Stays of Two Killed in Vesuvius Eruption Are Found at Pompeii
ROME – Excavations at a suburban mansion outside of ancient Pompeii this month uncovered the remains of two original residents who were frozen by an eruption from Mount Vesuvius on a fateful morning nearly 2,000 years ago.
The exposure of the two victims, who archaeologists tentatively identified as wealthy Pompeii landowners and younger enslaved people, provided new insights into the eruption that buried the ancient Roman city, a source of popular fascination since its rediscovery in the 18th century.
The result is an “incredible source of knowledge for us,” said Massimo Osanna, the outgoing director of the Pompeii Archaeological Park, in a video released by the Ministry of Culture on Saturday. He noted that it was also “a touching discovery of great emotional impact”.
For one, the two were dressed in woolen clothing, which confirms the belief that the outbreak occurred in October 79 AD instead of August of that year as previously believed, Mr Osanna later said in a telephone interview.
The eruption of Vesuvius was described in an eyewitness report by the Roman magistrate Pliny the Younger as an “extraordinary and alarming scene”. Pompeii and the neighboring cities, buried by ash, pumice and stones, largely rested, if intact, until King Charles III. Commissioned the first official excavations of the site by Bourbon in 1748.
Much of the ancient city has since been excavated to provide archaeologists and historians with a wealth of information about how the ancient residents lived, from their home decor to what they ate to the tools they used.
Using a method refined in 1863 by the Italian archaeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli and refined with modern technology, archaeologists made plaster casts of the two newly discovered victims last week. This means that Pompeii’s posthumous portraits have risen to over 100.
Not only did the new casts mark the first time in half a century that archaeologists made such casts in connection with Pompeii – an attempt to use cement in the 1990s was unsuccessful – but they are also distinguished by surprising details, including those described by Mr. Osanna as “extraordinary curtains” on her woolen clothing.
“They really seem like statues,” he said.
Archaeologists believe the two victims took refuge in an underground cryptoportico or corridor before being enveloped in a shower of pumice stones, ash and lapilli.
“They very likely died from thermal shock as the contracted limbs, hands and feet suggest,” Osanna said in the video, adding that DNA tests were done on the recovered bones. Pompeii officials believe the older man was 30 to 40 years old and the younger man was between 18 and 23 years old.
The villa where the discovery was made is located in Civita Giuliana, an area about 750 meters northwest of Pompeii’s ancient walls where important finds have already been found, including a purebred horse with a bronze-colored saddle that was uncovered in 2018.
Although the archaeological park was closed to visitors on November 6 because of coronavirus restrictions, excavations continued on the site.
The villa in Civita Giuliana was first briefly excavated in 1907 and 1908. However, because it is privately owned, no government-commissioned excavations, which are usually carried out on public land, have taken place. That all changed in 2017 when prosecutors in nearby Torre Annunziata accused a group of people of robbing graves and looting the site using underground tunnels.
The Ministry of Culture is in the process of buying the land the villa is on and Mr Osanna said he hoped it could eventually be open to the public.
With more than 50 hectares yet to be excavated, Pompeii continues to be “an incredible place for research, study and training,” said Minister of Culture Dario Franceschini in a statement on Saturday. It is a mission for the “archaeologists of today and the future”.