Ancient Romans Used Molten Iron to Repair Streets Before Vesuvius Erupted
Whilst mostly related to the Vesuvius eruption, Pompeii’s legacy goes beyond the catastrophe and takes account of a vast chapter in history, from pre-Roman temples to astounding frescoes.
As it turns out, the legacy also boasts its fair share of innovative features, as was identified by independent scholars and researchers from the University of Massachusetts and the University of Texas.
To that end, according to a recent paper published in the American Journal of Archaeology in April, the Romans made use of molten iron to repair streets inside Pompeii before the Vesuvius eruption in circa 79 AD.
The study was carried out in 2014, with the assessment revealing how many of Pompeii’s streets were originally paved with stone. But over time, the passage of carts and carriages made their literal marks on the paths, thereby creating small depressions and ruts.
One particular case study revealed how a busy narrow stone-paved street inside the ancient city could get broken down in a matter of few decades.
Now while one of the straightforward solutions entailed repaving these sections with stones, the predicament related to how the process was not only time-consuming but also expensive.
So with typical Roman ingenuity, the ancient repairers tried their hand at an offbeat solution – in the form of pouring molten iron (or heated iron slag) to fill the gaps in the dilapidated streets. Suffice it to say, the molten state rapidly turned into a hardened form after being directed into these ruts and holes, thereby plugging the gaps.
On occasions, the Romans also used ground-up fragments of ceramics and terracotta, along with stone bits, to further fill the ruts and smooth them over.
Now while this solution was relatively cheap and seemingly straightforward, researchers are not certain of how the process of carrying and pouring the hot iron was conducted.
To that end, the iron slag, depending on its type and purity, had to be heated at a very high temperature ranging between 2,012 and 2,912 degrees Fahrenheit (1,100 to 1,600 degrees Celsius).
Interestingly enough, reconstructed models of ancient Roman furnaces have proved how some of the installations could reach such blisteringly hot temperatures.
Furthermore, the archaeologists had noted the deposit residues of heated iron on disparate places on the streets that didn’t need repairing, thus suggesting how the molten iron was sometimes even accidentally dropped during the renovation process.
Judging by such seemingly hasty and offhand techniques, according to one researcher, the dangerous repairing works entailing molten iron were possibly carried by state-sanctioned public slaves (under the directive of the magistrates).
And lastly, the scientists are also trying to analyze the iron composition within many of these Pompeii streets, which, in turn, could provide clues concerning the sources or the locations of the mines during the Roman times.
Frozen moss reveals fatal final journey of 5,300-year-old ice mummy
According to a study released on October 30th, 2019, in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by James Dickson of the University of Glasgow (UK) and colleagues at the University of Innsbruck, Alongside the famous Ötzi, the Iceman is buried, at least 75 species of bryophytes -mosses and liverworts — which hold clues to Ötzi’s surroundings.
Ötzi Iceman is a remarkable 5,300-year-old human frozen ice specimen that has been found in the Italian Alps at around 3,200 meters above sea level.
He was frozen alongside his clothing and gear as well as an abundant assemblage of plants and fungi. In this study, Dickson and colleagues aimed to identify the mosses and liverworts preserved alongside the Iceman.
Today, 23 bryophyte species live the area near where Ötzi was found, but inside the ice, the researchers identified thousands of preserved bryophyte fragments representing at least 75 species.
It is the only site of such high altitude with bryophytes preserved over thousands of years.
Notably, the assemblage includes a variety of mosses ranging from low-elevation to high-elevation species, as well as 10 species of liverworts, which are very rarely preserved in archaeological sites.
Only 30% of the identified bryophytes appear to have been local species, with the rest having been transported to the spot in Ötzi’s gut or clothing or by large mammalian herbivores whose droppings ended up frozen alongside the Iceman.
From these remains, the researchers infer that the bryophyte community in the Alps around 5,000 years ago was generally similar to that of today.
Furthermore, the non-local species help to confirm the path Ötzi took to his final resting place. Several of the identified moss species thrive today in the lower Schnalstal valley, suggesting that Ötzi traveled along the valley during his ascent.
This conclusion is corroborated by previous pollen research, which also pinpointed Schnalstal as the Iceman’s likely route of ascent.
Dickson adds, “Most members of the public are unlikely to be knowledgeable about bryophytes (mosses and liverworts). However, no fewer than 75 species of these important investigative clues were found when the Iceman (aka Ötzi) was removed from the ice.
