Ancient Roman fugitives’ bones found in Pompeii shop

The skeletons of four ancient Romans, who died huddled together in the back of a shop during the fatal volcanic eruption of AD 79, have been unearthed in Pompeii.

Ancient Roman fugitives' bones found in Pompeii shop
The four skeletons died in AD 79. Photo: Archaeological site of Pompeii

The surprise discovery was made by a team of French and Italian archaeologists during an attempt to find out more about the city's pre-Roman history, following the nearby discovery of a fourth century BC Samnite tomb last year.

The bodies were found in what archaeologists expect was a bronze-maker's workshop and early analysis reveals the remains belong to four young people, including a teenage girl.

“The find was made at Potra Ercolano, an area of the city where artisans used to make and sell their goods,” archaeologist Annalisa Capurso told The Local.

Part of the workshop. Photo: Archaeological site of Pompeii

Experts think the four youngsters had taken refuge in the back of the the workshop as ash and pumice began to rain down on the city during the fatal eruption of nearby Vesuvius.

“We know that the roof of the building didn't collapse during the eruption, so the group probably suffocated as hot ash and volcanic gas filled the shop,” Capurso added.

Near the remains, archaeologists found three gold coins dated 74, 77, and 79 AD and a golden necklace pendant in the shape of a leaf.

One of the coins found near the bones. Photo: Archaeological site of Pompeii

The bones of the four Romans were mixed together in a heap, having been hastily dug up and reburied by looters thousands of years ago.

The grave showed signs of having been disturbed. Photo: Photo: Archaeological site of Pompeii

“In the years after the eruption, Romans used to come to Pompeii and dig out anything they could recycle,” Capurso added.

While the huddling skeletons may have been a surprise find, archaeologists also turned up another Samnite tomb dating to the fourth century BC.

The limestone tomb, found near the workshop, contains the remains of a male individual who was buried alongside six black vases. The contents of the vases is unknown but they were most likely included as a funerary offering to the gods.

A jar found in the grave. Photo: Photo: Archaeological site of Pompeii

Experts will be carrying out more studies in the area over the coming months in the hope they can reveal more about the ancient city.

Pompeii is Italy's top cultural attraction bringing more than 2.5 million visitors each year.

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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.

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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.”

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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.