Jana is an amateur archaeologist who examined her first rock at the age of 2. She likes to group ancient discoveries together in fun lists.
What Happened at Pompeii?
In 79 A.D., the volcano Mount Vesuvius erupted. Located just south of Naples, the outburst destroyed two Roman cities near its slopes. The more famous settlement was Pompeii, which receives millions of tourists a year. The neighboring city of Herculaneum was similarly erased by Vesuvius and also yielded several bodies of people who couldn't escape the disaster.
Nobody would ever know why one particular child was alone on that day in 79 A.D. When the youngster's body was discovered in 2018, the bones were a huge surprise. No remains of children had been found at the devastated Pompeii in nearly fifty years. But that wasn't really the reason.
Researchers never expected to find anything significant. All they wanted to do was to sweep the city's central baths with new scanning equipment. The area was thought to be one of Pompeii's fully investigated locations but radar soon proved everyone wrong.
The child, who was about seven or eight years old, tried to take shelter in the building. There, he or she died alone. A lack of damage to the skeleton showed that the youngster didn't perish from falling debris. Instead, suffocation was likely how it all ended. When Vesuvius released its deadly pyroclastic flow, scorching ash that travels immensely fast, many of the victims were suffocated by it in both cities. In the child's case, it's possible that the ash poured in through the windows of the building and sealed off the structure.
A Bath for Everyone
World's Unluckiest Man
Also discovered in 2018, the Internet had a field day when the news broke – a fleeing Pompeii citizen had been found, and he was killed when a huge rock smashed his head into the earth. Called the 'unluckiest man' because his city went up in flames, he was hampered by a limp and just as he made it to apparent safety, he got smacked from behind.
The image appears almost too perfect. The skeleton rests in a shallow grave of ancient ash and where the head should be stands a giant tombstone of a rock. However, once investigations got underway, the truth was different to what had been initially assumed (death by a crushed skull). When the man was first found, it was declared that his head was missing. Then, somebody looked under the stone and found the skull. The condition of the skull, which was intact and not crushed, indicated the man never felt the stone's impact because he was probably long dead.
Archaeologists believe that the individual, who was around thirty years old, escaped Pompeii through one of the alleyways but asphyxiated when the pyroclastic flow surged down the volcano's side. The stone block likely got hurled during or after the flow, which had enough force to pick up something so huge. The block's design showed it was artificial and might've been a part of a building, probably a doorjamb.
The Parade Horse
People weren't the only ones petrified at Pompeii. In the past, the remains of pigs, donkeys, mules and a dog were added to the body count. In 2018, the first horse made its appearance.
Outside of the ancient city's walls, excavations unearthed a stable. Inside, were the ash-sealed cavity of a horse. Once ash settled on the corpse, rain made it as hard as cement. Eventually, the body rotted away and left a hollow shape still protected by a shell of ash. Archaeologists injected plaster into this cavity, broke open the shell and got a really great look at the animal. Resembling a statue, the horse rested on its side and even small details, such as its teeth and ears, were visible. It was also small compared to modern horses but remarkably big for Roman times. The creature stood about 4.9 feet (1.5 meters) at the shoulder.
The Pompeii animal revealed interesting clues about horses in Pompeii:
1. It's height indicated that selective breeding of horses was practiced in region
2. Near the skull was an iron harness with bronze studs, something that meant the animal interacted with people and to have such finery, was valuable to them
3. Researchers believe the horse may have belonged to a special breed used only for circus games, parades and races.
The Two Maidens
The Girls that were Guys
In the early 20th century, archaeologists found two victims. Caught in an eternal embrace, they would soon become an iconic image of Pompeii's tragedy. Due to their tender final moments, it was assumed that they were young girls or women. Dubbed “The Two Maidens” it took DNA and scans to prove that they were not female. Technically, the Maidens are not new bodies but this gender-bender was a big surprise when it happened in 2017.
A CAT scan of the bones and teeth proved that they were both male. One was aged around eighteen years old and the other was probably twenty years or older. Turned towards each other, one man had his head on the other's chest. There was clearly some kind of friendship or emotional connection but what it was cannot be said for certain. The chance that this was a gay couple cannot be discarded either, although it can also never be proven. All that is certain about their relationship is what the DNA revealed — they were not related.
The Last Customers
In 2016, French and Italian archaeologists were working on the outskirts of the city when they found several shops. Within the ruins of one shop they uncovered several skeletons belonging to young individuals, including an adolescent girl. The most popular theory considers them the final customers to that particular business but in all fairness, the group might also have chosen the building as a shelter during the disaster. Like so many others who believed that being indoors would save them, the young adults also died.
Artifacts suggested the shop was some kind of jewelry store. In addition to the skeletons, the team found gold coins, a necklace pendant wrapped with gold leaf and there was also an oven. This oven was probably part of a workshop that produced bronze items. Interestingly, the scene in the shop also proved that looters are not a modern species. There was clear evidence that somebody ransacked the rooms after the eruption, most likely looking for food or valuables.
Did You Know?
- When Pompeii's vineyards were excavated, modern winemakers reproduced the growing techniques and the same species of grape to produce an authentic Pompeii wine, which today, can be ordered by its name Villa dei Misteri
- Mount Vesuvius remains the only active volcano on Europe's mainland
- About 30,000 people perished at Pompeii
- The ruins of Pompeii is a World Heritage site
- Most of the city's skeletons had excellent teeth, thanks to a Mediterranean diet of low sugar and high fiber
© 2018 Jana Louise Smit
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on July 15, 2018:
Thanks for sharing the details about the new discoveries at Pompeii. The damage caused by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius was a very sad event in history.