ROME – Excavations at a suburban villa outside ancient Pompeii this month have found the remains of two original residents frozen in time by an eruption of Vesuvius on a fateful morning nearly 2000 years old.
The discovery of the two victims – who archaeologists tentatively identified as a wealthy Pompeian landowner and young slave – offered new insight into the eruption that buried the ancient Roman city, which has been a source of popular fascination ever since. its rediscovery in the 18th century. .
This discovery is for us “an incredible source of knowledge”, said Massimo Osanna, the outgoing director of the archaeological park of Pompeii, in a video released Saturday by the Ministry of Culture. He noted that it was also “a touching discovery of great emotional impact.”
On the one hand, both men were dressed in woolen clothing, adding credence to the belief that the eruption occurred in October 79 AD rather than August of that year, as previously thought. Mr Osanna said later in a telephone interview.
The eruption of Vesuvius was described in a witness account by the Roman magistrate Pliny the Younger as “an extraordinary and alarming scene”. Buried by ash, pumice and rocks, Pompeii and the neighboring towns remained mostly dormant, but intact, until 1748, when King Charles III of Bourbon commissioned the first official excavations of the site.
Since then, much of the ancient city has been unearthed, providing archaeologists and historians with a wealth of information about how its ancient inhabitants lived, from their interiors and what they ate to the tools they used to eat. ‘they used.
Use of a refined method by the Italian archaeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli in 1863 and even further perfected with modern technology, archaeologists last week made plaster casts of the two newly discovered victims. This brings the ranks of posthumous Pompeii effigies to over 100.
As well as being the first time in half a century that archaeologists have created such Pompeii-related casts – an attempt to use cement in the 1990s was unsuccessful – the new casts are also notable by startling details they captured, including what Mr. Osanna described. like the “extraordinary drapery” of their woolen clothes.
“They really look like statues,” he says.
Archaeologists postulate that the two victims had sought refuge in an underground cryptoporticus, or corridor, before being engulfed by a shower of pumice stones, ash and lapilli.
“They most likely died from heat shock, as suggested by the contracted limbs, hands and feet,” Osanna said in the video, adding that DNA testing was underway on the recovered bones. Pompeii officials believe the older man was between 30 and 40 and the youngest between 18 and 23.
The villa where the discovery was made is located Civita Giuliana, an area about 750 meters northwest of the ancient ramparts of Pompeii, which has already yielded important finds, including a purebred horse with a bronze plated saddle discovered in 2018.
Although the archaeological park Closed to visitors on November 6 due to coronavirus restrictions, excavations at the site continued.
Civita Giuliana’s villa was first excavated briefly in 1907 and 1908. But because it is on private property, the kind of government-commissioned excavation typically carried out on public land has not taken place. That changed in 2017, when prosecutors in nearby Torre Annunziata accused a group of people of stealing graves and looting the site using underground tunnels.
The Culture Ministry is in the process of purchasing the land where the villa is located, and Mr Osanna said he hoped it could eventually be opened to the public.
With more than 50 acres yet to be excavated, Pompeii continues to be “an incredible site for research, study and training,” Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said in a statement on Saturday. It is, he said, a mission for “archaeologists of today and tomorrow”.