In the cool shadowy interiors of houses whose owners died almost 2,000 years ago in one of the most famous disasters in history, the first contemporary art works, created by the German artist Catrin Huber with a team from Newcastle University, have just been installed in Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Every centimetre of surviving original material is precious in the World Heritage sites that attract millions of visitors every year. Any damage, such as recent collapses at Pompeii, creates world headlines.

The towns were destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD, when thousands of the residents died in lava flows, choking clouds of poison gas or showers of ash that left them buried many metres deep, preserving the foods they ate and the tables they ate off, the brilliantly painted walls of their homes, the rude slogans and the shop prices they scrawled on street corners and, hauntingly, their own petrified bodies, to be rediscovered in the 18th century. Read more