Archaeologists find remains of a man and his slave killed in the Pompeii eruption
The men may have escaped the first volcanic eruption that destroyed the city but died in the blast the next day.
The deadly eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Pompeii happened nearly 2,000 years ago, but more evidence from that horrifying event continues to reveal itself even now.
Partial male skeletons from that time period have been unearthed, officials at Italy’s Pompeii archaeological park said on Saturday.
During an excavation of ruins about 700 meters (about 2,300 feet) northwest of Pompeii, two skeletons were found lying next to each other in a layer of grey ash at least 6.5 feet (2 meters) deep.
Archaeologists poured plaster into the empty spaces left by the decaying bodies in the ash.
This technique, pioneered in the 1800s, better shows the victims’ bodies but also makes the remains “seem like statues,” Massimo Osanna, an archaeologist who is director of the archaeological park operated under the jurisdiction of the Italian Culture Ministry, explained to AP News.
The skeletons were found in a side room of a suburban villa along an underground corridor called a cryptoporticus.
“The victims were probably looking for shelter in the cryptoporticus, in this underground space, where they thought they were better protected,” Osanna said.
Studying the skulls and teeth, archaeologists have determined one of the men was between the ages of 18 and 25.
The young man also had a spinal column with compressed discs, which led archaeologists to hypothesize he may have done manual labour as a slave.
The impression of fabric folds left in the ash layer also shows the younger man may have been wearing a short, pleated wool tunic.
The other male skeleton had a strong bone structure, especially in his chest area.
He was estimated to have been between the ages of 30 and 40. He may have been wearing a tunic as well as a mantle over his left shoulder.
Archaeologists believe these two men died suddenly, according to a statement, not during the first eruption but instead during the second pyroclastic flow, a violent, energetic flow that struck Pompeii and the surrounding area in the early hours of Oct. 25, leading to the death of the survivors who were still present in the city and countryside.
St. Peter’s Birthplace Possibly Discovered By Archaeologists
In a stunning claim, archaeologists believe they have discovered the home of Peter and Andrew, principal followers of Jesus Christ.
A team led by archaeologists Mordechai Aviam and Steven Notley brought to light a large Greek inscription at a basilica of the Byzantine era of 1,200 years ago. The inscription refers to the donor “Constantine, the servant of Christ,” as well as an intercession naming St. Peter “chief and commander of the heavenly apostles.”
Constantine was emperor of Rome (306-337 AD) and was the first Christian ruler of the empire. The inscription is framed by a round medallion that is part of a larger mosaic floor consisting of tiles called “tesserae” that once graced the sacristy of the church. The floor also features swirling patterns of flowers.
As used by Christian writers of the Byzantine, or Roman Empire of the East, the title “chief and commander of the apostles” refers to Apostle Peter.
“This discovery is our strongest indicator that Peter had a special association with the basilica, and it was likely dedicated to him. Since Byzantine Christian tradition routinely identified Peter’s home in Bethsaida, and not in Capernaum as is often thought today, it seems likely that the basilica commemorates his house,” said Notley of Nyack College in New York City.
The archaeologists have dubbed the site the “Church of the Apostles.” The excavation took place in the Betiha nature preserve in Israel, undertaken by Nyack College and Kinneret College of Israel, and was sponsored by the Center for the Study of Ancient Judaism and Christian Origins, the Museum of the Bible, the Lanier Theological Library Foundation, and HaDavar Yeshiva.
It is part of efforts to seek the biblical Jewish village of Bethsaida, and its connections to the modern Beit HaBek (al-A’raj) area.
“One of the goals of this dig was to check whether we have at the site a layer from the 1st century, which will allow us to suggest a better candidate for the identification of Biblical Bethsaida. Not only did we find significant remains from this period, but we also found this important church and the monastery around it,” said Mordechai Aviam of Israel who directed the dig.
According to the team, the uncovering of the ancient inscription underscores the belief that the basilica is the same one described by Bishop Willibald of Eichstätt, an 8th century A.D. Catholic churchman who wrote that the church was built over the house of Peter and Andrew.
While Willibald was travelling from Capernaum on the shore of the Sea of Galilee to the village of Kursi, he overnighted at a place he was told “is Bethsaida from which came Peter and Andrew. There is now a church where previously was their house.”