They were recovered as mostly small scraps from the ice around him, from his clothes and gear, and even from his alimentary tract.
Those findings prompted the questions: Where did the fragments come from? How precisely did they get there? How do they help our understanding of the Iceman?”
ROME, ITALY—BBC reports that medieval burials were unearthed during utility work on the Via del Governo Vecchio in central Rome.
The graves had been damaged by previous construction projects.
According to Archeological Superintendence the city found two graves dating from the Middle Ages during gas works on Via del Governo Vecchio in the center of Rome, a road near Piazza Navona.
The first tomb, partially destroyed by gas and sewage pipes, contained two human skeletons: one belonging to a woman (25-30 years) with a shell in her hand, and a man (30-40 years).
Besides the female skeleton is a bronze coin dating from the late 11th and 12th centuries, and other fragments of shells.
The second burial site consists of several graves set against a brick wall thought to be associated with the Church of St. Cecilia at Monte Giordano, which was built in A.D. 1123 and demolished in the early seventeenth century.
The second tomb, particularly damaged by modern-day infrastructural works, comprises a cemetery area with dividing sections against a brickwork wall whose graves appear to date to Mediaeval times.
The scallop shells found next to the skeletons contain two holes suggesting their use as necklaces traditionally worn by the pilgrims in the Middle Ages.
These elements lead experts to believe the find was a cemetery for pilgrims, located along the ancient Via Papalis pilgrimage route to St Peter’s.
The burial chambers probably belonged to the medieval Church of S. Cecilia at Monte Giordano, whose origins date back to 1123 but which was demolished in the first half of the 17th century to make space for the Oratorio dei Filippini designed by Francesco Borromini.
Ancient images of gladiators unearthed at the city of Pompeii
Archeologists in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii have uncovered a well-preserved fresco showing fighting gladiators.
This scene marks the end of a war between a murmullo and a Thracian form of gladiator, one victorious and the other losing. Both types are described by weapons and armor.
It is the latest discovery in Regio V, a 21.8-hectare (54-acre) site to the north of the archaeological park that is yet to open to the public.
The fresco was found on a wall beneath the stairwell of what was probably a tavern frequented by gladiators and which provided accommodation on a higher floor for them to sleep with sex workers.
“It’s very probable that this place was frequented by gladiators,” said Massimo Osanna, the director-general of Pompei’s archaeological park.
“We are in Regio V, not far from where there were barracks for gladiators, where among other things, there was graffiti referring to this world.
“Of particular interest in this fresco is the very realistic representation of wounds on the wrist and chest of the unsuccessful gladiator … we don’t know the outcome of the fight, he could have died or was given grace.”
Excavations at Regio V have yielded dozens of discoveries since work began last year as part of the EU-funded Great Pompeii Project.
A frescoed “fast food” counter, or thermopolium, was found in March and another depicting the mythological hunter Narcissus enraptured by his own reflection in a pool of water was discovered in February.
Human remains have also been found, including the skeletons of two women and three children huddled together in a villa, as well as the remains of a harnessed horse and saddle.
Much work has been done across the entire park, which has attracted almost 4 million visitors a year since 2013 when Unesco threatened to place it on its list of world heritage sites in peril unless Italian authorities improved on preservation.
“A few years ago the archaeological site of Pompeii was known throughout the world for its negative image: the collapses, the strikes and the queues of tourists under the sun,” said Italy’s culture minister, Dario Franceschini.
“Today’s story is one of redemption and millions of more tourists. It is a welcoming site, but above all, we have returned to doing research through new digs.
“The discovery of the fresco shows that Pompeii is an inexhaustible mine of research and knowledge for today’s archaeologists and for those of the future.”
Archaeologists Discovered a Hidden Chamber in Roman Emperor Nero’s Underground Palace
Nearly two thousand years ago, the massive palace designed by the Roman emperor had been hiding a secret.
A hidden underground room adorned with panthers and centaurs has been found by archeologists working on the restoration of the palace in Rome earlier this month.
According to a statement from Colosseum Archeological Park (Parco Archeologico del Colosse), the room, nicknamed “Sphinx Room,” is part of the remains of “Domus Aurea” (Golden House), the huge palace that Nero constructed during the fire of 64 AD, which devastated Rome.
