, until they were excavated and identified in the 18th century. In the years since, the continuing excavation of their eerily preserved buildings, artifacts and human remains have given archeologists and researchers an invaluable window into ancient Roman life.

The only firsthand account of the eruption comes from the author and lawyer Pliny the Younger. In his correspondence with the historian Tacitus, Pliny describes helplessly watching from nearby Misenum as the tragedy unfolds:

Some wishing to die, from the very fear of dying; some lifting their hands to the gods; but the greater part convinced that there were now no gods at all, and that the final endless night of which we have heard had come upon the world.

This animation, produced in 2009 for an exhibition at the Melbourne Museum, brings his harrowing words to stark and vivid life. Transporting viewers back to the morning of the eruption, the video recreates sights and sounds from that fateful day through to the following night, at which point both Pompeii and Herculaneum already lay buried deep in volcanic ash and debris.

Video by Zero One Studio

Aeon is not-for-profit
and free for everyone
Make a donation
Get Aeon straight
to your inbox
Join our newsletter

Fiddlesticks Country Club, a gated community in Fort Meyers, Florida. Photo by Michael Siluk/UIG/Getty

Essay/
Anthropology
Safety is fatal

Humans need closeness and belonging but any society that closes its gates is doomed to atrophy. How do we stay open?

David Napier

Stinson Beach, California, 1973. Photo by Elliott Erwitt/Magnum

Essay/
Animals and humans
The joy of being animal

Human exceptionalism is dead: for the sake of our own happiness and the planet we should embrace our true animal nature

Melanie Challenger