Roman artefacts found at the site appear to support the witness of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, who wrote his seminal work “Jewish Antiquities” during the First Century of the Christian era that the village of Bethsaida became a Roman polis or town bearing the name Julias.
According to the Gospel of Matthew, Peter was the first to declare the messiahship of Jesus and was thus considered the chief of the apostles.
The Catholic Church considers St. Peter the first of a line of popes extant until the present day. The prominence of St. Peter is demonstrated by the Basilica of St. Peter on Vatican Hill in Rome, over the place where he was crucified.
According to the excavators at what they believe is the Church of the Apostles, “It seems his home was likewise commemorated in Bethsaida.”
The archaeologists are cleaning up the site and hope to find further inscriptions confirming it as a shrine to the first pope, as well as its connections to ancient Israel.
In the 1950s, a Roman necropolis (or cemetery) was found in the centre of Barcelona, hailing from the second and third centuries AD.
The site – Plaça de la Vila de Madrid – was excavated again between 2000 and 2003, when a funerary complex of about 500 square feet was discovered. This collective grave – containing the remains or ashes of 66 individuals – was set up to bury slaves or low-income free people.
By paying a monthly fee during their lifetimes, Romans of the lowest echelons could secure decent burials. However, problems arose when relatives had to carry out obligatory ritual banquets in front of the tombs, for not everyone could celebrate the deceased as tradition dictated. For instance, according to authors like Cicero, a tomb was only considered a tomb following the sacrifice of a pig – a high-priced animal beyond the reach of slaves or most citizens.
Within the necropolis, in addition to human remains, some animal bones have also been found, confirming that the funerary rites required by law – such as banquets and offerings – were indeed carried out.
A hole was made in the graves, through which food and drink were introduced. Offerings, banquets and animal sacrifices were made to ensure the nourishment and protection of the deities and the memory of the deceased. Archaeologists have also unearthed pottery and plants inside the tombs.
In a study for the academic journal Plos One titled “Food for the soul and food for the body: studying dietary patterns and funerary meals in the Western Roman Empire,” the authors explain that “the age, sex, offerings and diet of the buried individuals show some differences… suggesting that the inequalities present in life could have also persisted in the funerary rituals.”
The human remains found in Vila de Madrid have been subjected to carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis to determine the diet of the buried individuals, so as to contrast it with the remains of the animals consumed during the funerary banquet. And, in addition to human remains, animal bones have also been analyzed.
The analysis has determined that 30 per cent of identified animals were pigs, 27.1 per cent bovines, 24.3 per cent goats and 10 per cent chickens. Remains of roe deer, hare, rabbit and fox were also documented.
The most frequent bones documented were scapulae, humeri, radii, ulnae, pelvis, femurs and tibias, indicating that the parts richest in meat were consumed, although they came from old animals in order to reduce the costs of the banquets.
“This is an important point, as it suggests that only animals that could not be exploited for other purposes were being slaughtered… therefore, the economic burden of slaughtering could be minimized,” notes the article in Plos One.
Women and men in Rome did not eat the same protein sources – men generally ate more meat.
“This could mean that sociocultural tastes for food were different between the sexes, or that more males than females had access to protein-rich resources perhaps due to custom, social status, wealth, or medical advice.”
Roman doctors advised “eating different types of food depending on mood.” Men, they thought, were “hot and dry,” so it was recommended that they eat “cold and wet food,” such as fish. Women, on the other hand, were “cold and wet,” so they had to eat “hot and dry food, like oats.”
In short, the study reveals that “although the offerings and banquets were stipulated by law, not everyone could afford to make sumptuous or rich offerings.
The presence of bird remains and portions rich in meat suggests that the relatives of the deceased tried to follow the law as closely as possible.” Yet, it is clear that the poor did not eat like the rich… even in death.
Cupra Marittima, in Italy’s Marche region, is today a sleepy seaside town — but it was once a thriving and powerful outpost of the Roman Empire. Close to the pristine beaches of the Adriatic coast lie the ruins of the ancient Cupra temple, where a new discovery has come to light.
Last week, archaeologists recovered parts of the 2,000-year-old temple’s frescoed walls and ceiling, painted in blue, yellow, red, black and green hues and decorated with flowery garlands, images of candelabra and tiny palms.
