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Skeleton of WWI soldier found in Italian Alps

A century since battles raged across northern Italy's Alpine front during the First World War, remains believed to belong to a young soldier have been found.

Skeleton of WWI soldier found in Italian Alps
Italian troops on the Italian front. Photo: Bibliothèque nationale de France
The skeleton was discovered in May by 57-year-old Livio De Francesco, near the summit of Costabella in Val di Fassa. Di Francesco has worked extensively to recover the remains of soldiers from along the mountains of the great war. 
 
De Francesco is also working to protect and restore the 35km long labyrinth of trenches and tunnels built on Costabella centuries ago. He found the complete skeleton after seeing a pair of old boots poking out of a scree slope after a heavy storm.
 
““I'm sure it's an Italian soldier”,” he told Corriere Della Sera in the video below. ““You can tell by what's left of his boots, the '91 ammo he has for his rifle and the Sipe hand grenade found near the body.””
 

 
The remains are yet to be officially identified, but the skeleton revealed a healthy young man, around 1.80 – much taller than average.  ““His tooth enamel is in excellent condition,”” De Francesco said in the video.
 
De Francesco believes the anonymous soldier was killed 100 years ago –during the Italian advances of June and July 1915, along with several of his comrades.

The skeleton has a shrapnel wound to the right shoulder blade. The corpse was buried by a meter and a half of scree – perhaps due to an explosion or storm – and was never found until now.

 
“June and July 1915 were bloody months on the mountain. “At that time, the Italian generals were trying to gain dominance on the peaks that overlooked Val Corevole so that they could potentially open up a route to Bolzano,”” Michele Simonetti Federspiel, the curator of a local history museum, told Corriere.
 
Near the summit, the slopes of Costabella still show signs of their bloody past. The entrances to tunnels and rotten trench boards are still visible and rocks are stained with rust from barbed wire and shrapnel. Every now and again, a body turns up.
 
In 2014, the mummified remains of two Austrian soldiers were found as ice receded on the Presena glacier in northern Italy, and similar finds are made every year, bringing to light bodies, ammunition and soldiers' belongings.
 
Italy entered the First World War on the side of the allies in 1915, in an attempt to win the territories of Trentino, South Tyrol and Northern Dalmatia.
 
Along the front, some 58 Italian divisions fought against troops from the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires, alongside a small number of troops from the Czechoslovakia, America, France and Britain.
 
The treacherous terrain and extreme cold in winters made it a uniquely harrowing theater of conflict. In total, over 13 million men fought along their front, where they braved winter temperatures of up to -30 degrees.
 
One million men, like the unnamed soldier, never made it home.

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HISTORY

Italian archaeologists uncover slave room at Pompeii in ‘rare’ find

Pompeii archaeologists said Saturday they have unearthed the remains of a "slave room" in an exceptionally rare find at a Roman villa destroyed by Mount Vesuvius' eruption nearly 2,000 years ago.

Archaeologists in Pompeii who discovered a room which likely housed slaves. 
Archaeologists said the newly-discovered room in Pompeii likely housed slaves charged with maintaining chariots.  Photo: Archaeological Park of Pompeii press office.

The little room with three beds, a ceramic pot and a wooden chest was discovered during a dig at the Villa of Civita Giuliana, a suburban villa just a few hundred metres from the rest of the ancient city.

An almost intact ornate Roman chariot was discovered here at the start of this year, and archaeologists said Saturday that the room likely housed slaves charged with maintaining and prepping the chariot.

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“This is a window into the precarious reality of people who rarely appear in historical sources, written almost exclusively by men belonging to the elite,” said Pompeii’s director general Gabriel Zuchtriegel.

Photo: Archaeological Park of Pompeii press office.

The “unique testimony” into how “the weakest in the ancient society lived… is certainly one of the most exciting discoveries in my life as an archaeologist,” he said in a press release.

Pompeii was buried in ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, killing those who hadn’t managed to leave the city in time. They were either crushed by collapsing buildings or killed by thermal shock.

The 16-square metre (170-square feet) room was a cross between a bedroom and a storeroom: as well as three beds – one of which was child sized – there were eight amphorae, stashed in a corner.

Photo: Archaeological Park of Pompeii press office.

The wooden chest held metal and fabric objects that seem to be part of the harnesses of the chariot horses, and a chariot shaft was found resting on one of the beds.

The remains of three horses were found in a stable in a dig earlier this year.

“The room grants us a rare insight into the daily reality of slaves, thanks to the exceptional state of preservation of the room,” the Pompeii archaeological park said.

READ ALSO: Four civilizations in Italy that pre-date the Roman Empire

Image: Archaeological Park of Pompeii press office.

Experts had been able to make plaster casts of the beds and other objects in perishable materials which left their imprint in the cinerite — the rock made of volcanic ash — that covered them, it said.

The beds were made of several roughly worked wooden planks, which could be adjusted according to the height of the person who used them.

The webbed bases of the beds were made of ropes, covered by blankets.

While two were around 1.7 metres long, one measured just 1.4 metres, and may therefore have belonged to a child.

The archaeological park said the three slaves may have been a family.

Archaeologists found several personal objects under the beds, including amphorae for private things, ceramic jugs and what might be a chamber pot.

The room was lit by a small upper window, and there are no traces or wall decorations, just a mark believed to have been left by a lantern hung on a wall.

“This incredible new discovery at Pompeii demonstrates that today the archaeological site has become not only one of the most desirable visitor destinations in the world, but also a place where research is carried out and new and experimental technologies are employed,” said Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini.

“Thanks to this important new discovery, our knowledge of the daily life of ancient Pompeians has been enriched, particularly of that element of society about which little is known even today. Pompeii is a model of study that is unique in the world.”

READ ALSO: Why is Italy called Italy?

The excavation is part of a programme launched in 2017 aimed at fighting illegal activity in the area, including tunnel digging to reach artefacts that can be sold on illicit markets.

The Villa of Civita Giuliana had been the target of systematic looting for years. There was evidence some of the “archaeological heritage” in this so-called Slave Room had also been lost to looters, the park said.

Damage by grave robbers in the villa had been estimated so far at almost two million euros ($2.3 million), it added.

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