The room was discovered accidentally, while researchers were setting up scaffolding for work on an adjacent room in the complex.
The room’s curved ceilings are 15 feet (4.5 meters) high, and much of the room is still filled in with dirt, the statement reads.
With the use of artificial lighting, crews uncovered a vault covered with colorful frescoes, featuring figures such as the god Pan, sea creatures, plant and water ornaments, a centaur, a panther attacking a man with a sword, and a “mute and solitary sphinx.”
“[The Sphinx Room] tells us about the atmosphere from the years of the principality of Nero,” said Alfonsina Russo, director of the Archaeological Park of the Colosseum.
Nero was the fifth Roman emperor and the last of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. He is remembered as an ineffectual, neglectful and brutal leader, according to the BBC.
When much of Rome was destroyed in the fire of 64 AD, Nero set about the necessary rebuilding of the city, appropriating a large area for a new palace — the Domus Aurea or Golden House — for himself.
The Domus Aurea complex covered parts of the slopes of the Palatine, Esquiline, Oppian and Caelian hills, completed with a man-made lake in the marshy valley.
That lake was eventually covered up by the Flavian Amphitheater — better known as the Roman Colosseum — in 70 AD.
Scholars approximate the size of the Domus Aurea size to be over 300 acres, and it is believed to have included at least 300 rooms.
Experts said they will not excavate the newly discovered underground chamber further for fears for the stability of the complex. They dated the Sphinx Room between 65 and 68 AD.
Final Years of Life In Pompeii Revealed Through An Inscription
Pompeii was a city that was buried in ash in A.D. 79 as Mount Vesuvius erupted, and many people that lived there died. But before that catastrophic event, Pompeii was a wealthy city, and it was filled with parties and struggles
According to an inscription recently discovered on the wall of a tomb found in Pompeii in 2017.
The inscription describes a massive coming-of-age party for a wealthy young man. who reaches the age of an adult citizen.
According to the inscription, he threw a massive party that included a banquet serving 6,840 people and a show in which 416 gladiators fought over several days.
The inscription also tells of harder times, including a famine that lasted four years and another gladiator show that ended in a public riot, Massimo Osanna, the director-general of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, wrote in a paper published in the 2018 issue of the Journal of Roman Archaeology, which is published once a year.
Osanna deciphered the inscription and discussed some of the findings the inscription reveals, including new information that may allow researchers to determine how many people inhabited Pompeii.
The inscription says that, when the wealthy man was old enough to wear the “toga virilis” (a toga worn by an adult male citizen), he threw a massive banquet and gladiator shows.
The banquet was served “on 456 three-sided couches so that upon each couch 15 persons reclined,” the inscription reads, as translated by Osanna.
This information could help researchers determine how many people lived in Pompeii in the decades before it was destroyed, Osanna wrote.
The inscription claims that 6,840 people attended the banquet. Because a banquet like that would likely be served only to adult males with political rights, and those men probably made up about 27% to 30% of Pompeii’s population, Osanna estimates Pompeii’s total population to have been about 30,000 people.
The gladiator show held by the wealthy man was “of such grandiosity and magnificence as to be able to be compared with [that of] any of the most noble colonies founded by Rome, since 416 gladiators participated,” the inscription says.
A show of this size would have taken several days, if not a week, Osanna wrote, noting that if each gladiator fought one-on-one, there would have been 213 separate fights.
Famine and riots
The inscription also mentions a famine, during which the wealthy man helped his fellow Pompeii citizens by selling wheat at discounted prices and organizing the distribution of free loaves of bread.
A famous mosaic from Pompeii shows three people, including a child, at a stall waiting to get bread, Osanna said, and it’s possible that the mosaic shows the event mentioned in the inscription.
Just 20 years before the Vesuvius eruption, in A.D. 59, a riot broke out during a gladiator show, according to the inscription.
The ancient Roman historian Tacitus (AD 56-120) also mentioned this riot in his book “Annals.” The inscription says that, as a penalty for the riot, Emperor Nero “ordered that they [Roman authorities] deport from the City beyond the two-hundredth mile all the gladiatorial households [schools].”Nero also ordered several Pompeii citizens involved in the riot to leave the city, according to the inscription.
The inscription claims that the wealthy man talked to Nero and convinced the emperor to allow some of the deported citizens to return to Pompeii — an indication of the high regard Nero seems to have held for the man, Osanna wrote.