Finding ancient Roman temples with interiors “still covered in paintings” is “extremely rare,” said archaeologist Marco Giglio, the site’s research project coordinator and a professor at the University of Naples L’Orientale.
“It’s the first time that the ruins of a shrine painted with such a wide palette of colours in an incredibly well-preserved state — and with such rich, elaborate decorations — has been unearthed,” he claimed in a phone interview, adding: “Once we have cleaned and analyzed all the 100 fragments found and pieced them together, we hope it will give us a complete picture of what the temple once looked like.”
Giglio hopes that the discovery sheds new light on the engineering techniques used by the Romans. Studying the walls’ recurring decorative motifs may also help researchers further understand the city’s local economy.
“The chronology of the different styles and decorative elements could tell (us) a lot about the artisan shops active at the time,” he said. “And the patterns and motifs could highlight whether it was the work of just one atelier or more.”
Unusual painting style
The Cupra temple, built at the start of the first century AD, was the spiritual hub of a strategically and commercially important city that helped the Romans control the Adriatic coast and its maritime trading routes. Excavation began in July and is being led by the University of Naples L’Orientale and Cupra Marittima’s town council, which oversees the archaeological park where the old city’s ruins are situated.
Unusually, the newly discovered wall paintings appear to have been created in the so-called Third Pompeian (or “ornamental”) style typically used to decorate rich households in Pompeii and Rome, rather than religious structures, according to Giglio.
The ancient sanctuary is thought to have had a sky-blue ceiling, while the lower part of the temple’s walls was painted yellow. Red, black and yellow squares were separated by images of candelabra and garlands, with green bands of colour running horizontally along the walls. “Recovering intact ancient wall paintings like these are very rare. Paint is hard to preserve across time due to humidity, and it’s also very hard to dig out correctly during an excavation,” said Ilaria Benetti, an archaeologist from Pisa and Livorno provinces’ Superintendence of Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape in a phone interview.
“The incredible state of preservation and integrity of the frescoed parts, and the extremely rich colour palette used — particularly the bright sky-blue and pinkish-red — stand out as quite exceptional when compared to the traditional red paint normally used in ancient times, thus suggesting it was a lavish shrine,” added Benetti, who is a frescoes expert but was not directly involved in the excavation.
Giglio added: “The sky-blue colour is very rare for ceilings, which leads us to believe it was meant to indicate the celestial vault and that the shrine was built to honour a goddess.”
Although the temple shares a name with Cupra, an Etruscan goddess later incorporated into Roman religion, archaeologists have yet to determine which cult was associated with the shrine. A large statue of a goddess was likely kept in the main cell for worshippers, said Giglio. Over time, most of the temple was destroyed, though the podium and a staircase leading to the entrance have survived. The rest of the shrine has been reduced to a heap of fragments lying one meter (more than three feet) below the ground, where archaeologists began digging earlier in the summer.
The temple underwent several radical changes after its foundation, making it harder for Gilgio’s team to envision what it originally looked like. In 127 AD, the Roman emperor Hadrian funded a complete overhaul of the shrine as he feared it might collapse due to structural damage caused by ageing or natural disasters.
To reinforce the structure, Hadrian is thought to have had the painted walls chiselled off and covered in marble. This process pulverized the original coloured sections but they were later used as a base for the new floors. “That’s why the fragments recovered have been so well preserved, because their life was indeed short, roughly only a hundred years,” said Giglio, noting that this detail supports the idea that Roman builders recycled materials.
Hadrian then added nine-meter high columns with ornate capitals, semi-columns and lion-headed roof dripstones, some parts of which have now been found. He also built two brick arches that still flank the temple site.
According to Giglio, Hadrian’s pagan masterpiece was later crushed to pieces starting from the 7th century. The marbles and columns were knocked down to be used as building materials, while at the end of the 19th century the temple walls were demolished to make room for a since-abandoned rural house that still looms over the shrine’s ruins.
“The house was actually built by incorporating part of the sanctuary’s walls, so we’re still trying to figure out whether it is best to restore it or take it down to recover the shrine in its entirety,” said Giglio. With just one-fifth of the temple site excavated thus far, the archaeologist said his team has had “just a taste” of what’s to come. “Who knows what other decorations, patterns and elements could come to light?” he said. “It would be great that what we will unearth will lead to understanding exactly how a construction site worked back in ancient Roman times.”
