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2 more Pompeii-area residents unearthed

by The New York Times | November 22, 2020 at 12:30 a.m.

ROME -- Excavations at a suburban villa outside ancient Pompeii this month have recovered the remains of two original dwellers frozen in time by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius one fateful morning nearly 2,000 years ago.

The unearthing of the two victims -- whom archaeologists tentatively identified as a wealthy Pompeian landowner and a younger enslaved person -- offered new insight into the eruption that buried the ancient Roman town, which has been a source of popular fascination since its rediscovery in the 18th century.

The finding is an "incredible font of knowledge for us," Massimo Osanna, departing director of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, said in a video issued by the Culture Ministry on Saturday. He noted that it was also "a touching discovery of great emotional impact."

For one thing, the two were dressed in woolen clothing, adding credence to the belief that the eruption occurred in October of 79 A.D. rather than in August of that year, as had previously been thought, Osanna said in a phone interview.

The Vesuvius eruption was described in an eyewitness account by Roman magistrate Pliny the Younger as "an extraordinary and alarming scene." Buried by ash, pumice and rocks, Pompeii and neighboring cities lay mostly dormant, though 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 dwellers lived, from their home decor to what they ate to the tools they used.

Using a method refined by Italian archaeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli in 1863 and further honed with modern technology, archaeologists last week made plaster casts of the two newly discovered victims. That brings the ranks of Pompeii's posthumous effigies to more than 100.

In addition to being the first time in half a century that archaeologists created such casts linked to Pompeii -- an attempt using cement in the 1990s was not successful -- the new casts are also remarkable in the surprising details they captured, including what Osanna described as the "extraordinary drapery" of their woolen clothing.


Archaeologists posit that the two victims had sought refuge in an underground corridor before being engulfed by a shower of pumice stones, ash and lapilli.

"They very likely died by thermal shock, as the contracted limbs, hands and feet would suggest," Osanna said in the video.

The villa where the discovery was made is in Civita Giuliana, an area about 750 yards northwest of Pompeii's ancient walls, which has already yielded important finds, including a purebred horse with a bronze-plated saddle uncovered in 2018.


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