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Remains of two killed in Vesuvius eruption are discovered at Pompeii
Plaster casts of two victims that were that were unearthed in an excavation outside ancient Pompeii this month. Photo: Pompeii - Parco Archeologico.

by Elisabetta Povoledo



ROME (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- 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 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 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.

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 later in a telephone interview.

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.

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.

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, adding that DNA testing was being carried out on the recovered bones. Pompeii officials believe the older man to have been 30 to 40 years old, and the younger between 18 and 23.

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.

Although the archaeological park closed to visitors on Nov. 6 because of coronavirus restrictions, excavations at the site have continued.

Editor Notes: (Web Summary: Archaeologists tentatively identified the pair as a wealthy landowner and a younger enslaved person, both of whom were killed in the 79 A.D. eruption.)

© 2020 The New York Times Company










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