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ARCHAEOLOGY

Ancient remains of horse discovered at Pompeii

For the first time ever, archaeologists have been able to cast the complete figure of a horse that perished in the volcanic eruption at Pompeii.

Ancient remains of horse discovered at Pompeii
The plaster cast of a horse, discovered in an ancient stable outside Pompeii. Photo: Parco Archeologico di Pompei

The “extraordinary” discovery was made outside the city walls, in Civita Giuliana to the north of Pompeii proper, the site's directors announced this week.

Excavation in the area revealed what archaeologists identified as a stable, complete with the remains of a trough.

Using the same technique that has allowed them to recreate the final poses of dozens of Pompeii's victims, whereby liquid plaster is injected into the cavities left behind when bodies encased in volcanic matter decomposed, they were able to cast the horse as it would have lain when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. 

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Photo: Parco Archeologico di Pompei

From the remains of its skeleton, they believe the horse was an adult measuring around 150 centimetres tall at the withers: on the short side by today's standards, but given that horses were probably smaller at the time, the experts say it would have been exceptionally large for its time. 

That, along with the fact that traces of a harness in valuable iron and bronze were found by its head, suggests that the animal was a specially bred parade horse, probably of considerable value.

While the skeletons of donkeys and mules have been found at Pompeii, in a stable attached to the Casa dei Casti Amanti ('House of the Chaste Lovers'), it's the first time archaeologists have unearthed the complete outline of a horse. The distinct imprint left by its ear, pressed to the ground as the animal lay on its left side, makes them confident this is indeed a horse and not another type of equid. 


The imprint of the horse's left ear. Photo: Parco Archeologico di Pompei

Along with a pig and a dog, it is one of the few animals of any species to be successfully cast at Pompeii.

Its survival is all the more remarkable for the fact that the area where it was found – a sort of suburb of ancient Pompeii – has been subjected to illegal excavations in recent decades. Alarmed by the discovery of unauthorized tunnels, the site's archaeologists began new digs at Civita Giuliana in order to halt the intrusions and protect its remaining treasures.

As well as the horse, they also found the remains of jugs, tools and kitchen utensils, as well as the grave of a man buried after the fatal eruption – which indicates that people continued to live around or on top of the ruins even after the disaster. 

Intriguing discoveries continue to be made at Pompeii, nearly two millennia and scores of excavations later. Last month, archaeologists discovered the complete skeleton of a young child in a bathhouse long thought to have been fully excavated.

READ ALSO: 'Exceptional discovery' at Pompeii: child's skeleton unearthed


Photo: Parco Archeologico di Pompei

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.

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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.

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