Who was the wealthy man?
Osanna believes the wealthy man’s name and position were carved into a part of the tomb, which is now destroyed; it was looted in the 19th century.
The identity of the wealthy man could be Gnaeus Alleius Nigidius Maius, a man mentioned in other inscriptions from Pompeii, Osanna wrote. Maius is described as a man of great wealth and power who lived around A.D. 59, Osanna wrote. Previous archaeological work shows that a tomb belonging to Maius’ adoptive father, “Marcus Alleius Minius, is located near the tomb with the inscription.
The translation of the inscription is preliminary, and further studies may provide more information about it, Osanna wrote.
A Farmer’s Misplaced Hammer Led to the Largest Roman Treasure in Britain
When Eric Lawes set off for a field in Hoxne village, Suffolk on November 16, 1992, it wasn’t on a treasure hunt.
The metal detector he’d received as a retirement gift was meant to find a hammer lost on the farmland.
But the detector picked up a strong signal in the earth, leading Lawes to start digging, and it quickly became apparent that he had indeed found treasure.
The Guardian reports that, when Lawes saw that his preliminary digging had yielded a few gold coins and silver spoons, he immediately contacted both the local archaeological society and the police department.
Archaeologists came to the property the following day and had the area of earth holding the treasure carefully sectioned-off and removed. Their hope was that at a later stage, in their laboratory, they could examine the items in order to identify both their age and how they were stored.
When all was said and done, close to 60 pounds of items made from silver and gold were found on the site. These included more than 15,000 Roman coins, 200 gold objects, and several silver spoons.
For archaeologists, this find — which later became labeled as the Hoxne Hoard — was an incredible discovery. AP News reported that archaeologist Judith Plouviez was over-the-moon about the discovery, saying that it was “an incredibly exciting and amazing find.” What’s more, another archaeologist, Rachel Wilkinson, told Smithsonian Magazine that this discovery was “the largest and latest ever found in Britain.”
Ordinarily, archaeologists would use radiocarbon dating as a means of identifying the age of ancient relics. However, they couldn’t locate any suitable material from the haul. Consequently, they determined the age by examining the writing on the coins, as well as the ruler carved into them, estimating that the treasure was probably buried in either 408 or 409 AD.
Roman-era archaeologist Peter Guest told Smithsonian Magazine that “if you look at them a little more carefully, then they should be dated to the period after the separation of Britain from the Roman Empire.”
He offers as part of his evidence the fact that almost all of the coins found in the Hoxne Hoard were clipped – in other words, small chunks of their edges had been taken off. These clippings would have been used to create coins which were similar to the Roman coins of that era.
A guest has a logical reason for this, arguing that “The Roman Empire wasn’t supplying Britain with new gold and silver coins, and in light of that, the population tried to get over this sudden cutoff in the supply of their precious metals by making the existing supplies go further.”
Archaeologists also believe that the treasure belonged to a Romano-British family. During that time, considering that there was so much societal discord and upheaval, it was common for Romans who had settled in Britain to bury their most prized possessions.
That said, one archaeologist is of the belief that the hoard had a lot of sentimental value for the Romano-British family to whom it is believed to have belonged. In her book The Hoxne Late Roman Treasure: Gold Jewellery and Silver Plate, Catherine Johns claims that the manner in which the treasure was kept supported this claim.
Some of the items which were recovered had been packaged in small, wooden boxes which were lined with leather. What’s more, pieces of wood, locks, and nails, among other things, surrounded the gold and silver pieces. This leads Catherine to assert that the package was carefully buried and not simply chucked away in a rush.
Interestingly enough, the items unearthed might shed some light on the identity of the family who owned them. They cite a gold bracelet bearing the inscription “UTERE FELIX DOMINA IULIANE,” which roughly translates to “use this happily Lady Juliane”.
A second name “Aurelius Ursicinus” has also been discovered. This has consequently led some to believe that Juliane and Aurelius were the couples and the original owners of the treasure. That said, that has yet to be confirmed.
All in all, the discovery was a real treasure for archaeologists, and by extension, for Lawes. According to Smithsonian Magazine, in recognition of his discovery and willingness to contact authorities, the British government rewarded him with over £1.7 million, an amount which he shared with the farmer whose land was dug out in order to get the treasure.
Funnily enough, apart from the treasure, Lawes also found his lost hammer — which now resides in the British Museum.