Ancient Roman chariot unearthed ‘almost intact’ near buried ruins of Pompeii
An ornate Roman chariot has been discovered “almost intact” near Italy’s buried city of Pompeii, the archaeological park announced on Saturday, calling it a discovery with “no parallel” in the country.
The four-wheeled processional carriage was found in the portico to a stable where the remains of three horses were unearthed in 2018, including one still in its harness.
Pompeii was buried in boiling lava when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, killing between 2,000 and 15,000 people.
“A large ceremonial chariot with four wheels, along with its iron components, beautiful bronze and tin decorations, mineralized wood remains and imprints of organic materials (from the ropes to the remains of floral decoration), has been discovered almost intact,” a statement issued by the archaeological park said.
“This is an exceptional discovery… which has no parallel in Italy thus far — in an excellent state of preservation.”
The excavation site is known as the Civita Giuliana, a suburban villa that lies just a few hundred meters from the ancient city of Pompeii. The site is one of the most significant ancient villas in the area around Vesuvius, with a panoramic view of the Mediterranean Sea on the outskirts of the ancient Roman city.
Archaeologists last year found in the same area the skeletal remains of what is believed to have been a wealthy man and his male slave, attempting to escape death.
The chariot’s first iron element emerged on January 7 from the blanket of volcanic material filling the two-story portico. Archaeologists believe the cart was used for festivities and parades, perhaps also to carry brides to their new homes.
While chariots for daily life or the transport of agricultural products have been previously found at Pompeii, officials said the new find is the first ceremonial chariot unearthed in its entirety.
The excavation is part of a program aimed at fighting illegal activity in the area, including tunnel digging to reach artefacts that can be sold on illicit markets.
Looters missed the room where the chariot had lain for almost 2,000 years, tunnelling by on both sides, the park’s statement said.
The villa was discovered after police came across the illegal tunnels in 2017, officials said. Two people who live in the houses atop the site are currently on trial for allegedly digging more than 80 meters of tunnels at the site.
Specialists took great care to unearth the vehicle, for example by pouring plaster into voids “to preserve the imprint of any organic material” that had decomposed, it added.
The park said this had allowed it to emerge well preserved down to the imprints of ropes, “thus revealing the chariot in all of its complexity.”
“Pompeii continues to amaze with all of its discoveries, and it will continue to do so for many years yet, with 20 hectares (50 acres) still to be excavated,” Culture Minister Dario Franceschini was quoted as saying.
“It is an extraordinary discovery for the advancement of our knowledge of the ancient world,” added Massimo Osanna, outgoing director of the park.
“What we have is a ceremonial chariot, probably the Pilentum referred to by some sources, which was employed not for everyday use or for agricultural transport, but to accompany community festivities, parades and processions.”
Pompeii’s remarkably well-preserved remains have slowly been uncovered by teams of archaeological specialists.
It is Italy’s third most visited tourist site, drawing more than 3.9 million visitors in 2019. The ancient city was closed since the start of the pandemic and only reopened on January 18.
Why ancient Romans used sketchy, lopsided dice to gamble and play board games
People have been rolling dice for a long, long time. The first dice were made from sheep knucklebones more than 5,000 years ago in ancient Sumer, and you won if it landed on the right one of the four flat sides. Around 3,000 years ago, somebody from modern-day Iraq and Iran sculpted bits of wood and ivory into the familiar six-sided dice, with different numbers of spots on each side from one to six.
People all over the world adopted this configuration long before Arabic numerals were invented. But few people of the ancient world loved to play dice as much as the Romans did.
The Romans called their 6-sided dice tesserae, and they often used them to move the pieces on a game board or for gambling, with the highest number providing the win. Since hard cash was on the line, one would expect these dice to be “fair”, or equally likely to land on any of their six sides.
However, most of them were actually lopsided, with some sides obviously much larger than others, making them more likely to land on them. These Roman-era dice were a total mess when it came to their shape, with no two sides shaped entirely alike.
Why would the Romans make their dice so asymmetrical? It’s not like the builders of great aqueducts and roads weren’t capable of carving a uniform cube, after all.
