IN PICTURES: Spectacular house with colourful animal frescoes discovered in Pompeii

Archaeologists working at Pompeii continue to uncover incredible finds, 270 years since the remains of the ancient city were first discovered.

IN PICTURES: Spectacular house with colourful animal frescoes discovered in Pompeii
All photos in the article: Sergio Siano/Archaeological site of Pompeii

The latest discovery is a newly unearthed house with brightly coloured animal frescoes, revealed at the site earlier this week.

The residence, which probably belonged to a member of Pompeii's upper class, has been named the House of Dolphins.

As well as the marine mammals that give the site its name, the house's frescoes also show several fish and birds, including a peacock, a partridge, and a parrot. Deer and mythical creatures are also depicted.

Excavations are currently underway in Regio V, a northeastern area of the archaeological park which had not been excavated since the immediate postwar period with some spots completely untouched.

The House of Dolphins was uncovered just a few days after an alleyway of grand houses with mostly intact balconies was found nearby. 

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Just a week before that, archaeologists were able to cast the complete figure of a horse for the first time ever at the site.

And a month earlier, an excavation uncovered the complete skeleton of a young child in a bathhouse long thought to have been fully excavated. That find was the first time a complete skeleton has been discovered at Pompeii in some 20 years, and the first time a child's remains have come to light in around half a century.

The metres of ash that buried the city when Mount Vesuvius erupted meant intricate details were extremely well preserved.

The population of Pompeii is thought to have numbered around 10,000 and as well as the ornate houses, archaeologists have unearthed baths, a gym, and an amphitheatre in the city.

Many of the frescoes revealed on Tuesday were painted in characteristic 'Pompeii red', though in some cases experts believe this colour was created when gases from Vesuvius reacted with originally yellow paint. 

Today, Pompeii is one of the most popular attractions for visitors to Italy, and has UNESCO World Heritage status.

All photos: Sergio Siano/Archaeological site of Pompeii.


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.