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 located near its slopes. The more famous settlement was Pompeii. The neighbouring city of Herculaneum was similarly erased by Vesuvius.
The Eruption of Vesuvius
Nobody would ever know why one particular child was alone on that day in 79 A.D. But the youngster's body was discovered in 2018 when researchers swept the city's central baths with new radar equipment. They found the child's bones in a corner that had never been excavated before.
The child, aged about seven or eight, tried to take shelter in the building. There, he or she died alone, most likely overcome by lethal volcanic gases.
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 by the boulder.
However, the truth was different to what had been initially assumed (death by a crushed skull). When the man was first found, it was assumed that his head was flattened under the rock. However, it was found some distance away and the skull was not crushed at all.
Archaeologists now believe that the man escaped Pompeii through an alleyway but asphyxiated when the pyroclastic flow surged down the volcano's side. The stone block was likely hurled by the flow as well and although it hit the body, somehow never destroyed his head.
The Parade Horse
People weren't the only ones to perish and leave strange bodies behind at Pompeii. In 2018, the first horse made its appearance.
Outside of the 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 that is 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. The animal was small compared to modern horses but remarkably big for Roman times - it stood about 4.9 feet (1.5 meters) at the shoulder.
The body revealed interesting clues about horses in Pompeii. including that its height suggested that selective breeding of horses was practised in the region. The horse may also 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.
A CAT scan of the bones and teeth proved that they were males. One was aged around 18 and the other was twenty years or older. DNA tests showed that they were not related.
One man had his head on the other's chest, showing an emotional connection but what it was cannot be said for certain. Were they friends? Lovers? Teacher and student? Nobody knows.
The Last Customers
In 2016, archaeologists excavated the outskirts of the city when they found several shops. Inside one shop were skeletons belonging to young individuals, including an adolescent girl.
The most popular theory states that they were the final customers on that fateful day. But 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.
Artefacts suggested the shop was some kind of jewellery store. In addition to the skeletons, the team also 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.
The Master and Slave
The Roman Priest
In 2021, researchers found another body. Whereas most of the other Pompeii citizens were discovered nameless and frozen in poses of agony, the new guy had a name and he never suffered. Marcus Venerius Secundio died decades before the eruption and was peacefully interred in Porta Sarno, a necropolis within the city.
Inscriptions spoke about his rise from slave to priest and that he was the custodian of the Temple of Venus. He spoke both Latin and Greek. The size of his tomb also showed that he was a wealthy individual by the time he passed away somewhere in his 60s.
Another unusual thing about the discovery was the fact that he was, well, a skeleton. In the past, it was believed that the Romans of the time always cremated the dead out of fear and respect for the gods. But Secundio was mummified, showing white hair and even a partial ear. Pompeii was known for bending the rules but this is the first sign that the city also broke this particular taboo.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 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.