At first glance, it would seem like tesserae was made this way as a form of cheating, in order to increase the probability of showing a certain side. The vast majority of Roman dice were biased towards the numbers one and six. However, this doesn’t explain why virtually all Roman dice were designed this way. Did all the players cheat? The games would have collapsed if that were the case, and people would stop using them if cheating was done on purpose. This all suggests that the lumpy and lopsided design is a feature, not a bug.
The die has been cast — and that is the will of the gods
In a new study, archaeologist Jelmer Eerkens, a professor of anthropology at the University of California Davis, and Alex de Voogt, a professor at the department of economics and business of Drew University in New Jersey, present a different perspective: the asymmetrical features of the dice were related to the way the ancient Romans viewed the role of fate and the gods in the world.
In a previous study, the two researchers showed that over 90% of Roman dice found in the archaeological record are visibly asymmetrical, meaning one of their sides differs in size from the others by at least 5%. In their new work, the pair of scientists analyzed a sample of 28 dice from the Roman era excavated in the Netherlands. Unsurprisingly, 24 of the 28 objects made from clay, metal, and bone were visibly asymmetrical.
The larger the difference in size between the six sides of a dice, the greater the odds of rolling the number opposite the side with the largest surface area. In a perfect cube, there should be a 1 in 6 chance of rolling any number, but the odds of landing on the largest side of a Roman dice could be as high as 1 in 2.4. Surely, these kinds of visible biases couldn’t have been missed, especially by the hardcore gamblers playing for hours at end in Rome’s slums.
To get a better understanding of what the ancient Romans were thinking when they made their lopsided dice, Eerkens and de Voogt enlisted 23 psychology majors for an experiment.
Like today, Roman dice were numbered in the ‘sevens’ configuration, meaning the pips (little holes or divots) on opposite sides to each other add up to the number 7, so 1 is opposite to 6, 2 is opposite to 5, and 3 is opposite to 4.
The students were handed reproductions of Roman dice and were asked to place pips on the sides. Other than having to respect the sevens configuration, the participants were given no further instructions and were virtually oblivious to the purpose of the experiment.
Most of the students placed the one and six pips on the largest opposing surfaces of the lopsided dice — that’s exactly how the Romans chose to number their dice. Since both ancient Romans and modern students with no interest in gambling placed pips in locations that favour a one or six suggests both groups involuntarily chose this configuration, rather than making a conscious effort to cheat and stack the odds in their favour.
When asked about what prompted them to place the pips the way they had, the students said it felt natural to place one and six on the largest sides, especially since six requires the most pips to place.
This experiment suggests that the Romans didn’t actually care that much for ‘fair’ odds, perhaps because they did not grasp the concept of probability. Instead, the ancient Romans put all their fate in the gods like Fortuna, the personification of luck. Since gods and fate played such a central role in the lives of these people, any side that rolled on the dice was the ‘right’ side — the one chosen by the gods. Of course, some experienced gamblers may have noticed the bias and used it to their advantage, but the unfair odds were likely not common knowledge at the time.
“Knowing that it makes sense that Romans probably did not think that die shape mattered because even with a non-cubic die all sides can still be thrown,” Eerkens told Haaretz. “Today we would say that, yes, each side can be thrown but with unequal probabilities – however, most people in Roman times probably would not understand that way of thinking.”
Such thinking may have persisted until well into the Middle Ages. It wasn’t until the Renaissance period that we start seeing perfectly fair cube-shaped dice, and it is perhaps no coincidence that around this time great thinkers like Galileo Galilei or Blaise Pascal were publishing papers about chance and probability, in some cases, they were actually consulting with local gamblers. These new ideas about fairness, chance, and mathematical probability may have spread among the ‘gamers’ of the time and finally led to fairer dice.
New Pompeii finds highlight middle-class life in the doomed city
A trunk with its lid left open. A wooden dishware closet, its shelves caved in. Three-legged accent tables topped by decorative bowls. These latest discoveries by archaeologists are enriching knowledge about middle-class lives in Pompeii before Mount Vesuvius’ furious eruption buried the ancient Roman city in volcanic debris.
