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The skeletal remains of what is believed to have been a wealthy man and his slave trying to escape death from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius nearly 2,000 years ago have been discovered in Pompeii, officials at the archaeological park in Italy said on Saturday.

Parts of the skulls and bones of the two men were found during the excavation of the ruins of what was once an elegant villa with a panoramic view of the Mediterranean Sea on the outskirts of the ancient Roman city destroyed by the eruption of the volcano in the 79 AD

It is the same area where a stable with the remains of three harnessed horses was excavated in 2017.

The casts of what is believed to be a rich man and his slave fleeing the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius nearly 2000 years ago. (AP)
A detail of the molds of one of two bodies. One is believed to be a wealthy man in his 30s and 40s and the other his slave. (AP)

Pompeii officials said the men apparently escaped the initial ashfall from Mount Vesuvius and then succumbed to a powerful volcanic explosion that took place the next morning.

The subsequent blast “apparently invaded the area from many points, surrounding and burying the victims in ashes,” Pompeii officials said in a statement.

The remains of the two victims, lying side by side on their backs, were found in a layer of gray ash at least two meters deep, they said.

As was done when other remains were discovered at the Pompeii site, archaeologists poured liquid chalk into the cavities, or the void, left by decaying bodies in the ash and pumice that rained down from the volcano near present-day Naples and demolished the upper levels of the villa.

The men’s remains were found in a cryptoporticus below a villa, where the men are believed to have sought refuge from the eruption. (AP)

The technique, pioneered in the 19th century, gives the image not only of the shape and position of the victims in the midst of death, but also makes the remains “look like statues,” said Massimo Osanna, an archaeologist who is director general of the archeology. park operated under the jurisdiction of the Italian Ministry of Culture.

Judging from the cranial bones and teeth, one of the men was young, probably between the ages of 18 and 25, with a compressed disc spine.

That finding led archaeologists to hypothesize that it was a young man who did manual labor, like that of a slave.

The other man had a robust bone structure, especially in the chest area, and died with his hands on his chest and his legs bent and apart. He was estimated to be between 30 and 40 years old, Pompeii officials said.

Chunks of white paint were found near the man’s face, likely remnants of a collapsed upper wall, authorities said.

Both skeletons were found in a side room along an underground corridor, known in ancient Roman times as the cryptoporticus, that led to the upper level of the villa.

It is the same area where a stable with the remains of three harnessed horses was excavated in 2017. (AP)

“The victims were probably seeking refuge in the cryptoporticus, in this underground space, where they thought they were better protected,” Osanna said.

Instead, on the morning of October 25, AD 79, a “fiery cloud (of volcanic material) reached Pompeii and … killed anyone it encountered,” Osanna said.

Based on the impression of the folds of the cloth left in the ash cloak, it appeared that the young man was wearing a short, pleated tunic, possibly of wool. The older victim, in addition to wearing a tunic, appeared to have a cloak over his left shoulder.

Mount Vesuvius is still an active volcano.

As excavations continue at the site near Naples, tourists are currently prohibited from accessing the archaeological park under national anti-COVID-19 measures.

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