Pompeii’s archaeological park, one of Italy’s top tourist attractions, announced the recent finds on Saturday. Its director, Gabriel Zuchtriegel, said the excavation of rooms in a “Domus,” or home, first unearthed in 2018 had revealed precious details about the domestic environment of ordinary citizens of the city, which was destroyed in 79 A.D.
In past decades, excavation largely concentrated on sumptuous, elaborately frescoed villas of Pompeii’s upper-class residents. But archaeology activity in the sprawling site, near modern-day Naples, has increasingly focused on the lives of the middle class as well as of servants and other enslaved people.
“In the Roman empire, there was an ample chunk of the population that struggled with their social status and for whom ‘daily bread,’ was anything but a given,″ Zuchtriegel said. ”
A vulnerable class during political crises and food shortages, but also ambitious about climbing the social ladder.”
The finds unveiled on Saturday include furnishings and household objects in the Domus, which was dubbed the House of the Larario for an area of a home devoted to domestic spirits known as lares. The home unearthed in 2018 has one in the courtyard.
Zuchtriegel noted that while the courtyard also had an exceptionally well-adorned cistern, “evidently, the (financial) resources weren’t enough to decorate the five rooms of the home.″ One room had unpainted walls and an earthen floor apparently used for storage.
In a bedroom, archeologists found the remains of a bed frame with a trace of fabric from the pillow.
The kind of bed is identical to three, cot-like beds unearthed last year in a tiny room in another residence that archaeologists believe doubled as a storeroom and sleeping quarters for a family of enslaved inhabitants of Pompeii.
The bedroom findings announced Saturday also included the remains of a wooden trunk with an open lid.
Although the weight of beams and ceiling panels that crashed down in the wake of the volcanic explosion heavily damaged the trunk, among the objects found inside was an oil lamp decorated with a bas relief depicting the ancient Greek deity Zeus being transformed into an eagle.
Nearby was a small, three-legged round table, similar to the accent tables in vogue today.
Exposing the storeroom revealed a wooden closet, its backboard still intact but the shelves caved in.
Archaeologists believe the closet had at least four-panel doors and held cookware and dishes for the nearby kitchen. The excavators found a hinge from the enclosure.
Other objects found in the house include a large fragment of what had been a translucent, rimmed plate in brilliant hues of cobalt blue and emerald, and a well-preserved incense burner, shaped like a cradle.
Construction in Rome Reveals Well-Preserved, 2,000-Year-Old Dog Statue
Archaeologists in Rome recently unearthed an ancient terracotta statue with a dog’s head that was buried below an urban road.
The statue, which is palm-size, shows a pointy-eared pup with long, wavy fur flowing over its head and neck. It appears to be wearing a collar dangling a small emblem over its chest, and a circular object rests between its carved paws.
Experts with the archaeology branch of the Italian Ministry of Culture were inspecting a site at Via Luigi Tosti in the city’s Appio Latino district, in preparation for a waterway replacement project.
They discovered the dog-headed statue about 1.6 feet (0.5 meters) below street level, among other funerary artefacts dating from the first century B.C. to the first century A.D., Roma Today reported on Jan. 1.
Officials identified three mausoleums that were part of a larger burial complex on the Via Latina, an important ancient Roman road that is more than 2,000 years old.
“Once again, Rome shows important traces of the past in all its urban fabric,” representatives of the Special Superintendency of Archeology, Fine Arts and Landscape of Rome wrote on Instagram.
In addition to the dog-headed statue, archaeologists at the site also discovered an intact ceramic funerary urn containing bones and the remains of a young man who was buried “in the bare earth,” according to the post.
Charred marks in one of the tombs hinted that there had been a fire, which may have led Roman citizens to abandon the burial complex, ArtNews reported.
While the dog statue superficially resembles carved objects that were added to sloping rooftops as part of drainage systems, it lacks any kind of opening for draining water and its purpose was likely ornamental, according to Roma Today.
The Via Latina, which was built during the fourth century B.C., ran from Rome’s Porta Latina to the southeast for approximately 124 miles (200 kilometres), and it likely served as an important military highway, according to a study published in 2013 in the journal Papers of the British School at Rome.
Other funerary buildings and catacombs that have been excavated along this once-major thoroughfare are open to the public as part of the Archaeological Park of the Tombs of the Via Latina in Rome.